Language Lens

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

Archive for the category “Society”

The Fork of Identity

I haven’t written in this beloved blog for many months. Since the last post I have come to Europe–Barcelona, Spain specifically–and although it’s only been about six months, it feels like years!  Adaptation and growth can indeed feel like a pressure cooker I suppose.

I could write about many things to open the Europe chapter of this blog, but one topic comes to mind specifically: table etiquette.

I remember how Alexia ate, a dear French friend I met in college.  I remember thinking it was quite “pretty” the way she held the utensils and used both at the same time.  I quite honestly had forgotten about it since coming to Europe, but of course it’s come to my full attention.  How could it not?  Recently someone commented on the way I changed hands when eating.  To him, it was quite strange and far from elegant.  The process is as follows:  American Style: Knife in right hand, fork in left hand holding food. After a few bite-sized pieces of food are cut, place knife on edge of plate with blades facing in. Eat food by switching fork to right hand (unless you are left handed). A left hand, arm or elbow on the table is bad manners.

Placing the knife on the edge of the plate and switching hands  was like turning on automatic pilot, and it’s moments like this when you realize just how American you are!   The American style of eating seemed like a lot of extra and unnecessary work to him, but what was far worse of an offense was that my left hand was not visible,  but according to the description above from “United States Dining Etiquette Guide,” having your left hand or arm visible on the table is bad manners in the US of A!  There are many ways to spot an American tourist: college and professional sports paraphernalia, tennis shoes, fanny packs, and the infamous North Face jacket, among others.  I never took part in the fanny pack craze (and never will for that matter), and I prefer Converse over Nike thanks to Argentina, but apparently, the hand I use to hold my fork is also a dead giveaway of my nationality!  Let’s call it the “fork of identity.”

It’s more accurate to call it the “North American style” instead of the “American style” as this also is the common way to eat in Canada.  In comparison, here is a description of the Continental/European StyleKnife in right hand, fork in left hand. Eat food with fork still in left hand. The difference is that you don’t switch hands-you eat with your fork in your left hand, with the prongs curving downward. Both utensils are kept in your hands with the tines pointed down throughout the entire eating process. If you take a drink, you do not just put your knife down, you put both utensils down into the resting position: cross the fork over the knife.

continental and american style

In the early nineteenth century in Europe, shifting forks back and forth while eating was not only accepted but also common believe it or not.  It was around 1850 when the upper class changed this and the Continental/European style became fashionable.  A French etiquette book of the time stated: “If you wish to eat in the latest mode favored by fashionable people, you will not change your fork to your right hand after you have cut your meat, but raise it to your mouth in your left hand.”  Although the “Continental” approach is also accepted in North America, it is far less common, and the opposite is not true.  The North American style stays on that side of the world and most Europeans today have their preferred style.

It’s debatable among etiquette historians where the “switch and then switch again” North American style came from.  Some etiquette books teach that it came to the States along with the British colonists, where others infer that Americans created it to be different, to keep in line with their pioneering ways.  Last week I happened to be at a dinner full of expats and sat next to an American who had been living in Europe for more than 15 years, and across the table was another with less years to his European CV.  I quietly watched to see how they ate, and neither of the two would have revealed their nationality based on how they held their fork.  They both used the European style with ease.  I asked Rob next to me when he changed his eating style, and he was struck by my question. He admitted he hadn’t thought about it in years, if ever at all, and he thinks he goes back and forth between the two styles depending on where he is.

I imagine this topic comes up for many Americans living abroad and/or in Europe often.  Despite having an EU Passport and living across the Atlantic, my identity as an American can’t and won’t change…but I think my fork will!

 

 

 

 

To be in the black vs. to be in the red, that is the question

To be in the black vs. to be in the red, that is the question.   These phrases are common in Business English, and despite black usually having a negative connotation, it is positive in this example.  “To be in the black” means for a company to be making profit, to have money in its account in other words, where “to be in the red” means the contrary–to have a negative balance in its account and owe the bank.  Both terms can apply to a person, a company or an account.

