Language Lens

A blog about life, discovery and culture through the lens of language and linguistics.

Archive for the category “Politics”

What is a Yankee really?

A Yankee is someone from New England.  It comes from the American Civil War times right?  And it´s the baseball team that always wins? Well, yes and no, because Yankee is so much more than that.  These would be a few common responses in the modern United States, but evidently Yankee can mean different things depending on where you are.  According to “Writing Gooder” blog, a Yankee is the following:

  • To foreigners, a Yankee is an American.
  • To Americans, a Yankee is a Northerner.
  • To Northerners, a Yankee is an Easterner.
  • To Easterners, a Yankee is a New Englander.
  • To a New Englanders, a Yankee is a Vermonter
  • And in Vermont, a Yankee is somebody who eats pie for breakfast.

A Yankee in Argentina (Yanqui) is what other countries call “gringos.” As the list above states, it is used to describe someone from the United States–anyone, and not just someone from the north.  Pronounced something like “Shunky” (and not to be confused with junkie), it is not used intentionally as a derogatory term, although it can happen and there are other alternatives that could be used in Spanish, such as “estadounidense” o “americano/a,” which will be mentioned in another blog post another time.  Some Argentine friends and English teachers recently told me that they thought the word was used incorrectly in Buenos Aires, as a more targeted definition would be for Americans from the northern states.  Knowing this, another Italian student recently asked me what a colleague from the US meant when she said she was a Yankee.  I told him the same, but his colleague was making a reference more to her political views than where she was from.  She was instead stating that she was not (a conservative Texan).  The word is highly confusing, even for Americans! So where did it come from?

yankee doodle flag

There are many theories about the origin of the word.  Evidently in New England, the prevalent theory is that it originated among a group of Native Americans who pronounced the word “English” as “yengis” or “yengeese,” which later was Anglicized to “Yankees.”  Linguists, however, have linked the word to Dutch origins, rather than being from Native American and English contact.  During the colonization of North America, the areas which are now New York, New Jersey, and Delaware were inhabited by the Dutch, which is why New York was originally called New Amsterdam.  The states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut were inhabited by the English.  Naturally the two groups interacted often and eventually began to mix.  There are three  major arguments as to where the word Yankee came from based on this history.

1. Jan and Kees are common first names in the Dutch language, in use today and during colonization as well. The two names are sometimes combined into Jan Kees – this could have then developed into Yankee to describe English settlers moving into previously Dutch colonized areas.

2. The Dutch nickname Janneke (meaning “little John” or Johnny), would be Anglicized to Yankee, meaning converting it to a more English pronunciation and spelling in this case. This explanation believes that Yankee was used to describe Dutch-speaking American colonists, and by extension non-Dutch colonists.

3. The derogatory term John Cheese was often used to describe Dutch settlers, who were popular for their cheese production. The Dutch translation for John Cheese would be Jan Kaas; this could have also been Anglicized to Yankees and therefore be where the word originated.

The word Yankee has been very present during times of war.  Even before the American Revolution, British soldiers used the term Yankee to mock American soldiers. It was combined with the word “Doodle”, which was a derogatory term that meant “fool” or “simpleton,” to create the song Yankee Doodle which today ironically is a symbol of American pride.  I suppose that pride came from winning the war…  Later on during the Civil War, the Yankees were the hated opponents of the Confederates.  In World War I, the English began calling American soldiers, both Southerners and Northerners, Yankees, and it was then shortened to Yank and became popular in the United States.  Yankee and Yank were again popular designations for the American soldier in World War II. The term Yanqui is used in some Latin America countries to describe US citizens, often—especially after the Cuban Revolution— with a note of hostility.

Yankee doodle

Yankee Doodle by Archibald Willard

So there you go. How many of you associated the Dutch with this term used worldwide with such rich historical significance?  I certainly didn´t!

