Archive for October, 2008

Apartment Agency–How It Works

This is dedicated to those of you contemplating a move to Argentina, or those of you who want a reason to appreciate Craigslist rental listings in the United States.

Here in Buenos Aires, if you don’t have a great personal network and a native command of the language, you will have to use an agent to gain access to rental apartments. If you want to secure a furnished apartment (temporary rental), then the need for an agent increases.

When you call an agent, they will pretty much show you only their listings. So, you need to contact as many different agents within your market area as you can. If you want a long-term rental, walk the neighborhood you are interested in and write down sign names and numbers for buildings you like and then contact those agents. If you want a temporary rental, search for furnished apartments online and email them with your interest.

Here comes the confusing part…rental listings often are not exclusive. That means that the agent you contact will not know the status of the apartment until they talk to the owner…it could be rented by someone else for all they know.

And, the final kicker, the renter pays commission.

(Note, all the agents we have talked to and worked with as we search for a temporary apartment have been wonderful.)

Most Well-Behaved City Dogs Ever!!

This will make me horribly unpopular in Portland, but I’ve grown to dislike many of Bridge City’s dog denizens (and their owners).

Why? Well, my daughters have been bitten by dogs, blind-sided, knocked over and tackled by dogs (especially scary when my girls were first learning how to walk), they have had their toys and balls stolen and destroyed by dogs while at various parks, I’ve watched dog owners let their pets trample through newly planted beds in my front yard with nary a word…I could go on and on. Anyway, in every case, the dog owner couldn’t have cared less. If I had let my kids run amok in the same way, they would be in child protective services instead of Argentina right now!!

Needless to say, our experiences in Portland have made me grow to dislike the city dog immensely. Until Buenos Aires, that is.

There are a zillion dog walkers trolling around the city, each holding 8 to 16 dogs at a time. The dogs don’t bark. The dogs don’t pull on their leashes. The dogs don’t run after kids, cars, or cats. The dogs don’t fight with each other. They are a rather happy, well-behaved lot.

Tom and I agree with this Atlantic Monthly article — in-breeding and puppy mills are producing genetically screwed up dogs with myriad problems, and Americans are obsessed with them. I’ve got to tell you, the gorgeous, and often mixed-breed, canines around here have really restored my faith in the city dog. (I grew up with mutt dogs in the country — which colors my perceptions.)

And, a last comment on the ubiquitous dog poop in the street. I have, gasp, seen some dog owners picking up (which is unheard of here), and, at the very least, they try to doody out of the way along the edges of the sidewalk!

Photo by Flickr user vtveen used under a Creative Commons license.

Lurking at the ATM

Unlike many other countries, an expat without a national ID number — which here is called a DNI (Documento Nacional de Identidad) — will have a very hard time opening a bank account in Argentina. (You cannot get a DNI without having some sort of resident visa.)

I have read tales online of a few rare expats who have managed to open a bank account without the DNI, but it appears to be exceedingly difficult. We considered trying to go that route, but the funny thing is, even if you can swing an account, everyone tells you not to put any money in the Argentinian bank because the government could seize the money and devalue it at any moment, a la 2001 (“the crisis,” as it is called here). We decided not to bother.

Most expats here without a DNI just lurk by the ATM machine, gathering cash every day and hoarding it to pay for rent and other bills.

It works like this: a) You can take out about 600 pesos per transaction at an ATM machine; and, b) You can only take out the equivalent of $US 500 per day total from all ATM transactions in a 24 hour period (about 1,680 pesos by today’s exchange rate).

Cash economy baby.

Wall O’ Mayonnaise

Here is a picture of the mayonnaise display at the local COTO supermarket. I think it speaks for itself and the Porteño love of all things mayonnaise–after all, it is the perfect sauce that compliments a wide variety of foods…even Caesar salad!

Departamento (Apartment) Decisions

You have two options when renting here in Buenos Aires:

Option 1: Unfurnished Long-Term Rental. With this type of rental, you generally sign a 24 month lease and are required to have a garantía. (A local person who provides a guaranty. Said local person must own property in Capital Federal, the inner city, if that’s where you are renting an apartment.)

We have decided to abandon option 1, even though we are very lucky to have a person willing to act as a garantía for us. At the end of the day, after purging so much of our crap back home, I cannot justify coming here and furnishing a three bedroom apartment–dishes, linens, refrigerator, washer/dryer…for only a year or two.

On top of that, shopping in a new country sucks up a tremendous amount of time and energy; we’re exhausted just getting everything together for the girls’ school, I can’t imagine having to furnish a place for Ian, Tom, me and the girls. I nearly went into apoplexy the other day just thinking about it.

Option 2: Furnished Temporary Rental. This is the direction in which we will focus our apartment hunting resources. Yes, it’s more expensive up front, but it’s less of a hassle, doesn’t require a garantía, and, once you add up all of the costs of Option 1 (utilities, Internet, taxes, gas and outfitting a new apartment), I suspect we certainly won’t be losing money.

So the new, new, new plan is to move into a temporary rental closer to Belgrano and the Z’s school until the end of the school year (early December). Then we will abandon all apartments in Baires, instead turning to travel during the summer, when we hope to explore Uruguay, Mendoza, Patagonia, and Iguazu Falls (while our fellow Oregonians are getting soaked in the rain)!

