Buenas Noches, Buenos Aires

We don’t always fly in Argentina.  But when we do, there’s an air traffic controllers’ strike. On the bright side, waiting an extra hour for the plane to take off gives one valuable time to reflect on our rich Buenos Aires experience.

It’s been quite a week.  I think we’ve all had enough meat and cheese to last us until Thanksgiving.  Paroma thought the Argentine meat was too “meaty”, whatever that means… I found it delicious.

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We’ve spent all week attending seminars at Argentine banks, banks, and more banks.   I joke; we actually visited quite a few different businesses.  But seriously, they do have a lot of banks down here.  Argentine law requires that you have a bank account in order to hold a job.  Its doubtful people would bank at all otherwise – zero faith in the financial system and all…

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The best presentation goes to Federico Sturzenegger, President of Banco Ciudad.  This particular bank is wholly owned by the city of Buenos Aires, creating an extremely political business environment.  Frederico candidly let us in on the inner workings of the relationships between the unions, managers, and politicians.  “Everybody expects favors” he remarked, “a Senator would hand me a list of 50 people he would like me to hire.  I just tear it up.”  The story underlines a common theme of bad government policies and corruption, expressed by all of our guest speakers.

Honorable mention goes to Santiago Veiga of ArCor, Argentina’s largest candy manufacturer.  He may have bribed his way to second place with free candy.  We’re willing to look the other way… Nom nom nom.

But overall what really struck me is just how emotionless the companies in Argentina have become to the anti-business policies of the Kirchner government.  Decades of economic turmoil and corrupt administrations have left the Argentines jaded and numb to the increasingly nonsensical taxes and regulations. To survive, Argentine companies don’t look years ahead, but days and weeks.

The theme of our seminars was ‘How to do business in Argentina’.  But we didn’t exactly learn how to do business in Argentina.  Instead, we learned not to do business in Argentina.

But to be fair, we learned much more than that.  We learned what a steam box was.  We learned that contracts are important; but not that important. We learned that red doesn’t always mean stop.  And we learned not to stay in shady neighborhoods after dark.

I guess it wasn’t fully dark; more like dusk.  The district of La Boca, home to the soccer club Boca Juniors, isn’t known to be the safest part of town.  In hindsight, we should’ve just taken a cab back instead of braving the empty streets toward the bus station.  The mugging that followed cost us $300 in cash, two cameras, one phone, and Ambrish’s Microsoft jacket.  I guess the mugger figured he could probably patch over the logo…

Switching gears – it’s been an exciting sports week.  While the Europeans duke it out on the soccer fields of Poland and Ukraine, hosts of the Euro Cup, the South Americans are not standing idly by.  This week, Boca Juniors made it to the finals in the Latin America Cup, uniting all of Argentina behind the local team.  Building up to the Wednesday night match, the streets quickly fill with fans sporting the team’s blue and yellow colors.  We can feel the energy in the air, fueled by devoted soccer chants all around us.  Then, everything in the city freezes as crowds glue themselves to the nearest TV for a crucial 90 minutes, holding their breath at every shot. Suddenly, I’m a Boca fan.

Unfortunately, the blue and yellow fell to the Corinthians 2-0. The crowd was a little upset.  Ok, maybe very upset.  Survivor’s guide: steer clear of the rioting mob as you hop from bar to bar enjoying Quilmes, the domestic cerveza.

And I can safely say that we consumed our share of Quilmes this week.  And we danced our share, tango or otherwise.  It took some time to adjust to the Argentine party schedule, where the clubs don’t get poppin’ til 2am.  But once the dance floors fill, electronic beats and salsa music carry on deep into the night.

As the sun sets, our plane is finally cleared for takeoff.  Perhaps the delay is a blessing in disguise, as it allows us one last opportunity to witness the city after dark.  Having spent the week experiencing the Argentine night life, I am convinced of one thing:  No matter how much economic turmoil this country endures, the city of Buenos Aires will never cease to light up the night.

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Next destination: the wine city of Mendoza!  Buenas Noches, Buenos Aires!

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