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Presenting the McFlation, formerly known as the Big Mac

I don´t frequent McDonald´s, but I do go every one in a while.  Back in the US when I had a bad day, I remember occasionally I would call it a “Big Mac Day.”  It was when I had to find some relief in the midst of deadlines or pressure, or just needed a momentary escape when nothing was going right.  Occasionally a Happy Meal (Caja Feliz) would do, when I wanted to spend as little as possible, and then a friend´s kid would later become the proud owner of the toy.

McDonald´s in Argentina… well it´s not too different really, but many of the stores are a bit bigger than I recall in Colorado.  They have quite large coffee shops/separate stores to compete with Starbucks; the items are in Spanish (obvio!), and some say the beef is better as it is Argentina.  I´m not too sure about that one (insert sarcastic intonation here), but there is something very different about McDonald´s here that I just now have come to understand.  As mentioned above, I prefer the Big Mac.  So it was no surprise that I would usually choose the Big Mac when I went there.  I was also surprised to find that it was much less expensive than the other “combos” as they say and was close to the price of a Caja Feliz–truly!  But who would know this as it´s not listed on the menu to even see.  I have always had to ask for it you see.

Argentina is known for its history of high inflation and yet the government says something else, so where´s the proof?  The proof is in many places, including the price of the Big Mac!  The Big Mac Index was invented by the Economist in 1986.  The Economist says: “Our Big Mac index is a fun guide to whether currencies are at their “correct” level.  It is based on the theory of purchasing-power parity (PPP), the notion that global exchange rates should eventually adjust to make the price of identical baskets of tradable goods the same in each country.”  This Burgernomics measure was never intended to be a measure for currency misalignment (aka high inflation) and was instead a fun and easy way to understand costs in different currencies, but the tool has become a global standard.

Big Mac index

The Argentine price of the Big Mac looks well in line with other currencies when you look at the Big Mac Index; however, it doesn´t even compare to the prices of other items on the menu.  It is an obvious manipulation to mask a bigger problem–the near 25% inflation that the government denies.  I did some secret shopping the other day to see current McDonald´s prices and was not surprised what I found.  The Big Mac itself is 19 pesos, where the Cuarto de Libra (Quarter Pounder) is 33 pesos and the Triple Mac is 35 pesos!   That´s a difference of about $3 USD for just an extra patty of meat.  As far as the combos go, the Big Mac Meal is 29 pesos, where the Triple Mac meal is 49 pesos,  the Cuarto de Libra meal is 47 pesos, and a Caja Feliz is 30 pesos!  A Happy Meal is more expensive than a Big Mac meal, como puede ser? (How can this be?)  A Happy Meal is always one of the least expensive items on the menu… in the United States that is, and not in Argentina where the Big Mac price is manipulated for economic reasons.  Using today´s “official dollar exchange” ($1USD is $5.29AR), prices equate to the following:

  • Big Mac sandwich: $3.59 USD (Actual price $5.90)
  • Cuarto de Libra sandwich: $6.24
  • Triple Mac sandwich: $6.62
  • Big Mac combo: $5.48
  • Triple Mac combo: $9.26
  • Cuarto de Libra combo: $8.88
  • Caja Feliz: $5.67

Argentines are well aware of the government trick, and they have even coined a term for it–“El Menu Moreno”–based on the name of commerce secretary Guillermo Moreno who is “notorious for telling companies to fix certain prices to keep the official inflation rate down.”  In June 2012 Big Mac prices rose 25% after President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner´s attempts to pressure McDonald´s to keep the prices low failed.

Big Mac Argentina

Some sources say that McDonald´s has decided to stop offering the Big Mac in Argentina as the  government-manipulated price does not make it profitable any longer, however, if you ask for it, you can still get it.  I´d like to see what happens if you order the McFlation combo.

Global prices for a Big Mac in January 2013, by country (in USD).