  • XYZ company is finally in the black and seems to be recovering financially!
  • ABC company on the other hand is in the red and continues to lose clients, unfortunately.

These terms come from the days of manual accounting, where a ledger was used to manually keep track of funds.  A positive flow of money was reported in black ink, and an expense was reported in red ink.  The way I wrote that makes it sound like a historic practice which it isn’t, but let’s face it, technology has replaced and changed many practices including how balance sheets and income statements are done.  Just remember this: a company wants to be “in the black“, as they want to be making money!

This is the case for English, but be careful as the phrases do no translate directly into Spanish!  “Estar en negro” or “trabajar en negro” means to work illegally, and translates instead to “working under the table in English,” which means avoiding taxes and earning in cash for example.  It doesn’t refer to a foreigner working in a country illegally.  “Estar en blanco” (literally, to be in the white) means to be working legally, to be paying taxes on wages and reporting income.

under-the-table

  • Estoy trabajando en negro por ahora.  I am working under the table for the moment.
  • No extraño mi trabajo en blanco, porque gano mejor en negro.  I don’t miss my registered/legal job, because I’m earning better under the table.

A little Business English for you folks, and my favorite Rolling Stones song with a fitting title: Paint it Black, but don’t be fooled by the name.  The lyrics are clearly about someone who is likely “in the red” instead.

Whiskey: I stand with the ‘e’

Well gosh… it’s been many months since I wrote for this dear blog, and I hate to let so much time pass, but it’s been a busy year… with a lot of movement.  One part of that movement was returning to the “homeland”, she says with an Irish brogue.  I like to tease like that, as many of us Americans come from Irish ancestry, and especially a family with the last name of Kelly, the second most common last name in Ireland after Murphy.  Irish roots come from both sides of my family in fact, and nearly all my life someone made mention of just how Irish my name is.  So… it was no wonder that I wanted to go and see it someday.  That day arrived this past summer when I finally made it to the Emerald Isle!

My brother is the Guinness drinker in the family, and I went to the Guinness Museum in his honor, but I will admit it’s not my favorite brew.  What I prefer but don’t drink often is whisky.  I mean whiskey.  Both are actually right!  I was told before about this spelling difference, but didn’t quite understand it until I went to both Scotland and Ireland and saw it for myself.  These two countries take their whiskey seriously!  In the gaelic language, whiskey originated from the word uisce (Irish) /uisge (Scottish), meaning “water.”  Distilled alcohol in Latin (aqua vitae) is technically “water of life”, so therefore combine Distilled and Whiskey into Gaelic, and you get uisce beatha (Irish gaelic) and uisge beatha (Scottish gaelic), meaning “water of life” and indeed that is how it is viewed.

There are two general ideas about the spelling change.  First that it’s just a regionalism between the two countries, like color and colour from the US vs. Britian.  And secondly that the spelling refers to where it is from.  After going to the Whiskey Museum in Dublin, I attest that the second is true!  Whisky without an e is always for the Scottish versions, often called Scotch for Scotch Whisky.  Spelling it as “whiskey” in fact can be quite offensive.  As the two countries were competing back in the day and still dispute over who has the best spirit to offer the world, the ‘e’ was added to the Irish version for “excellent” to show its superiority.  Today much “whiskey” is spelled as such in the US as well, which isn’t surprising after visiting and seeing just how tied the two countries are.  The only other place I saw a comparable number of American flags is in America itself, and tour guides’ best explanation for this was “to welcome the American tourists.”  In the American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2013, nearly 33.3 million Americans (10.5% of the total population) reported Irish ancestry, where Ireland itself has nearly 6.4 million lads and lassies!  So many of us consider ourselves Irish American, although I learned saying American Irish is more accurate, and what the Irish think is more appropriate as well!

