Monday, April 7, 2008

No place is ever perfect

You knew it was coming. Argentina was sounding too good to be true, right?

Plus, we've complained to some degree about every other location we've visited on our trip; of course we would find fault with this country at some point.

On the whole, Argentina is a lot less frustrating than, say, Vietnam, but the country does have its annoying quirks. And now that we're kind of in the middle of nowhere, they're starting to rear their ugly heads.

It's funny, because the single most annoying thing about Argentina is something that every Asian country does extremely well: money.

Take ATMs. In Asia, they're everywhere. And they always work. Here, not so much. In San Telmo, for example, there are only three ATMs within easy walking distance. One of them is broken, another is hidden inside a gas station with no signage to indicate that it's there. The remaining single ATM that's highly visible and close to the center of the neighborhood almost always has a line of anywhere from 2 to 10 people, and it frequently runs out of money! Oh yeah, it doesn't have an option for the English language, either.

Additionally, most banks in Buenos Aires close for a siesta at around 2pm. You'd think you would still be allowed to use the ATM, since it's in a separate facility within the bank building, but nooooooooooo. Three different security guards at three different banks actually finger-wagged me when I tried to swipe my card to access the ATM chamber one day.

This sounds ridiculous, but I would honestly estimate that my success rate at actually withdrawing money on any given ATM visit is hovering at around 10%.

Another annoying thing about the money here is that stores never have any of it. That is, they never want to give you change. Just today, I tried to purchase a pair of fingernail clippers and some lotion for 23 pesos. I gave the lady 25 pesos, which is damn close to exact change if you ask me. She gave me sort of an exasperated look and asked for exact change. I said no. She rustled around in the cash register for a moment, then said she didn't have the correct change. We're talking a single 2-peso note, or a handful of coins. This is a clean, brightly-lit pharmacy in the middle of a super-touristy town, not some dingy hut in Asia (where, I might add, they will ALWAYS have change!) And forget about trying to break a 100-peso note on anything less than about 75 pesos. The cashier will give you a look like you just asked them to sell you their first-born child.

So, to sum up, it's a pain in the ass to get money, and equally difficult to spend it.

Argentina, take a hint from Asia: People want to spend money in your country. Make it easier for them!

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