 

The Messi Dollar

So now they are calling it the “Messi Dollar,” as it quickly approaches the magic number 10.  I am referring to the new high of the blue dollar in Argentina.  Since I first blogged about this back in August, the blue dollar (aka black market dollar) has risen from $6.37 AR pesos to $9.3 AR pesos per $1USD.  That is as of today, April 29, 2013, where the official rate is $5.19 AR pesos to $1USD, changing from $4.65 AR back in August.   Today the gap between the official exchange and the blue dollar exchange is above 80%.  It appears that the arbolitos, those who are buying and selling dollars on the streets in high tourist areas, have already reached 10.  Reaching $8 AR pesos to $1USD was a milestone in itself, but that is old news and was $2 USD ago!

The “Messi Dollar” refers to the jersey number of Lionel Messi for those of you who live under a rock.  He is an Argentine football player (attention Americans: soccer player) who plays as a forward for the Argentina national team and for FC Barcelona in the Spanish league.  He is perhaps the greatest football (soccer) player in the world and now has even currency named after him!

When I first read “Messi Dollar” today, the thought crossed my mind that it could even be true.  A new bill, with a living person on it?  Only in Argentina.  The country has a long history of high inflation.  In my short three years, I have been surprised several times by new money.   I always knew and used the $2 AR peso bill for example, and then one day the $2 AR peso coin came along that not even the buses accepted at first.  It took a little while for them to catch up to the new coin.

Image

Then just a few months ago, I received change with coins that I had never seen before.  The cashier even told me “Son de verdad” (They are real) as I looked at them in doubt.  Later that day I attempted to use them, but the cashier at the next shop didn´t recognize them and was reluctant to accept at all.  After showing her manager, they accepted the coins, but not on the basis of them being legitimate, instead because the manager told me he liked them.  I later learned that these were coins used in 2006 and were later lifted from the market.  Few people recognized them in fact, but the few that did told me that they were collector´s items.

Image

Then there was the Evita $100 peso bill, which came into circulation in 2012 as a form of tribute for the 60th anniversary of Evita´s death.  Argentine President Cristina Kirchner later declared that the bill would replace the former bill definitively, and production reached great numbers…as did the cost of production.  On top of that, alerts went out about the large suspected number of false bills circulating.   Last month production of the Evita bill was stopped all together.  According to Clarin, an Argentine newspaper, the Argentine government is currently only printing $5 AR and $10 AR peso bills.  Just last week I finally found an Evita bill, which is far too pretty to spend.

Evita bill

In my third week, a kind taxi driver informed me of the false bills circulating, and he even showed me how to identify them.  This was an occasion in Argentina where luck struck; he shared his knowledge instead of giving me false change.  The concept of false bills isn´t an easy one to understand, nor accept when it happens to you.  I remember more than one story of exchange students crying as a result of their bills not being accepted.  Argentines, however, will tell you they are unfortunately accustomed to all of this.  A Buenos Aires museum I have yet to visit is the Museo de la deuda externa Argentina (The Argentine Museum of External Debt), which includes a history of the country´s peso, through the years of inflation.

As the blog beyondbrics states, “It is no longer a question of whether it will continue to rise – that’s a given…(and) Still, the government is in no mind to devalue – yet. Watch for that Messi dollar soon.”

The new Pope loves God, football, and maybe potatoes

Yesterday was a big day for the Catholic Church and for Catholics around the world, especially those in Latin America as the new Pope was revealed for the world to see.  Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio made history as the first non-European pope of the modern era, the first from Latin America, the first Jesuit, and the first to use the name Francis.  The name Francis is in honor of St. Francis of Assisi who is known among Catholics for his work with the poor.

Pope Francis himself is 76 and has served as the archbishop of Buenos Aires since 1998.  He represents a highly conservative perspective, examples being his clashing with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner over opposition to gay marriage and free distribution of contraceptives.  Of the word’s 1.2 billion Catholics, Latin America is home to 480 million.  This new Pope brings together the first world and the developing worlds.  Also being of the Jesuit order, it represents a new chapter for the Catholic Church.

