A fortnight ago it was 10 months since I relocated to Buenos Aires. Not a particularly common milestone to commemorate. On this occasion however, it was. Almost to the day, plotting the Sterling against the Peso, it marked 100% inflation since my arrival.
Whereas the Pound equated to roughly 23 Pesos when I was fresh off the plane last November, it now exchanges for closer to 50. To put that into context, that’s a compounded increase of more than 7% every month.
In case you missed it, President Macri requested an early release of the pre-agreed $50bn loan from the IMF at the end of August, prompting the Peso to plummet as many markets scrambled to short their Argentinian assets. The Dollar rocketed up to 40 Pesos, this new high being a new low as it were.
Cue the tsunami of social media satirical takes on the situation. Highlights included a man trying to put out a fire with what he thinks is a bucket of water but turns out to be oil – in turn causing the ensuing, larger fire and ultimate explosion that knocks him off his feet, with the caption translating as: ‘Macri calming the markets’.
There was also a Photoshopped image of a worried Macri looking up the best helicopter to buy online, from his government office, plotting an escape. This one was a nod to disgraced ex-President Fernando De la Rúa, who fled the Casa Rosada by helicopter like a defeated Bond villain, at the height of Argentina’s last major economic meltdown (el argentinazo) in December 2001. My work colleagues remember watching it live on TV, complete with commentary, like a surreal hybrid of action movie and football match.
Like any good joke, it turns out that there are 3 ways of dealing with the inflation here: the English way; the Argentinian way; and the Venezuelan way.
Playing out our various stereotyped roles in the office, there was I, two Thursdays ago, unable to comprehend what was going on. Having never experienced anything like this before, accordingly I started simulating a multitude of farfetched doomsday scenarios in my head.
Then there were the locals, who have seen this kind of thing before. They were revelling in it all, energised by a triumphant sense of told-you-so inevitable calamity about the government going back to the IMF for help, whilst uttering every expletive under the sun about Macri.
Meanwhile, the Venezuelan engineer on my floor in the office, nonplussed by all the commotion, was straight-faced serious when she remarked, ‘We wish we had an inflation rate as low as Argentina’s!’
As an aside, whilst in the countryside with the in-laws last weekend, there was a moment after lunch where the man of the house was walking back with us to the car but then didn’t quite make it for some reason. After waiting more than 5 minutes, a quick glance in the wing-mirror elicited a roll of the eyes and then much beeping of the horn from his good, but growingly impatient wife. She had spotted that he had struck up an animated conversation with the car park attendant and, of course, recognised those telltale wild gesticulations of his. ‘He’s complaining about Macri again,’ she sighed.
What are the implications of all this inflation, then?
Well, there are many. Fundamentally, there is a human tendency to panic during perceived times of crisis. This has translated in Buenos Aires into almost all the shops raising their prices por las dudas (literally ‘for the doubts’, of which there are many). This escalates the problem.
One very visible consequence of this kind of reactionist behaviour is that homeless people are becoming increasingly conspicuous on street corners. Or for those that instead live as okupas (squatters) there are a whole host of formerly glorious, now derelict buildings to choose from in the city.
Just take that of the now-obsolete Ministry for Federal Planning, in Belgrano, that I walk past every day. Although the ministry was disbanded by Macri’s government in 2015 and its gorgeous white stone quarters walled up ever since, the national flag still flutters defiantly as a symbol of the resilience and fortitude of which the Argentinians are necessarily made.
Rather than squatting, I am on my second stint of housesitting in the Recoleta area. This time it is for an English expat friend whilst he is at home seeing his family for a month. Although I had been looking to move straight in to somewhere more permanent, the timing was far from perfect. Around the same time as my landlady moving back into her apartment, not only did rental prices spike, but also owners were demanding larger deposits upfront due to the economic situation.
To my mind, there are two things that all savvy tenants must do here in order to survive therefore. Firstly, make sure that the agreed rent is payable in Pesos, not Dollars. Secondly, confirm that the amount is fixed for the duration of the term.
It was partly because of this and partly due to a string of misleadingly well-marketed places (expert photography, credit where it’s due) that my countless viewings of flats never bore fruit. Predictably, I ran out of time and ended up having to move my life via a taxi/bus combination to and from a rather basic Airbnb spot near Plaza Italia, where I stayed all last week.
Happily, though, through my expat friend (the house-sittee) I did finally find a lovely place to move into in October that follows my two commandments of renting in Buenos Aires. Dovetailing with his return, my 6-month lease begins in just under 4 weeks. Only then will I permit myself to fully unpack all my things again and feel at home, but I’ll get there, with all recent hardships wilfully forgotten.
Crisis? What crisis?