2008: The Year in Review

Since everyone seems to do a year-end review, we figured why not us too? Ok, so we’ve only been living in Buenos Aires since August 2008, and can’t really provide a full year summary, but it was about a year ago that we started to consider the idea of moving here after visiting for a week in November 2007.  We were a bit burnt out from New York, loved the city, thought it would be cheap to live here, and loved the idea of learning Spanish. So, what are our impressions 5 months after being here?

Things That Surprised Us

  • Rent: Rent is a lot more than you would expect. While locals may be able to find cheaper rents, they are signing 2-year contracts for unfurnished apartments and putting up another property as collateral. Short-term, furnished rentals are a lot more money. We had to end up using a real estate agent due to our first Craigslist disaster, which added more to the cost as well, but was worth the extra money.
  • Cost of Living: The cost of living is lower than NYC, but not as cheap as one might expect. Personal services tend to be fairly inexpensive as do restaurants, but electronics and anything imported is quite costly. A trip to the grocery store is also more expensive than one may initially expect. Inflation is high, and that is definitely noticeable throughout the city.
  • Learning Spanish: We figured by the time we returned to the States for Christmas, we would be fluent in Spanish. We were sorely mistaken.  There is no doubt that our Spanish has progressed a lot, and would probably be better if we spoke it in the apartment, but we realized that we have a long way to go.  Having our Spanish tutor and taking intensive classes at UBa have definitely helped, but we need to continue our immersion.
  • Coin Shortage: Seeing the impact of the shortage of change here has been interesting, but as we do not regularly take the buses, has had a low impact on us. It is interesting that the taxi drivers may choose to give you more money back than they should simply to avoid handing over “precious” coins.
  • The Man-Kiss: There’s not much more that we can say about it. We can accept it now…

Things That We Miss From the States

  • FoodSushi, seafood (especially fresh tuna), dill pickles, protein bars, sugar-free Red Bull, good Chinese food, American breakfast, gum (it’s horrible here for some reason), turkey (both lunchmeat as well as roasted), and some snack foods (for example, pretzels are imported from Israel and expensive).
  • Miscellaneous Things: Chapstick, quality paper products, decent pots and pans, and other random things you would never realize you missed until you can’t find them.
  • Shopping: Trader Joe’s, TJ Maxx, CVS, large grocery stores, and other all-in-one easy shopping places. Here, you often have to run to many different stores to get what you could at a large grocery store in the U.S.  The convenience is just not here yet.
  • Cars: Having nice, big cars. Ok, maybe this is very American, but we do miss them a bit.
  • Variety of People: There is not a lot of cultural diversity in Buenos Aires. When we flew back to the the States in December, we immediately noticed a much more diverse group of people all around us. (And also a lot more obese people.)
  • Snowboarding: Yes, Argentina has ski resorts, but we haven’t had a chance to visit Bariloche or Las Lineas yet.  Back in the States we spent a lot of time on the mountain and we definitely miss it.  We’re hoping to spend next July or August snowboarding in Argentina.
  • DVR/TiVo: I hadn’t realized how much I had grown accustomed to pausing and recording live TV until moving here.  Not being able to pause live TV seems almost unthinkable now, but I’m making do.
  • Friends and Family: We’ve made some new friends here and it’s been great, but a lot of people are transient and come and go after a few months. Its been hard to have both family and good friends so far away.

Things That We Love About Buenos Aires

  • The Porteños: Everyone that we’ve met here has been extremely warm and inviting to us. I can’t say that we’ve had any negative experiences with the people here. Have we been overcharged because we’re foreigners? Maybe, but in the grand scheme of things it’s really minor.  Our Spanish tutor and personal trainer have been exceptionally great.
  • The Expat Community: The large size of the expat community here surprised us a little, but it’s been great to have a chance to meet a lot of new people from all over and with all sorts of experiences and backgrounds.  We’ve met a lot of great people from our blog and had a lot of interesting comments and emails.  We’re looking forward to meeting even more people this coming year.
  • Steak and Malbec: It’s true that BsAs has some of the best beef in the world and we’ve developed a fondness for Malbec too. It’s especially nice that you can still go out and have a $9 steak and $10 bottle of good wine here. Our picks for best steak restaurants so far: Las Lilas and La Cabrera.
  • Sweets: While Mersal loves dulce de leche, it’s definitely not my favorite, but I do love the many other options that they have here like palmeritas, etc. And, that leads us to…
  • Ice Cream: The ice cream in Buenos Aires is probably the best I’ve ever had. It’s creamy, has a lot of amazing flavors and is even good for you. Ok, maybe I made that last one up. Freddo, Persico and Munchi’s are our favorites.
  • Pizza: The pizza here is really good. It’s not NYC pizza, but it is delicious in its own regard.  One of our favorite places to visit and order delivery is Romario. (Probably because you can order from their web site without having to speak to anyone on the phone!)

Things That We Couldn’t Live Without Here

  • Internet: Shortly after arriving, our DSL Internet connection went out for almost 2 weeks and Fibertel seemed to be in no hurry to fix it.  We now have both cable and DSL Internet connections in our apartment in case something like this ever happens again (heaven forbid). Google News Alerts and Google Reader with all of our Buenos Aires RSS feeds are also indispensible.
  • Earth Class Mail: Earth Class Mail is an indespensible service that takes all of your U.S. postal mail, scans it and allows you to access it over the web.  You can then open and scan it, shred it, recycle it, or ship it to another address.  Living overseas without this would make life a lot more difficult.
  • Vonage: Having a local NYC number makes it so easy for us to contact people and for friends and family to get in touch with us.  Vonage is easy and works nearly flawlessly.
  • Online Maps: This city can be confusing, so online maps are a necessity.  Google Maps launched in November 2008, but it is still lacking in features, so we still mainly use the government’s map web site to find our way around and plan subway routes.
  • Jumbo and Easy: These two stores are pretty much the closest thing in the city to U.S. super stores back home (think Home Depot and a giant Wal*Mart).  You can pretty much find anything you want here including a large selection of imported items (peanut butter, pretzels, salsa, etc.).
  • Google Translate:  Having Google Translate has been a near life-saver here. It’s been great for deciphering local web sites, quick lookups and more.  It’s been a great help while we learn the language.
  • Schwab Checking Account: The Schwab checking account has been great. Not only is in a free acount that pays interest, they do not charge any ATM fees, refund fees that may be charged by other banks and do not charge a currency conversion fee.  We have been getting pretty close to the current exchange rate every time we use our ATM card.
  • Social Networking: One can have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, but there’s no denying that it’s a great way to keep in touch with family, as well as old and new friends.  And everyone is on it – we boarded Delilah at a dog kennel outside of Buenos Aires, and the manager there added Mersal as a Facebook friend the next day. A Small World has been a great way to meet new people as well as find out about upcoming events.

Things We Really Didn’t Need

  • Slingbox: Having the Slingbox setup in the U.S was a great idea in theory, but the problem is that the Internet connection has not been reliable enough to support decent quality video.  We have pretty much given up on it and now download all the shows or movies we want to watch from the Internet. It’s much better though not quite as instantaneous.
  • Power Converters: We brought two bulky power converters in order to run our 110v devices on the 220v current here.  Turns out that almost all of our electronics already run on both currents (laptop, PC, wireless router, etc).  There is only one or two things that do not and we don’t even use them very often, so we could have done with a much smaller one than the ones we brought.
  • Clothes: When we moved, we thought we packed very carefully and got rid of all unnecessary things, but now 5 months later, there are still things in our closets that we’ve never worn.