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Living in Argentina: Buying a Countertop Is Worse Than Buying Shoes

Shoes are great.  I love them.  I just do not like buying them. You know what I am talking about.  Maybe you have this desire to buy a pair of purple boots, or black pumps, or sneakers.  You start checking out the stores or online. (Well here in Argentina, I don't buy online, because returning something is worse than standing in line for 20 minutes at the grocery store.)  

Maybe you are browsing at DSW or checking out Nordstroms.  You see a pair of shoes that hit you.  You check the price and ask to see your size.  That is usually when it all ends.  Most of the time, the box fits better than the shoes. 10 stores later, you begin to wonder why you even need a new pair of shoes.

Fast forward. Countertops in Argentina.  I would like to say, "Don't ask" but then I wouldn't have a blog post.  I made the decision that I wanted a black granite countertop.  There are two varieties of black in granite.  Negro absoluto, and negro brasil.  I had decided months ago I wanted the negro brasil.  Mostly because I thought the little fleck of silver would be nice to have.

Here you don't have a million choices.  You can have marble, granite, Silestone, poured cement, and aluminum.  Formica? Naah. Corian?  You would have to rob a bank to have it, the same as Silestone.  So, my options were marble and granite.  I decided on granite solely on price.  Here it is almost half of what marble would cost.

If you know me, either personally or by reading this blog, then you know, I am obsessive about details.  Here you have no choice.  If you do not do your homework, you run the risk of doing the same work 3 or 4 times, and that was not an option for me or even one that I wanted.

In what seems like another lifetime, buying a countertop in California seemed so easy.  I went to Home Depot.  I picked out what I wanted, they gave me a price, they delivered it. In one instance, my friend Martha and I installed it.  The second time around, I did it. Formica is pretty easy to install.

Flash forward a bunch of years. I need to get at least 3 or more estimates, compare them, and then decide who or where to buy from.  This sounds easy, but then again, this is Argentina, where nothing is easy.  Think shoes.

The first place I go to is on the Calle Alberdi.  I was told this place had good prices.  In my little bean brain, I had decided after many discussions with those who "know", I was not going to pay more than $15,000 pesos, that price should include someone to come measure, installation, and delivery.  That was the maximum.  Personally, I figured it should be more like $13,000.

I walk into the shop.  There were 3 people and everyone was on the phone.  No one acknowledges me. They continue their phone conversations as though I do not exist.  This, however, is normal in Buenos Aires.  No, "I'll be right with you" or anything.  Not even eye contact.  I usually give these situations around 7 minutes before I leave.

The woman gets off the phone.  No, I am sorry, or anything.  The standard "What do you want?".  Yes, seriously. Why would I wait 5 minutes or so in a store that only sells marble or granite?  I sometimes get the urge to ask if I can order lunch.  What do they think I want???

The women seems to be the mother of the two guys on the phone.  Actually, she is very pleasant.  She sees "woman alone, with an accent." That probably calculates into paying extra...for her.  Not for me. I show her my measurements.  I tell her I want granite - negro brasil.  She flips her fingers over the calculator. "$19,000," she tells me.  "Does that include measuring, delivery, and installing?" I ask.  "Oh no," she says.  "It will be $3800 more for those services."  I try to keep a straight face.  "Don't you think that this price is a little high?"  I ask?  She then tries to wow me with the fact that if they drop the countertops before they install them, and damage them, I am protected.  "QUEEE???" (what)  I thank her and leave.

The thing is they sell countertops in linear meters.  I am not and have never been a math wiz. Now armed with the actual amount I need, plus new vocabulary (who knew an opening for the stove top and sink were called trasforos) I go to Mercadolibre.  Mercadolibre is our version of Ebay.  Actually Ebay owns a part of Mercadolibre.

I start asking for estimates in my very best Spanish.  There are times when my Spanish is better than many Native speakers.  At least I know the difference between V and B. The replies start to roll in.  The highest is 18,000 and the lowest 11,800.  A little different than the one I got before.