So… now you know a bit about the word difference.  This isn’t just a spelling variation or a regionalism.  It truly shows where you stand in terms of preference and allegiance.  I stand with the ‘e’.

Here are a few photos from my journey: the Irish Whiskey Museum, the Cliffs of Moher, the Dingle Peninsula, St. Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin, Ring of Kerry, Galway, Blarney Castle, and Killarney National Park!

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Connecting meditation and language learning

I come to you almost two weeks after finishing my first meditation retreat.  This was for a technique called Vipassana, which is one of the most ancient forms of meditation from India.  Until about a year ago I had never heard of it, and until about two weeks ago I knew nothing about it.  I had tried several meditation techniques, never getting real direction and only getting frustrated in the process.  Maybe you relate.  Like everyone who starts, I was trying to stop my mind, but how can you do that really? And especially when you have a mind that will never seem to stop running? They say “mente a mil” in Spanish, literally the idea of your mind being at “speed one thousand.”

I am no expert and am pretty young in the meditation world honestly, but I now understand the point and have experienced some real results of my own.  Meditation can be practiced in many forms: in cleaning, drawing, focusing on breath, counting breath, scanning the body for sensations, the list goes on.  You are simply learning to observe your mind rather than stopping it, and each technique has a different approach on how to do it.  By observing, you become aware, and awareness is the first step to any kind of change.

Now I want to talk about language learning, and of course since this is a language blog!  A wise woman once taught me about this thing that happens when acquiring language.  First you become aware of a mistake you are making either on your own or with a teacher´s help. Then you get repeated correction from a teacher (and realize just how much you are making that mistake.) Thirdly, you start to correct yourself, and finally, the error is no longer an error and has been converted, corrected, transformed…however you want to call it.  There is something in linguistics called “fossilization” which is an error that has happened so much or was never learned correctly to begin with that it has “hardened” so to speak, leaving an imprint as a fossil does.  It´s a mistake that a student has made so many times that it has become part of their natural speech, for example.  In the world of meditation, you could call it taking root.

As I worked to find my bliss at the Vipassana retreat, I realized it wasn´t bliss at all really.  It was hard work sitting up for hours at a time and trying to focus.  I had some moments of bliss but there is nothing like the bliss of seeing some change in your life.   I “scanned my body” (and for anyone who has done it, you know what I mean) and throughout the week thoughts came to me, things I hadn´t thought about in years and others that came around and around again.  Some of these thought patterns we all have seem impossible to change, just like a fossilized mistake!

So I´m back to the real world, the hectic world that it is.  Those ten days in silence enjoying nature, finding inner peace, and searching for the right meditation position were blissful now that I compare it to the city noise.  Maybe it is  just that I´m back to the typical routine, and it feels intense because I had never calmed my mind like that before?  Why do we meditate really?  To find peace, tranquility…equanimity… equanimity… equanimity.  We do it to change our minds and to evolve, because you can evolve past the broken record that goes on and on in your head.  Awareness is the key to any kind of freedom, even freedom from language mistakes.  You too can correct and evolve past fossilized mistakes.  It just takes some work.

I had many days to sit and meditate and admittedly think about other things too.  One thing I thought about was this blog post in fact and the connection to fossilized mistakes and roots in our mind.  These things can change… it just takes some work.

meditation one

Why “Soccer” and not “Football”? Blame it on the Brits!

So it`s the World Cup and what a joy to be in a place like Argentina during this time.  Just like any other event, be it a concert or local football game, the people are as passionate as you can imagine.  When Argentina plays, the streets are empty and you hear shouting and screaming from all the buildings around.   Restaurants and homes are decorated in flags of light blue and white.  Many offices are equipped with extra monitors and TVs to watch the games while working.  Store are closed in order to not miss a moment, and no one–except two foreigners (myself included)–came to a class that was scheduled before game 2 on a Saturday.  Whether you like football or not, it`s hard to not get sucked into the excitement somehow!

