1 Dec 2007

What's up in Buenos Aires?

In the present moment, Dec 2007
I can't keep silent on this topic any longer. The long-term "immigrants of tango", foreigners who gave up their lives in their country and moved to live in Buenos Aires for tango, spoke up on this topic on their blogs many months ago.

Inflation in Buenos Aires has been rampant this year. I can't say about the rest of the country but I certainly experience the ill effects and how it impacts the everyday life of the residents of BA. Over the years, I had weathered several cycles of economic recessions in 2 countries as well as seen the incredible property boom in Sydney starting in 1994. Sad to say, none of my experiences prepared me for this.

Since I arrived in Buenos Aires, the prices of everything have gone up and up while I watch google-eyed and gap-jawed.

Here are some examples of my own experiences, which I imagine barely scratch the surface of what the portenos are suffering:

1. Milongas and Classes
In June, the entrance fees to downtown milongas were generally 8-10 pesos. Barely 2 months later in August, the prices increased to 13-15 pesos. You could postulated that the increase was timed to catch hold of the high-tourist season in August. I am waiting for the next hike. With luck it will only come during "MEGACITA 2008".

Correspondingly class fees have gone up from 10-12 pesos to 15 pesos and more, in a matter of 3 months. Some classes are now 20 pesos! Within a 4-month period, I have seen 3 price adjustments in one of the schools where I take my classes. Admittedly, small adjustments each time but in total they amounted to a 50% increment...

I think more and more teachers will join the trend of holding tango seminarios. These are special topic classes apart from the regular classes, and tend to be priced higher than normal classes. The rational for charging more is that the seminarios concentrate on thematics topics, and are not held regularly. The top-notch maestros charge in US dollars or Euro.

2. We all need to Eat
I started patronising a restaurant near my place in the last 4-6 weeks. Prices have gone from 7.50 to 8.5 pesos and 8 to 9 pesos within this short period. The lady boss told me that she couldn't help the price hike since the cost of the ingredients have risen to levels she can't absorb. It is a struggle for her to stay afloat.

The prices have risen 3 times in my favourite ice-cream store. The small-size cone cost 3 pesos in June and increased to 4 pesos at the end of July. 2 weeks ago in mid-Nov, it became 5 pesos. If anyone out there reading this thinks, "oh no big deal, still cheap actually", I shall resist the urge to inflict GBH and gently highlight the maths - its a 66% increase.

One crazy week in early Oct, the prices of tomatoes rose to a staggering 15 pesos per kilos while the portenos watched with the same incredulous disbelief as the day on 9th of July this year when snow fell from the skies of Buenos Aires for the first time in more than 80 years. Admittedly, the "tomato price crisis" could have been a political maneuver in the weeks leading up to the grand election of Argentina. The portenos breathed a collective sigh of relief post-election, as the price of tomatoes returned to some semblance of normality.

3. Tango shoes
Barely 1-2 years ago, Comme Il Fauts were still the priciest tango shoes in the BA compared to the other brands. Generally speaking, CIF shoes were at least 30% more expensive than their competitors, depending on the brands in question. The gap has narrowed significantly.

Neotango shoes are now only 10-12% less than Comme Il Fauts; prices for Aurora Lubiz's shoes are in the same league. Tangobrujo shoes cost as much as CIFs.

My highest arched eyebrow, with a chichi flicker of a smile, must be reserved for Darcos shoes. Some may recall their prices back in 2005. Well, ladies, right now their shoes cost "3%" less than CIFs.

Darcos has been engaged in aggressive promotion of their shoes. They have been churning out a range of flashy and colourful shoes in their blatant aspiration to be like CIF. I guess their present prices are a reflection of their high self-esteem. Four points of contention for me:

i) Strong-arm tactics in the shop
"The problem of many tourists is this. Don't go around to the other shops and compare and compare. You will just be confused."
- oh com'on, don't insult my intelligence. I have been a shopaholic for many more years than they have been selling shoes.

ii) Creativity, donde esta ??
- many of the other brands have their own distinctive look or some unifying characteristics for their shoes. I appreciate and respect this quality. For me, Darcos shoes lack this distinction. They are fairly pretty but empty-headed. Put in another way, they are obvious, sin imagination. Third-rated chic.

iii) Rampant overcharging
- all the tango DVDs at Darcos are selling at 60 pesos. In other music shops, some DVDs are less than 40 pesos. Making a decent profit is one thing, highway robbery is another. Or perhaps they need a better supplier.

iv) Badmouthing the competition
"We make shoes in the shop, we know shoes. We fix shoes with problems that customers bring us from other shoe shops, from Comme Il Faut etc"
- sheer bad form. I have been to many shoe shops in the city and I know a few of their salespeople well enough. Nobody has ever badmouthed their competition specifically by name. My belief is that quality speaks for itself.

On the other hand, their shoe quality has seen a fair amount of improvement over the years compared to those that I owned previously. To be fairer to Darcos, one can't be all talk and no action. So I bought a pair of shoes to test them out properly. Let's see how they go.

Do excuse the digression from the main topic of inflation in Buenos Aires.

It is one thing for the cost of tango shoes or tango classes or ice cream to rise 20-50% over 6 months. It is another thing for basic necessities to rise every couple of months. The same trend is happening to rent, food and other necessary expenses such as electricity, laundry bills etc. In the lead up to last month's grand elections, the BA government officially logged the inflation at such a laughable rate that I can only describe the attempt as "infantile". See Bloomberg report . The portenos would be laughing even harder in derision, if not for how tough living in the city is becoming. Of course salaries remain low, so many people have to work 2 jobs or more to make ends meet.

...What more next?
It is one thing to experience a minimum 20% price hike. It is quite another to watch the prices spiral upwards without knowing if there is an end in sight, or a slowing down of the inflation. I quitted my safe, stable job to come to BA and I am just surviving off my savings. Frankly, it is a daunting experience to watch your money shrink at this rate.

In a perverse kind of reasoning, I am beginning to think it is better to buy that CD or shoes that you want now, than to wait for a rainy day!

New addition, 6 Dec '07
The ever increasing heap of straws on the Argentina camel's back:

Yesterday, the government of Argentina announced a 20% price increment for all trains and buses starting from 1 Jan 2008. Granted the cost of public transportation in Buenos Aires is relatively affordable compared to other international cities. Granted that the last price hike was 7 years ago. Nevertheless, it is still an "overnight" jump of 20%. I am sure many portenos would like to see such a jump in their salaries too.

This announcement came after the October grand elections in Argentina. Monday 10 Dec has been designated by the government as the day of ascension for the soon-to-be PresidentA Cristina K.

Is this an "untimely" jump in transport cost? Should the price hike come at this moment, adding to the already relentless overall burden borne by the people? Some commentators may say in rebuttal, well, is there such a thing as a "good time" for an increase in the cost of living?

All sounds too familiar, doesn't it? Hey, "Mr Brown" look over here to this side of the world, can? The favourite dish in Argentina is the asado (meat BBQ). Any inspiration for a song? (This is an in-joke; only my countrymen will understand. Apologies to other readers, its really too complicated to explain)

free hit counter script