Of course, this doesn't stop me from going to a few more places.  I stop into a place on the way home from work.  The guy's eyes light up like Christmas in July.  I know that it is better to buy the sink from the same place I get the countertop.  Again, "What do you want?"  Would someone please give these people some sales training?  It is amazing anything gets sold here.

I tell this guy who probably has never heard of Dale Carnegie that I want a quote on a countertop and sink.  I tell him I want granite, specifically negro brasil, and a sink that is 22 cm deep.  (If you have ever been to Argentina you will know that they have these incredibly shallow sinks.) He immediately shows me the most expensive line.  I tell him I do not want Johnson, I want a different brand, either Starken or Mi Pileta.  He tries to tell me they are the same price.  In the end there is almost a 1500 pesos difference.  

You would think this guy would have realized that I have done my homework.  But, noooo.  He tries to talk me into Silestone, which here is almost 3 times as much as granite.  I tell him once again, I want negro brasil and I want granite.  I watch him do the numbers.  They look like they are heading in the wrong direction.  I tell him "I don't want a backsplash."  He looks surprised. "You have to have a backsplash."  Why is it these people are always telling me what I have to have? "No, I don't, and I don't want one."  He argues with me, "In Argentina we use them. Besides, how will you stop the water?" I show him pictures of countertops without backsplashes."   Then he stops. "What about your husband?" he asks.  At first, I want to say he is dead just to embarrass him, but I opt for "There is no husband, and the dog and cat gave me permission to buy whatever I want."  Well Maxi anyway, JerryBrown is always the problem.

I watch as he does the math.  I am shocked at what I see.  He writes $27,000 pesos as his end number. This is worse than shoes, it is like buying a car.  "27,000?"  I almost shriek at him.  "Does this include measuring? Delivery? Installation?"  He looks at me "You need that?" No, I am going to carry granite slabs on the bus.  He then adds another $4000 pesos.  "Are you sure this is granite and not Silestone?"  I ask.  I then get a lecture about inflation, how much things cost, and that their granite is first class.  I laugh and tell him "Sir, I am blond, but not stupid."  I refuse his written estimate and leave.

I go back to my Mercadolibre quotes and in my hacker way, figure out where the cheapest ones came from.  One from a place that does not exist.  Maybe they moved, but I am not in the mood to track them down.  The other was in front of the Flores Cemetary.  My painter and everyone else insists that I cannot go there alone.  OK, it is not in a great neighborhood, but it is a cemetery.  I decided I should make Sam go with me.

So we take a taxi there.  Just like I thought.  Tons of old ladies going to pay their respects. We go to the place I have the address for.  Sam doesn't speak Spanish.  The salesman is about 80.  He is eager to practice his mas o menos English.  I am happier to speak in Spanish.  I tell him about the quote I got from them from Mercadolibre.  It was almost 45 days ago.  Prices, of course, have gone up.  He tells me that he has to talk to the owner.  Sam and I take the bus.

Later that day, the octagenarian calls.  The price for the counter, the sink, measurements, delivery, and installation - $15,100.  I tell him I will think about it.  Two days later I hop the 132. My painter is appalled I am going alone and with my cell phone. Jeesh, if he ever saw Oakland or Detroit, he would know why I know no fear.  By the time we get to the cemetery it is me and 15 old ladies.  OK, maybe I am an old lady too, but I don't look or act like one.

The Octogenarian is there.  I tell him if he charges me $15,000 we have a deal.  He tells me that he will talk to the owner.  I am amused.  He asks if they can come today to measure, I tell him sure. Miguel who is probably in his 70s and somewhat irascible comes as promised at 7:00.  He measures, he makes comments.  It would not be an Argentine transaction without comments. He then tells me, I am only going to charge you $15,000.  This is how I came to buy my countertop, which hopefully will be delivered next week.  Buying shoes is easier.




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