The news certainly represents a new chapter for Latin America and Argentina specifically.  Not long after the news was released I heard bells ringing from nearby churches, horns honking on the streets and of course the social networks were flooded with opinions.  Argentina is a predominantly Catholic country but like many countries, there are many people who are disenchanted with the ways of the church.  For this and other reasons, news from Porteños (the people of Buenos Aires) was mixed.  Many celebrated with other believers and others were embarrassed for the country.  One friend of mine said, “Yo hoy quisiera ser uruguaya!”  (Today I wanted to be Uruguayan.)

Regardless of religious beliefs, one cause for strong criticism is the now-Pope’s alleged role in Argentina’s last military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983 where an estimated 30,000 people were killed and disappeared. The Argentine Church and Bergoglio, due to his position in the local Jesuit Order at the time, have been accused of ignoring the victims despite their relatives first-hand accounts of kidnappings, torture, and deaths.  Here are some comments regarding yesterday’s news, from Argentinians and other Latin Americans, with corresponding picture that are making their rounds in social network land.

  • “Ahora van a ser mas agrandados aún!” (Now they’re going to be even more full of themselves.) (Chilean)
  • Brace yourselves, now Argentines will feel more Godlike than ever!! (Ecuadorian)
  • Según recientes estadísticas ahora de cada 10 argentinos, 11 se sienten superiores a los otros 10. (According to recent stats, now of every 10 Argentines, 11 is going to feel superior to the other 10.) (Colombian)

Pope and Asado

  • Hay un viejo chiste que describe la fama de arrogantes que los argentinos tenemos entre latinoamericanos y españoles: “Dios es argentino”. Hoy ese chiste adquirió un nuevo significado… (There is an old joke that describes the infamous arrogance that Argentinians have with other Latin Americans and Spaniards. “God is Argentinian.”  Today this joke has new meaning.) (Argentinian)

Dios en Argentino

  • Dios es Argentino y ahora el Papa también!!!jaja (God is Argentinian and now the Pope too – haha.) (Argentinian)
  • “El Dios del fútbol es argentino y ahora, también el Papa es argentino”. (The God of football is Argentinian and now also the Pope is Argentinian.) (Maradona)

Maradona approves

  • Que el Papa sea Argentino confirma que Dios es Maradona. (Now that the Pope is Argentinian, it confirms that Maradona is God.)(Argentinian)

maradona number

  • La verdad me da mucha bronca que una persona que fue cómplice de la dictadura ahora sea Papa; de todas formas, no tiene nada de raro, esa institución nunca tuvo nada que ver ni con la religiosidad ni dios sino todo lo contrario. (The truth is it really pisses me off that a person that was an accomplice of the dictator now is Pope; anyway it’s not strange, this institution never had anything to do with religion nor with God, but only the opposite.) (Argentinian)
  • Bergoglio sigue siendo investigado por la participación de la Iglesia en delitos de lesa humanidad. Ni olvido, ni perdón. (Bergoglio continues being investigated for the (Catholic) church’s participation in crimes against humanity. Neither do I forget nor forgive.) (Argentinian)

Pope with Dictator

  • Que Dios bendiga e ilumine al nuevo Papa. Primer Papa latinoaméricano! (May God bless and enlighten the new Pope.  The first Latin American Pope!!) (Colombian)

Papa-Bahia-Bengala-Orissa-India_IECIMA20130314_0065_13

With such big news and many jokes to be made relating this to Argentine culture, the photos and jokes won’t stop.  Here’s a few for you, and if they don’t make sense, google Argentina and you’ll find out why.

Pope Francis with San Lorenzo pennant

Messi and Maradona and Sisteen chapel

Pope and Messi

parilla built in

The new communion - fernet

And then there was a very unfortunate typo, or was it photoshopped?

PS – You don’t need to speak Spanish to see the typo.

Ereccion

And like Spanglish Exchange Buenos Aires picture, I can’t bare to not include the following picture for your reference.  The Spanish word for potato “Papa” is also the same word for Pope. The difference is in the article. (Potato = la papa, Pope = el Papa).

