A problem for every solution

Fans are an absolute must during the sweltering summer season in Buenos Aires

Continuing the theme of objects holding significance, here we have the ventilador in all its humidity-relieving splendour. With temperatures consistently exceeding 30 degrees Centigrade over the past week, this adjustable fan has been essential. Beyond this, its story functions as a nice metaphor for some of the complexities I have encountered in this enigmatic country so far.

I needed the fan in the first place due to the air conditioning being broken and the landlord obstinate in paying for it to be repaired. I was aware of the situation before I started housesitting in Recoleta, and it was in fact an invaluable bargaining chip for my negotiating knockdown rent. A fortnight ago I headed to a nearby shop, found a fan and was then drawn into a protracted discussion with multiple assistants about how I would pay for it. The sign was correct, I was told. They did accept card, but only if I had my passport with me. Despite my futile protestations, we reached an impasse and so I begrudgingly handed over the cash.

Paying for big ticket items like this with cash is quite the hardship for us expats that do not have an Argentinian bank account (I can’t open one until I’ve received my DNI identification card). Two weeks ago, all the domestic banks ramped up their ATM withdrawal fees from international accounts to 175 Pesos which is about £8. Understandably then, cash is like gold dust which I sit on for as long as possible until I am essentially robbed at cashpoint out of necessity again.

Next, I needed to put the thing together but did not have the requisite tools. No problem though, as all apartment buildings like mine have a resident fixer-upper living on the ground floor called a portero. Perfect! Unfortunately however my portero had died an unspecified time ago and of course not been replaced since.

As an alternative, my friend for whom I am housesitting pointed me in the direction of Alfonso, the bearded man who works in the café downstairs but would be happy to help. The following day I went in and among otherwise female waitresses was a man with a black beard, and so I approached him. Listening to what I had to say first, he said sorry but he was not Alfonso – not for this particular query anyway.

I asked a neighbour therefore if they had a screwdriver I could borrow and was told yes absolutely, but not today. A day or two later of awkward passing exchanges on the stairs, and it was probably time for me to make other screwdriver arrangements. This was my first experience of a renowned local trait that I had heard about, and tied in with some advice I received in my first week here: never ask an Argentinian for directions. To save face they would rather point you in the wrong direction than admit they do not know. My neighbour does not own a screwdriver, and probably never has.

Having belatedly sourced said outstanding item from an English expat friend, and a well-stocked toolbox from a work colleague for good measure, the fan was finally up a week or so after purchase. Relief. Like anywhere, thriving in Buenos Aires is built upon understanding cultural nuances as much as anything. As the heat intensifies with each passing day, there is a danger that the porteños’ willpower to cooperate will evaporate altogether and if that is the case then so be it.

Before I moved out here, I messaged expats and locals about the most important things for me to bring. Some suggested tea bags, whilst others recommended lots of clothes or even hard cash (nobody suggested a screwdriver). One Argentine imparted the most wisdom of the lot though: ‘Bring with you lots of patience, and that is all you’ll ever need’.

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