February 01, 2009

First Impressions: Buenos Aires

By Jonny Vincent © 2009

Here is a little thing a lot of people don't realise about me. I'm a pacifist. A hippie. I hug trees. I'm empathetic. I turn the other cheek. I'm a pussy to the point of being homosecksual. If I genuinely believed that charity helped people instead of encouraged them to continue to be lazy and breed children they will never be able to afford to feed, I would be Mother Theresa.

I'm no saint and have never claimed to be one. My past is littered with shameful incidents where I have been in the wrong. But now, I basically try to treat others as I would like to be treated - the Bible is full of retardation but the Golden Rule is pretty solid stuff.

But I will only turn the other cheek so many times before I 'snap.' When I've had enough of getting slapped on each cheek, I put an end to it, usually in dramatic circumstances.

With the caveat that I've only been in Buenos Aires a total of three days, here are my early impressions of this interesting city.

Like a hippie new-age middle-level manager just out of a TAFE course, let's start with the positives:

1. Once you get past the miles and miles of slums and graffiti, parts of Buenos Aires are absolutely beautiful and idyllic. I'm currently staying in Las Canitas (which I think is part of the Palermo area) and it really is beautiful.

2. The absolute vast majority of locals I've met so far have been friendly, highly intelligent and ethical. I have not been ripped off once, and do not get the impression there is a culture of scamming or theft or unethical behaviour.

3. Despite the language barrier (I know exactly three Spanish words now), I am able to communicate relatively effectively with most locals due to their high level of intelligence and ability to understand my amateurish and possibly hilarious attempts at charades. Example: I found a laundromat and despite knowing way more Spanish than his English (I know three words, he knew zero), we laughed and charaded our way to achieving exactly what we both wanted - namely, my clothes to be washed, ironed and dry cleaned in return for monetary reimbursement. This may sound simple enough, but I have traveled to many countries, and getting something as simple as this done whilst handicapped by a language barrier usually results in hours of tilt and failed results.

4. The food and wine here are both just surreal. I don't have the vocabulary to describe the quality of the steaks and how sexy the local white wines are. If I end up living here, I will get so fat (and drunk) I will need double seats on airplanes like an obese Canadian. Also, everything is cheap as chips. Not those expensive gourmet Kettle chips, I'm talking about the cheap chips you feed pigeons and homeless people. If you're fat and love cheap awesome steaks and delightful Sauvignon blancs's, move here now!

Now to the negatives:

1. Accessing cash here is an exercise in tilt so ludicrous, I'll probably have to leave soon unless I can find a solution that doesn't require me to jump through retarded hoops. It's beyond ridiculous. This is the first country in the world I've visited where all ATM's only allow you to withdraw like $100 max per transaction.

2. Heaps of places refuse to accept credit cards. Seriously - WTF? Why do people hate money like this? If I owned a business which relied on payments for the exchange of goods or services, I would make it easy for the customer to pay me. Complicated concept? I don't think so - but apparently it's a concept lost on many Argentine merchants.

Example: The closest restaurant to where I live is this huge place about 20 meters down the block. It's a massive restaurant with about 40 tables or so. I had lunch there yesterday and requested the bill, which was about 35 peso (less than $10 I think). I hand the waitress my VISA - she returns saying the manager won't take VISA. I hand her my MasterCard. She returns saying the manager won't take MasterCard either. I jump up and find the manager and offer him AMEX - he says he doesn't take AMEX.

Obviously, I'm already annoyed at this point because if you don't take credit cards, just say so - don't reject them one at a time. I have no peso on me so I apologise to the manager and tell him I will bring him some peso the next day for the bill. At this point, he starts getting abusive and gets in my face about it. I back away (I don't like my personal space being invaded by customer service types or really anyone for that matter) - I apologise again and show him my rental contract which clearly states I live about 20 meters up the road in a luxury apartment building and I offer him my driver's license for him to hang onto until I return with his $8 - I assure him I will bring him the 35 peso tomorrow. At this point, I have been nothing but completely polite and respectful, despite the ridiculous situation of being in a massive restaurant which refuses to accept the three major credit cards in the world.

The manager was a short little shit and continues to get up in my face and starts yelling at me that I'd better bring the fucking money or else he'll take it out of the waitress' salary. At this point, I've had enough of this little fuck. I had turned my cheek one time too many. In what world of logic is it fair for a poor waitress to be billed if a customer doesn't have cash and the business doesn't take credit cards?

I tell him to stop being ridiculous and that I don't like his offensive tone towards me, the customer, and more importantly, his illogical, unreasonable and retarded threat to deduct the bill from the poor waitress' salary. I tell him to calm the fuck down, lower his voice to match his height, chill the fuck out and start acting professional - I take this opportunity to remind him he is in the customer service industry and that he should start acting like it.

I explain to him that this is all my fault. I tell him I'm from the Future, from the 21st century where people are used to paying for goods and services with this futuristic method of payment called credit cards. I apologise yet again and claim full responsibility for my own lack of research into his quaint and backwards and medieval system. I tell him I have no gold, no jewels, no currency and nothing to barter in exchange for the consumed food except these futuristic and useless credit cards, a situation for which I cannot apologise enough. But I promise him I shall return from my lodgings within the day with full payment plus many excess pesos for the inconvenience and I hope that settles the matter.

For some reason, he gets all offended (if I was forced to guess, it was probably my referring to his height - short people hate being reminded of their midget status). He starts yelling at me, even though I had not once yet raised my voice during this exchange and negotiation.

I decide I have had enough at this point, especially as he once again moves his face about six inches closer to my face than I am comfortable with. So I 'snap.'

I shove him out of my face, tell him to shut the fuck up or I will shut him up and that, if he keeps on being a ridiculous idiot about this $8 misunderstanding, I will walk in tomorrow, buy the fucking restaurant and my first point of business as the new owner will be fire him. For what it's worth, I meant every word of the above - at the time.

Of course, in the cold light of day I'm not actually going to buy a freaking restaurant just to fire a wanker manager.

This random and retarded threat has an amazing effect. He flips from being a dick with little man's syndrome into a sniveling, groveling, pathetic little man. He's apologising, stammering and touching me trying to explain away his attitude. I'm too angry to be benevolent, so I tell him to shut up, take his hands right the fuck off me and that I'll return with peso tomorrow (which I just did now - the way her eyes lit up when I handed the waitress the cash made me think this little piece of shit manager did actually take the unpaid bill out of her salary - what a tosser).

Jonny Vincent is a professional poker player and writer originally from Brisbane, Australia. He currently resides in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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