Argentina: Great At Soccer, Less So At Money

Argentina: Great At Soccer, Less So At Money


Leonard Zwelling

We’ve been here in Argentina for ten days now and you have to be impressed with a number of things about the country whose surface we have hardly scratched.

They really know their meat here, both lamb and beef. It is tasty, lean, and prepared expertly.

These folks do love their futbol. And well they should. As of this writing, they are headed for the finals of the World Cup against France. We have viewed the quarter- and semi-final matches with groups in front of large screen TVs and boy, do they get riled up when Argentina scores. And Lionel Messi, their captain is an absolute national treasure. Even at 35 years of age he is an incredible athlete who outruns men ten years younger than he and toys with them with his feet. In one scoring chance, he dribbled around an opponent three of four times before sending an assist to his teammate Alvarez for a score. Yes, they have their own Alvarez and Correa in soccer. I will update this before dropping it after the final on Sunday. As the announcer here likes to say, “Messi, Messi, Messi. Futbol, futbol, futbol. Arrrrrrgentina!”

Secret, not. They won!!!!!

Now when it comes to money, this country is bizarre. The official exchange rate with dollars runs about 170 Argentine pesos to the dollar—BUT—if you exchange US dollars at a Cambio booth, you get about 290 to 300 pesos for hundred-dollar bills, but only 270 for smaller bills. Do you understand this? It’s called the Blue Market and it is blatant. Stores advertise up to 310 pesos credit if you use an American dollar to make a purchase. Change is in pesos. They want our money. And you thought inflation was bad in the United States. It’s better than here. It’s been as high as 100% in Argentina.

The people are very open and friendly, but many do not speak English even in the hospitality business.  We have been on a few tours where the predominant language is Spanish on the tour bus because we are clearly in the minority, but they do try to relate what we are seeing in English. Some guides do it more successfully than others. All are glad to take American dollars as tips.

Finally, there’s Western Union. We didn’t realize how much cash we would go through as we usually use very little other than for tips and cabs, but here you cannot put the tip for your meal on your American Express card so you must have extra cash. Son Andrew wired us $200 worth of Argentine pesos via Western Union (67,134 to be exact). Then the trick is to get the money.

First, lines form around the Western Union office in El Calafate in Patagonia an hour before the office opens and we had a tour to take so could not wait. In Ushuaia, in Tiero del Fuego at the bottom of the world, the main office had a three-hour line to get cash. It was in a super market. The smaller offices did not have lines, but they did not have cash. We would have to return in the morning to make an appointment for the afternoon when they might have cash.

So, we finally made it to the post office which has a Western Union office. No line. Muy bien. Not so fast. Andrew’s $200 in pesos came to 67,134, but there is a limit to what the small offices will dispense. 60,000. We said we would take the 60,000 and they could keep the rest. They can’t do that. They have to dispense the whole 67,134 or nothing, but cannot because they are limited to just 60,000 per transaction. You can’t even give away money in Argentina.

We will try again in Buenos Aires. Clearly in these small tourist towns they are cash poor and everyone goes to one spot to get money—the supermarket. We don’t even know if you can wait in line for three hours at the market only to find out they have run out of cash. Transparency is not high on the Argentine priority list.

Argentina is a beautiful place with friendly people, but in the hinterlands where the scenery is, the cash is not. Futbol, futbol, futbol.

And oh yes, if you come here, bring hundred-dollar bills. A lot of them. And if you can, use them instead of pesos. They go farther.

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