Language Lens

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

Archive for the tag “buenosaires”

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…

The Starbucks Dialect: Tall is now ‘Alto’

If language is the subject, then it would be a disgrace to not have a post about Starbucks, for they have essentially created their own dialect!

  • “Can I have a grande up-side-down caramel macchiato? asked one customer in a south Jersey Starbucks.
  • “Una Skinny Vainilla Latte Alto” asked one customer at a Buenos Aires Starbucks.

So what the hell is ‘skinny’ and what about ‘up-side-down?”  Skinny is a little easier to guess (low-fat), however, up-side-down was unclear to me until I read this article.  It means they put the shots in first instead of last, I guess.  I’m afraid I can’t share what difference this makes (as I’m a pretty basic Starbucks customer), but those who choose to add this word to their “Starbucks speech” certainly can.

Starbucks made coffee cool for young people in the United States if you ask me, and I see the trend here in Buenos Aires as well.  Two years ago, you knew where the Starbucks were in BA as there were few, but now they are popping up all over the place.  The differences from US locations: the tall is not ‘chico’ (small in Spanish) but is called ‘alto’ (which is tall in Spanish, for those who don’t know.)  Other differences are few honestly.  The furniture and ambience is comparable; the food is the same but translated to Spanish in some cases on the menu; there is a ‘dulce de leche’ latte and muffin that are both wonderful; the bagels are abnormally large; they don’t have the gift cards that are common in the US, and the prices are nearly the same, despite economic differences… but the stores are equally as full.

Today after talking to a few students (in Argentina), they agreed that Starbucks is a trend, but they wonder if it will last.  One cultural difference they noted was that Argentines are used to going to a restaurant and spending a long time talking, for many hours at a time.  It’s less of a ‘tipping culture’ so people are accustomed to parking at restaurants.  Starbucks is no different.  Although locations are equally as full in the US and many people stay for hours at a time, in general, it’s a come-and-go type place.  Students today mentioned that Starbucks isn’t appealing to many Argentines because of the long lines, the less than efficient service at times and the fact that there just aren’t any seats!  The business model appears to be the same, but it’s a different culture.  So… not everything will work the same, right?!  You’d think so.

Although some of the Starbucks dialect is naturally not used (and is equally difficult to understand for English speakers), the fact that Starbucks has a dialect of its own remains to be true in a Spanish-speaking country.  Grande is still Grande and Venti is still Venti, but Tall is now ‘Alto.’

The Yellow Light

A yellow light, it’s a warning to slow down right?  Yes, but that’s not all evidently.

So I find myself in Buenos Aires as a citizen of the road, and by foot I mean as I don’t have a car.  I’m not sure I’d want to drive either honestly, but of course I miss my car.  I miss singing as loud as I can, in total privacy, except for that one time when I pocket-called someone and they heard me!

But hey, I like public transportation too, maybe more in some ways.  It offers a lot of benefits that you can’t have in your own car: $1.20 pesos per ride sure beats insurance prices, time to sleep and rest, and time to read or do other things.  I find myself using this extra time to catch up on emails or play Apalabrados (the Words With Friends equivalent in Spanish.)

Even after spending more than a year here, it was recently confirmed that the stoplights are different here in BsAs compared to the United States.  How could I have missed that?  They’re not that different; green still stands for go and red for stop, but what is different is the yellow light.

The yellow light represents to me, and all Americans—maybe Canadians too but I don’t know—a warning that a stop is coming.  It’s suppose to mean slow down, although it also acts as an accelerator depending on how fast you are going.  The point is the yellow light is the light between green and red.  Once the light is red, it later turns green directly with no yellow in the middle, while in Buenos Aires there is a yellow light in-between when it turns red or green, so the yellow light is working double time but more importantly, with overuse is its purpose lost or confused?  It is after all the language of the road.

I imagine it confuses drivers at times though as without paying attention one wouldn’t know that a stop or go is coming.  A student today told me that he thought the yellow light caused more accidents than avoiding them in fact.  Surely other Americans have noticed this (note to self: ask).  To me, the yellow light will always mean slow down or upcoming stop.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to look at it as a “ready, set, go” icon.

By the way, language learning: I love the English phrase ‘red flag’ to mean warning of something.  Maybe you get a red flag from a new boyfriend if he says he hates kids, or during an interview if someone shares they have a porn business on the side.  In Spanish, they say the equivalent of red light, like on a stop light—semáforo rojo.  They also say red card—tarjeta roja.

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