In February, we’ll come back into the city, rent another temporary apartment, and the girls will begin school at the end of the month.

Recycling in Buenos Aires

Portland recycling habits die hard.

We are used to separating out all paper, cardboard, glass, plastic; we are used to composting. It is disorienting to just throw everything out with the trash.

Actually, there is some limited recycling in Baires, and it is accomplished by the “carteneros,” one of whom is pictured here. They are are private citizens that go through the trash and separate out some glass and some cardboard to resell on their own. They often wheel around their inventory on very large carts, with many close calls on the streets between the larger carts and the taxis and buses.

After talking to Ian’s friend Guadalupe, we are now trying to separate items in our trash for the carteneros to make it easier for them to recycle.

Photo by Flickr user nbreazeale used under a Creative Commons license.

Expatriate with Kids

This stint in Argentina is my second foray spending an extended period of time overseas as an expatriate. The first time around, I was just out of college and spent four years overseas–three in Asia working for an aerospace corporation, and one in Europe, well, just messing around.

Some might think that being an expat with kids makes the experience harder, but there are many positive inputs that the wee ones bring to the adventure!


  • You do not get profiled as terrorist/drug smuggler/shoplifter! We can carry backpacks into stores and no one looks at us twice. We arrived in Argentina with a MOUND of bags and got waived right through customs. Back when I was a single and very young international traveler, I apparently fit every profile, because I was stopped by immigration, customs, and security guards constantly.
  • Kids give you a social construct. When you first move overseas, it can be difficult to meet people and you may be tempted to hide out in your apartment all day (especially with Internet access). Well, with kids, it’s not possible to hide out in your apartment (they would drive you bonkers if you tried). Having to find schools, uniform stores, field hockey stores, seamstresses to repair ripped uniforms, birthday party presents, and having to meet parents, arrange play dates, negotiate sleep overs, etc. really makes you jump into local culture and language with both feet!
  • You have extra carrying hands. I’ve never owned a car while living overseas, so having extra carrying capacity from the grocery store, or any other store, is HUGE (even if it comes with whining).
  • You eat healthier. If the girls weren’t here, I think that Tom and I would be living on gelato and alfajores (a yummy crisp butter cookie sandwiched around a dulce de leche caramel center).

Mini Garage Doors for Windows

Okay, perhaps these are not the most attractive exterior adornments for windows, but they work really well!

Click on the pictures below for a better look at the shutter systems that you find on nearly every apartment building in Baires and that I call “garage doors for windows.” The shutters are usually white or wood colored, as shown in these photos.

On the inside of every window there is a manual or electric control that allows you to manipulate the shade (garage door) to any position you wish. You can close the shutters down completely, with no gaps between, resulting in a very dark room. You also can lower them all of the way, but leave gaps between each horizontal slat in the shutter, which gives you privacy and light at the same time. They insulate the apartment from the heat when lowered completely, an important feature since many of these buildings have single-paned windows.

Things Are Going All to Hell

Wow, we’ve had quite a run of luck here lately!!

1) Huge Leak. We turned the air conditioner on in our room two nights ago, and it leaked all night long with a steady fast drip down the wall. We awoke to a huge puddle on the floor! *Sigh*

2) Door Knob Broke Off. Last night, Ian dashed out to make the late-night gelato run and the door knob on the apartment literally came off in his hand. It is a very old door, and the area the knob was screwed into has been so abused over the years, there isn’t really anything left for the screws to bite. Double *sigh*.

(No one has come yet to fix either problem–but that is to be expected.)

3. Ants. We have an ant infestation (on the positive side, they are the cutest little ants I have ever seen). Today, we got home from running errands and it looked like we had an ant party in the kitchen. So far, the apartment managers have left us a can of Raid to deal with it–something I love spraying around my kitchen!! I would give my kingdom for some of those ant traps they have in the US.

4. No Ballots. Tom and I are having a hell of a time getting our ballots. (It’s a long story.) Suffice to say, I am currently sitting by my open window on the 5th floor of my apartment building, leaping up at the sound of any vehicle outside of my place to see if it is the Fed Ex truck. (I have low expectations since this is the same driver who said I wasn’t here an hour ago…)

Argentine Grand Prix Bus Drivers

I love that Argentinian bus drivers all conduct their vehicles as if they were driving taxis…very small taxis.

They dart in and out of traffic nimbly, like a taxi. They accelerate and decelerate like a carnival ride, and like a taxi. They straddle all of the lane lines, like a taxi. There seem to be as many of them on the road as there are taxis. They stop every couple of blocks on their routes, but in between every stop, the enormous buses manage to dart across three to four lanes of traffic from the extreme left to the extreme right of whatever avenue they are driving.

The bus system is chaotic and decentralized, and the buses themselves spew a noxious mix of black exhaust; however, I must applaud the lack of a hub and spoke system. The decentralized nature of the buses means that you can catch a bus from somewhere near your home and go to within a few blocks of pretty much anywhere in the city.

Photo by Flickr user used under a Creative Commons license.