Potatoe and pope

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/noticias/2013/03/130314_cultura_chistes_papa_aa.shtml

To be or not to be… Tolerant

Tolerance.  It’s a noun and a politically-charged word, which naturally some preach and others detest.  It and its adjective form, tolerant, have been used in a social context for years and continue to be used, just for different reasons.  I read it in fact today in the comments of an article, “I think you need to start becoming more tolerant of others.”

Spanish is very precise with its verbs and has two verbs for the single verb ‘to be’ in English, ser and estar.  In general ser is the choice to talk about personality traits and things that are more permanent, like nationality or telling time, where estar is the choice for things that are temporal, like feelings or location.  This topic proves to be difficult for English speakers who are used to yet one verb.  In order to differentiate between a permanent trait and a temporal state, we English speakers have to use more words… more grammar, such as adverbs:

  • The water is cold.  (It’s still unclear whether the water is permanently cold or just temporarily cold.)
  • The water is always cold.  (Adding the adverb ‘always’ shows that cold is the water’s permanent state.)

In Spanish, the meaning of a sentence changes based on the verb choice, and not by adding extra words:

  • Ella es feliz.  (She is a happy person.) (Ser)
  • Ella está feliz.  (She is happy, in the moment for some reason.) (Estar)

It struck me recently when I was reminded that the adjective “tolerant” in Spanish goes not with estar, a temporal state verb, but with ser, the permanent state verb.  Through the grammar lens, I say it’s a great message: tolerance isn’t a temporary state that comes and goes, it’s something that we must ‘be’ in the diverse world we live in.

I think so at least.

Image

And PS – this was about the word ‘tolerant’ and not the verb ‘to tolerate.’  That is another subject for another day.

The Voice of the People

It’s that time of year again, election time.  With living and teaching in another country, naturally I’ve talked a lot about the upcoming US election and just how the system works.   Like many Americans I’ve had to do my own homework on the infamous Electoral College.  It’s not so straight forward, and it’s certainly different than the Argentine way.   Here in Argentina I’ve looked for the Republican and Democrat equivalents and realized there aren’t any.   Despite there being some similarities in terms of how the government is structured, this is just one of the many differences.  For one voting in Argentina is mandatory.  The legal voting age was just lowered last week to 16 years old from 18; days before election all campaigning is prohibited, and the president is elected by winning the majority of the vote, the popular vote.

Surprisingly enough the President in the United States can be elected President without winning the popular vote.  How the President does win is by the ‘electoral vote’ in the Electoral College, which is the sum of Senators and Representatives (538 votes).  In the US government, each state has members of the House of Representatives based on the population of the state, and two Senators, regardless of the size of the state.  This is where the 538 number comes from, and in order to be elected, a candidate must have a majority of the electoral votes.  Since 1964, this number has been 270.

Evidently the Electoral College was not the Founding Fathers first choice, nor their only idea for how to elect a new president.  As the US Constitution was being drafted, the delegates of the Constitutional Convention considered five ways in choosing a President:

  1. By debate and vote in the U.S. Congress
  2. By the popular vote of the people
  3. By vote of the State legislatures
  4. By vote of the State governors
  5. By electors – the Electoral College system

Unable to agree on how to elect electors, the delegates eventually settled on the idea of leaving it up to each state.  The electors of the Electoral College are real people who are generally nominated or chosen by votes in their corresponding state.  They can be state elected officials, party leaders or people with some personal or political affiliation to the presidential candidates.  So when an American votes, they are voting for their state elector who then votes on behalf of the people in their state for the president.  In most cases the electors vote based on the majority vote in their state, but this is the law only in 27 states, including Washington D.C. as a state.  The other 24 states have no law requiring their electors to vote based on the majority vote and can instead choose the candidate of their choice.  For a breakdown of state law, go here.

This seems odd to me, although history has shown that generally the Electoral College has been true to public opinion.  In 2000, however, the famous election between George W. Bush and Al Gore was only the fourth time in the history of the country where the president was not elected based on the popular vote.  This time represented a great crisis in the country and regardless of opinions why, few will disagree that the country has only become more polarized ever since.  The popular vote didn’t matter in this case, so why would your vote matter today many wonder.  Historically only around 50%  of the population votes anyway (58% voted in the 2008 presidential election).  See the history here.

