Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Argentine Difference

January 15, 2009 The Argentine Difference!
Wow! I just got back from a frustrating experience. The great thing about Argentina is that nearly everything is cheap, including doing laundry. In our apartment building there are 2 washers and dryers and it only costs 2 pesos (60¢ US) for the wash and 2.50 pesos (75¢) for the dryer. The problem is that the machines only take 1 peso and .25 peso coins. During the week we try to keep any coins we are given as change, but most places only give .50 peso coins or no coins, - just 2 peso bills. So today, when we decided to do the wash we checked our coins and were 3 peso coins short. I went down to the corner grocery store and bought a bar of soap with a 5 peso bill. The cashier refused to give me anything but a 2 peso bill and a .50 coin as change. I told her I needed coins for the laundry, but that made no difference. I went next door to the pharmacy to buy the same soap, hoping to get change there. Same story when I went to the cashier, so I didn’t buy it. I went across the street to a convenience store to buy gum. Same story, but they tried to help by saying the only place you can get change is at a bank. So I went up the street two blocks to the BBV bank. I was number 13 in line! OK, this was it. I was going to wait and give them all 15 pesos I had and get a bunch of ones and .25s and be done with it for the rest of the month. Besides, there were two cahiers, how long could it take? So I waited. Soon an American near the front of the line was called to the window. He wanted to change $50 US into pesos. The guy said no, that he needed to go to an exchange bank. OMG, after he had waited all that time. I should have known things were not going to go well. Two more people were called and then . . . one of the cashiers went out for a “mate break”. You’ve got to be kidding?! There were at least 30 people in line by now. I was only 6 people back, so I waited. Next thing I knew another phantom line was feeding into ours from the other side of the bank lobby – people who had been clients in private rooms working with the bankers. The “mate break” guy came back; and soon I was next in line. Then in came a little old lady, not 5 feet tall with a cane. She could barely shuffle in to the lobby and I let her go in front of me. Little did I know she was going to take out a home mortgage, or maybe just pay an electric bill. It’s all the same here. Every piece of government paperwork involves 3 people to scrutinize every peso and document. The official has to put all bills up to the light, run them through a counterfeit detection machine, and then stamp the heck out of them – both sides back and forth - with a stamper whose weight proves how important he/she must be. Anyway, I finally arrived at the window and waited patiently for Mr. Mate Break to look up at me. When he did, I handed him my peso bills and asked to receive coins of ones and .25s for them. He immediately shoved two of the five bills back at me under the window and took one five. He counted out 3 pesos worth of quarters and pushed them and a 2 peso bill back to me. What?!! After 35 minutes in line that’s it?! Where can I get coins?? Not possible, I was told. So here we are -- scrounging around each week, looking for change. I guess we could just send the laundry out – it’s almost as cheap!

1 comment:

K. Pendleton said...

Uh, and what exactly is a "mate break?" Was he eating, smoking, or just making friends?