Cerrado

I`m American and grew up watching “the other football.”   You know – the one that does not have to do with feet at all?  Come on America!  Why do we have to be different than the rest of the world?  I have been annoyed by this, just like many of you, but there is a reason for it and it`s not American arrogance.  In fact, it`s the Brit`s fault!

football vs. soccer

 

The word “soccer” is a diminutive of association, as in As-soc-iation Football.   In the early 1800`s, a group of British universities took the medieval game “football”  and started playing their own versions of it, all with different rules.  In order to standardize things across the country, however, these games were categorized under different organizations and given different names.  One version of the game played with only hands became “Rugby Football.”  Another version was called  “Association Football.”   Rugby Football later became “Rugger” for short, and Association Football later became “Assoccer,” quickly changing to “Soccer” alone.

Eventually Rugby and Soccer both spread across to the United States  in the early 1900`s.  What was known as “Gridiron” in Britian was called Football in America and  “Association Football” kept the name “Soccer.”   The Brits also kept using the term  “Soccer” for a large part of the 20th century; in fact between 1960 and 1980, “Soccer” and “Football” were “almost interchangeable” terms in Britain.  The first documented case of the sport being called by the term “Football” was in 1881, 18 years after it was first called “Soccer” (or officially “Association Football.”)

Soccer is not as popular in the United States, although things are changing.  Of non-Brazilian fans visiting this year`s World Cup for example, the greatest number of fans come from the US!  Personal economics makes a difference of course, but that is more than neighboring Argentina fans.  Vamos USA!

So… it will be hard to overcome the many stereotypes against Americans and “Soccer” but remember this, it isn`t our fault!  I was surprised too!

 

 

Sources for this post:

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/why-americans-call-it-soccer-2014-6#ixzz35ZcK2qcp
http://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-2783,00.html

http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/06/the-origin-of-the-word-soccer/

Time is money, or is it? How different cultures view and live time

“Time is money” said the American, but “no it`s gold,” says the Spaniard.  Expressions differ from culture to culture but a greater difference is that in how time is viewed and “practiced” from culture to culture .  Since coming to Argentina, I must say I am quite adapted to how time works but there are always exceptions (meaning anything having to do with the dreaded word: tràmite.)  I met an American traveling around the world in Buenos Aires, his first stop.  He was surprised that I arrived 15 minutes late to meet him.  Although I am much more loose with time than I used to be, I was still worried he would be bothered that I was late, but on the contrary.  To him, me arriving 15 minutes late was “on time” compared to the average of 45 minutes late he had calculated with the Argentines he had met.  “Forty-five minutes, is that all?” you think.  Any North American or Northern European living in this “time chaos” have many stories of their own!Image

Argentina is a place where the lack of systems and infrastructure sometimes (always when related to a tràmite) make things take longer than you want, by American standards that is.  It`s not just that it takes longer, sometimes you wonder if it will happen at all. There have been so many times when I have planned several “appointments” to see friends, but then all plans were thrown out the window when the first appointment started two hours late.  Or going to a store and the salesman is not in a hurry to check you out, as working quicker is no guarantee for more profit nor is that the priority.  Or what about those weekend nights when you return as the sun is rising?  A club or bar does not get busy until 2 am and family parties go all night with even the young kids pulling all-nighters.  And going to a restaurant or cafe is a real blessing as you can sit there for hours without complaint.  This would be unheard of in the US without leaving a nice tip.  This is Argentina. You love and hate how time works.  It depends on where you come from and/or how tied you are to it.