The validity of the Electoral College has been debated for years, and was close to being reversed in 1970, although obviously the bill for change wasn’t ultimately approved.  Today it comes down to a math game, and a president can be elected by not getting a single person’s vote in 39 states or Washington D.C., unless they win the popular vote in just 11 of these 12 states: California, New York, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia.  These are the most populated states in other words, with the most electoral votes.  This doesn’t even consider the now key-phrase in any election “Swing State.”

The Founding Fathers originally felt that this system would better represent the full population, as the states’ representatives would vote on behalf of their people.  Many things have changed since this time, however.  The two party dominant system was not in place then as it is today. Communications and news no longer take weeks to deliver and due to the media, the world has access to every word spoken by the candidates.  To the Founding Fathers, a tweet was just the name for the sound a bird made.

Each election the debate returns whether or not the Electoral College in fact represents the true public opinion.  Those who oppose the method have many criticisms, most of all being that a president can be elected without winning the popular vote.  Although this has happened in history, proponents of the method will say that it has happened few times and that the Electoral College is a weighed voting system that is designed to give more power to the states with more votes, although it allows small states to swing an election; thus the system considers and better represents smaller rural areas, and wouldn’t allow larger metropolitan or highly populated areas to dominate an election alone.

Unfortunately the country is very polarized today and only gets worse during election time.  Later this week some people will rejoice and others will be tremendously disappointed.  Politics aside, I truly hope the voice of the peopleis heard rather than it being a game of mathematics.

image

http://edition.cnn.com/ELECTION/2004/special/president/electoral.college/more.html

http://www.debate.org/opinions/is-the-united-states-electoral-college-a-fair-way-to-conduct-the-presidential-election

http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/thepoliticalsystem/a/electcollege.htm

http://uselectionatlas.org/INFORMATION/INFORMATION/electcollege_procon.php

http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/thepoliticalsystem/a/electcollege_3.htm

http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/electors.html

http://people.howstuffworks.com/question4722.htm

http://pinterest.com/pin/250653535482440539/

I Speak Two Languages, Body and English

Mae West, the American actress and sex symbol, once said that she spoke “two languages, Body and English.”  Everyone’s heard of body language (lenguaje corporal in Spanish) but how many are conscious of the language they give off with actions and gestures?  In an article entitled 10 Powerful Body Language Tips by Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. and author,  the article not only shares ten fascinating tips to make a nonverbal impact on your workplace but gives scientific evidence for the tips making it all the more believable.  Here’s just a few to tease you.

  1. To boost your confidence, assume a power pose.  A “high-power” pose such as leaning back with hands behind the head and feet up on the desk actually causes a hormonal shift in both males and females giving them a greater feeling of power and willingness to take risks.
  2. To connect with someone instantly, shake their hand.  People are two times more likely to remember you if you shake their hands, as the power of touch creates a human bond within as little as 1/40 of a second.
  3. To improve your speech use your hands.  Brain imaging found that the area of the brain where verbal speech comes from, Broca’s Area, is active when you are both talking and when you wave your hands.
  4. To improve your memory, uncross your arms and legs.  A study showed that university students with uncrossed legs and arms remembered 38% more of the lecture content than students who didn’t leave them uncrossed.

There is no more important time for positive body language than during a presidential debate.  Body language expert and author of You Can’t Lie to Me  Janine Driver said after the first of three debates that “in respect to body language Romney was the winner.”  An article in the Daily Mail called President Obama’s performance poor as he was laid back and unassertive.  He kept his head tilted or down instead of upward, projecting less confidence, and Romney kept his head “on straight” and focused his eyes either on the president or on the moderator.

