Language Lens

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

Archive for the tag “currency”

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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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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