Linear cultures are those who plan ahead, schedule, organize, are results oriented and do one thing at a time generally. These are profit-oriented societies where time is precious and viewed as even scarce. Time moves fast and if you want to benefit, you have to move fast with it.  Americans, Swiss and Germans are in this category.  According to the article “How Different Cultures Understand Time” from the Business Insider, Americans are people of action, and they cannot bear to be idle.  They view the past as gone and the present moment as an opportunity.  Argentina is considered a Multi-active culture–lively, people who do many things at once, planning their priorities not according to any time schedule but instead on the potential thrill or importance of each appointment. These cultures are emotional and people/relationship oriented.  They make decisions based on feelings where linear cultures stick to the facts.  Other cultures in the multi-active category include Italians and Arabs.  The third category are Reactive cultures,  those cultures that prioritize courtesy and respect, always listening (instead of talking like the multi-active) and carefully reacting to others` proposals.  In this group, face to face contact is important, statements are promises, and the people are very harmony oriented.  The Chinese, Japanese and Finns belong to this group.

There is also a “cyclical view” of time practiced in Eastern cultures where time is viewed neither as linear nor event/relationship oriented.  With cyclical time, the sun rises and sets each day; the seasons follow one another year after year, and people grow old and die, but their children ensure that the process continues. Time is not scarce when time is cyclical and there always seems to be an unlimited supply of it.  Asians do not see time as racing away as it would with a linear lens, but instead they view time as coming around again in a circle, where the same opportunities, risks and dangers will re- present themselves later, when you are wiser. Westerners instead are accustomed to making quick decisions and if a lot of time has passed without making a decision or producing something, it is often viewed as “wasted” time.

Although linear and cyclical cultures are very different, they both still see the past as something we have put behind us and the future as something that lies before us. In Madagascar, however, the opposite is true.  The Malagasy people view the future from the back of their heads, or passing from behind.  Instead it is the past that stretches out in front of them, because they can see it.  They can look at the past, enjoy it, learn from it, and even “play” with it, such as by consulting their ancestors or even digging up their bones!

If you are planning to live or work abroad, you can never really be prepared for how time is viewed differently until you live it and learn to love it (although complaining is still allowed once in a while!)  Just a few differences between English and Spanish that I have encountered when talking about time are the following:

  • English calls it “wasting time,” where the equivalent in Spanish is “to lose time.”  In Argentina for example, if you do not produce something or make the most of your time, at least there is a hope that you enjoyed yourself and/or relaxed a bit; this is the only thing that would have been “lost” for example.
  • To make time in English is to reserve time to do something else, surely something productive.  Time is structured and organized so you “set aside” two hours a week to study English for example (hint hint for those students out there!)  Making time in Spanish (haciendo tiempo), however, is related to “killing time”–like waiting for your flight at the airport.
  • El tiempo (the time) also means “the weather,” where these things would never be confused in English.  Time is time and weather is weather, period!
  • And “ahora” means “now” right?  Not always!  It could mean “later” and remember that there is always time to do it “tomorrow… mañana, mañana.”

The list goes on as do your personal stories.  Feel free to share them on a comment. I`d love to hear more about your personal experiences related to time and culture!

The main sources for this post include the following articles:

 

Translation marketing blunders oh my! Part 1

I have a favorite class with students where we talk about cross cultural communication and share stories about language and/or cultural mishaps.  Something will inevitably happen when you are learning another language.  Working as a waitress once I remember telling a Spanish speaking table that I was pregnant instead of embarrassed.  It`s a common error to make and in the end just reason to laugh.  Don`t let the possibility of saying something wrong stop you from trying!

The stakes are higher in business, however, and translation and cultural awareness must be considered.  In international marketing, one of the most well-known translation blunders comes from car maker Chevy and their car the “Nova.”  In Spanish it literally translates to “It doesn`t go.”  It was obviously not the message Chevy wanted to portray for its car that is suppose to go, and go fast for that matter!  (See below for more clarification on this case.)

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Mistakes with cultural awareness without a doubt have happened and continue to happen, especially as the world becomes more global everyday.  Examples of that for another post!  Today`s post is a compilation of translation mistakes (in writing, not speaking) that led to unfavorable results in international markets.

1. The Chevy Nova isn`t the only English to Spanish (or vice versa) mistake that has occurred with cars.  In fact there have been many.  Here are three examples of model names that were unfit for the Spanish and Portuguese markets.

