One doesn't have to live long in Argentina to experience the "Viveza Criolla." Probably more than anything else, it is the one thing that the foreigners living in Argentina complain about. Viveza Criolla (literally translated means the Creole life, but it really has nothing to do with what the translation is.)
Viveza Criolla is a lack of respect for others, for institutions, for anything that is related to the common good of a society. That is the simple explanation. If you live here, you know that corruption, blaming others, and mistrust, are all a part of the social fabric. People think of themselves first and then the consequences...maybe.
Coming from consumer oriented California I was not prepared for this. In fact, my first few years there were times I was horrified. Coupled with my lack of language skills (donde está la biblioteca just doesn't cut it.) most times it was impossible to defend myself.
I would tell my Argentine friends and they would shake it off. "Viveza Criolla." they would respond. Some of my friends would insist on helping me. I was always amazed at how they could settle a bad situation rapidly. Lest you think only foreigners suffer viveza criolla, no. It doesn't matter where you are from, who you are, or where you live.
This is the attorante in the milonga who tells you he is a lawyer when he washes dishes, or the former president Cristina Kirchner who would inaugurate the same school or public works project several times to make it look like her government was actually doing more than stealing our money. It is a game. If you don't learn to play it, you will suffer greatly. I believe that most foreigners leave Argentina because they cannot deal with this form of life. You cannot live forever in the expat bubble paying more to avoid being caught in the viveza criolla.
Once you learn the rules of the game, you can play. It is actually fun in an absurd perverted way. I am the least likely person to whoever wants to mess with me, that will fight back. I think all of you know me well enough by now, I love a good challenge, and I do not suffer fools easily.
I needed to buy a sink for my bathroom. This is not as easy as it sounds. You can go to 100 stores and they all have the same stuff. Boring. I found a few stores that had more interesting things, but the salespeople ignored me or yelled at me. It is impossible sometimes to find someone to take your money.
I finally found a store where they were nice. At first. They explained things to me. I went back 5 times to make sure what they had was what I wanted. The main reason is that everything here is more or less final sale. Good luck trying to return something.
The sink and the table had to be ordered. The first table, was damaged. They tried to tell me that they could fix it. Nope. "I want a new one." I told them. They were not pleased but they ordered it. It came in before the sink. Which was hand made. Black ceramic. I went to pick up the table. I made them unwrap it to make sure it was in perfect condition. I paid for it, and then had to wait for the sink.
I called. "Don't call us." they told me. "We will call you when it is here." It was not like I was calling everyday. I called once in 2 weeks. Finally it arrived. I went to pick it up.
When I entered they were busy. They brought out the sink. It didn't seem right. It looked like the smaller one. I mentioned it, "I think this is the medium sized sink not the larger one that I ordered." "No, no, this is the larger one. Get it home and you will see." They almost pushed me out the door. They were so nice before they had all my money.
Of course, I got home, and put it on top of the table, and it was definitely not the larger one. Damn! This meant not only another trip, it meant a fight. I had to go back and deal with them. Later on in the week, I wrap what was supposed to be my sink in my jacket and put it in my shopping bag. I take the bus to Alberdi St.
I walk into the store and the owner is chatting with a friend. He sees me, he sees my shopping bag. He is not happy to see me like he was before. No greeting. He glares at me. "What do you want?" he asks. Nice. In my very best California Berkeley speak I say to him, "We have a problem." I come close to his desk and take out the sink. "This is the medium, not the large size sink." He stands up. He is a tall man. about 22 cm taller than me. This is supposed to scare me or intimidate me.
He glowers at me. "You are wrong, this is the large." I try to reason with him. I show him the receipt and that I was charged $1800 pesos for the large bowl. "The medium was $1500." He is angry. "This is the large one. What is wrong with you?" He is yelling at me. In the past I would have been super intimidated by this. "There is nothing wrong with me. I just want what I bought." I tell him.
I am trying very hard not to get nasty. So, I start again. "Do you remember, you showed me 3 bowls, small, medium, and large? We put them on the table, and we both decided the larger one was the best." Now he is furious. "You have a problem." he starts to rant at me. He tells me I don't know what I am talking about. Now I am mad. "No me jodas." I tell him. (Don't fuck with me.) That stops him dead. Elegant blond me saying such a thing.
He grabs the sink and goes to the showroom floor to show me I am wrong. I follow him. "See this bowl?" I say to him. "This is the large. It is $1800 pesos." He stops in front of the medium bowl, looks at it, looks at the one in his hands, looks at me. "Go sit down." he commands.
He goes to the phone and calls the supplier. They have a conversation. He is yelling at the guy. He finishes and comes over to where I am seated. No I am sorry. "It was the supplier's fault. He sent the wrong one." he says. Like you couldn't tell? I look at him. "Anyone can make a mistake. We are all humans. I only wanted you to listen to me." He shakes his head. "The supplier said he will make a new one. It will be here in 3 days."
It took more like 10 days. It had a tiny chip that I didn't notice until I got home. I can fix it. It is not worth another trip and another argument. This time he would kill me.
I tell my student the story. He shakes his head. "Viveza Criolla." he says to me. This is Argentina.