Driver also she said that ”if you were from another country and watched this based on body language, people would think that Mitt Romney was already the president.”  This is very true and I have first-hand experience!  I’ve been using the presidential debates with certain classes and it was the students in fact who reminded me just how big of a role body language plays during the debates.  Many either without having an opinion or in fact preferring Obama said that Romney was the clear winner due to his body language.  Political lingo about loop-holes or the affects of tax cuts on the deficit are hard for native English speakers to understand, so it makes complete sense why body language plays a key role in the attitudes towards the candidates both in America and beyond.

ABC news called the Vice Presidential debate last week a case of a “bulldog versus a puppy.”  Vice President Biden was more aggressive and smiled profusely during the debate, which looked positive compared to his opponent; however, a study done by assistant professor at Purdue University, Chris Kowal, revealed another side of Biden.  By using computer software that analyzes the facial expressions produced by nearly 400 muscles in the face, Biden’s facial expressions revealed readings of frustration and discomfort, “the emotions you might experience laughing at a funeral” Kowal said.

Elections come down to many things, including tax plans, social agendas, body language and swing states.  Paul Ryan can’t make up for his performance on the body language stage, but President Obama has two more opportunities.  I’m eager to hear what both candidates have to say in the upcoming debates.  No doubt there will be a lot of ‘malarkey’ spoken, and the altitude won’t be an issue… but was it really an issue before?

http://pinterest.com/pin/250653535482297452/

The Dollar Language

There are certain moments in history that scar a country forever; they leave deep wounds and change societal habits and attitudes all together.  The 2001 economic crisis in Argentina, also known as “El Corralito”, is one of these events.  El Corralito is the diminutive of “el corral” and means a small animal pen, a small enclosure, or a children’s play pin, all of which show the severe limitations that this government measure put on the people.

A brief history: Around 2001 the Argentine peso was losing value and in fear of losing more, Argentines started to pull their money from banks in large quantities and convert it to a more stable currency, like the US dollar.  Eventually the government froze all bank accounts and only allowed those who were seeking pesos to get funds, in small quantities of course.  The greatest blow (golpe) to the people was that the government converted funds/accounts in US dollars to Argentine pesos at a 1 to 1 rate, where the AR peso was really valued at 4 pesos to $1 US dollar.  In other words, if you had $4,000 US dollars before El Corralito, the money was worth 16,000 pesos, but afterwards, $4,000 dollars was worth 4,000 pesos instead…

Argentina is a country with an average annual inflation somewhere between 25% and 30%, although the government will tell you otherwise.  The country also has a habit of printing money, which only in turn lowers its value.  In the last few months, the government has halted the purchase (or conversion) of AR pesos to US dollars all together, which has consequently increased not only the demand for dollars but also the value of the US dollar, on the black market.  Today there are several dollars in fact, which really means several exchange rates—depending on what you are trying to do—but ironically a dollar being sold on the black market isn’t called the “Black Dollar” and is instead called the “Blue Dollar”, or el Dólar Blue.

Why blue and not black?  To make it not sound so bad, really.  The dollars have their own language, what I call the Dollar Language.

As of today, the 29th of August, the exchanges of different dollars are as follows:

  • Dólar Oficial (aka: Official Exchange) – 4.65 pesos to $1USD
  • Dólar Light Blue (aka: Real Estate Dollar)* – 5.51 pesos to $1USD
  • Dólar Blue (aka: Black Market/Informal/Parallel) – 6.37 pesos to $1USD
  • Dólar Green (aka: Arbolitos – little trees)* – 6.57 pesos to $1USD

*The Light Blue Dollar is the rate between the official and the black market dollar used for anything related to real estate.  It is also known as “Dólar Inmobiliaria” or “Dólar Building.”  The Green Dollar, or Arbolito (small tree), is the rate people selling and buying on the streets use, commonly in high tourist areas.

What has caused these different rates and where does the beloved and sought-after “Dólar Blue” rate come from?  Scarcity of anything drives up the price.  Although many things are different and better than they were in 2001, for anyone living here we hope this isn’t a case of history repeating itself.  For now most people I talk to are just waiting to see what happens, following the rates everyday, and hoping no one is too blue later…

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