  • The Mazda Laputa literally translates in Spanish to the Mazda “whore” (la puta).
  • The Nissan Moco literally translates to the Nissan “bugger” (el moco).
  • The Mitsubishi Pajero is the Mitsubishi “wanker.”   The car was renamed as “Montero.”

2. Honda introduced their car the “Fitta” in Nordic countries in 2001, only to later to learn that it referred to a woman’s genitals in Swedish and Norwegian. In the end, they renamed it the “Honda Jazz.”

3. Gerber is America’s best-known baby food maker, but “gerber” can be translated as “to vomit” of all things in French. Evidently the name was not marketed in France.

4. In Germany, Clairol launched a curling iron called the “Mist Stick” and mist in German is slang for manure: the “manure stick.” Uh oh…

5. Sharwoods, a UK food manufacturer, spent £6 million on a campaign to launch its new ‘Bundh’ sauces only later to receive calls from numerous Punjabi speakers indicating that “bundh” sounded just like the Punjabi word for “arse”. Oops!

6. The Japanese company Matsushita Electric (now Panasonic) was promoting a new PC for internet users. They had created the new web browser and received license to use the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker as the interactive internet guide.  The day before launch, they realized the mistake and saved themselves a lot of embarrassment. The ads for the new product featured the following slogan: “Touch Woody – The Internet Pecker.”  “Woody” and “pecker” are both references to male genitals in English.

7. In the 1970`s, Wang Computers was an American computer company with the motto: “Wang Cares.”  Sounding a lot like “wankers,” British branches refused to use the motto.

8. “Traficante” is an Italian mineral water, but in Spanish translates to “drug dealer” or “trafficker.”  In 2006, it was purchased by Coca-Cola.

9. When Pope John Paul II visited Miami in 1987, a local T-shirt maker produced commemorative T-shirts for the Hispanic market “Vi la papa” without realizing that a simple article change in Spanish changed the meaning. The shirts literally read: “I saw the Potato” (“la Papa”), instead of “I saw the Pope” (“el Papa”).

10. The toothpaste and toothbrush company “Colgate” literally means “hang yourself” in the voseo form of Argentinian Spanish.

More on Chevy`s Nova: Despite being perhaps the most common example given in international marketing, the story of the Nova is actually a myth.  The car was sold with this name in Venezuela and Mexico, having quite successful sales in Venezuela in fact.

For a similar post but related to cultural blunders, go here!

Sources:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saudade

In Portuguese, the word “saudade” is when you miss someone or something constantly, and not just in the moment.  It´s possible to summarize the feeling in just one word: saudade.   “Estou sentindo saudade de voce.”

saudades de vc

Part of the fun when learning another language is discovering terms and words that don´t exist in your first language.  I can only speak for comparing Spanish and English, however, words like “friolenta/o” (adjective) and “pochoclera” (noun) are a few of my favorites.

  • Friolenta (Argentina) Friolera (Spain): When someone is sensitive to cold and gets cold easily. “Soy friolenta.
  • Pochoclera: Coming from “pochoclo” (popcorn), this is a light-hearted, fun movie that is suitable for eating popcorn. “Quiero mirar una pochoclera.”

As the previous post gave an example of aboriginal girls always knowing which direction was which, it came back to their language which doesn´t use words like left or right and uses compass points instead.  Germans have an expression for being alone in the woods “Waldeinsamkeit” simply because they have forests and have lived the experience; the term wouldn´t serve a culture who only knows the tropical rain forest.  Our words are all subject to the culture from which we grew up, somehow.  From a recent article in 9GAG, entitled “Untranslatable Words, shows a lot about different cultures,” eleven examples were given, each with a hint of culture associated with the term.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Saudade1

Saudade11Saudade10 Saudade9 Saudade8 Saudade7 Saudade6 Saudade5 Saudade4 Saudade3 Saudade2

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.

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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.

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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.”

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