The Advantages and Disadvantages of Living in South America

sitting in Montevideo with friends

It was a year-and-a-half ago when I first stepped off the plane in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The day was hot as hell and I hadn’t slept a wink for forty-hours straight — jumping from country to country, delay after delay. I’ll spare you the details. But finally, I was there! “The Paris of South America,” so they call the affluent, rich with art, historic, and culturally deep city.

I ended up staying for about a year. Learned the native dialect of Castellano. Made a lot of great friends. Partied hard. Danced. Came in late. And participated in Argentinian society which is highly familial, lovingly aggressive, religiously devoted to futbol (soccer, here in the States), and romantically charged.

In addition to my time spent in Argentina, I’ve also spent a few weeks in Uruguay and Brazil. Recently in Uruguay, and not so recently in Brazil, back in 2005. South America is a place that I hold dear to my heart. The passion there is literally overflowing in to the streets. There’s a sense of fun, excitement, and care that I’ve only experienced in South America. What impresses me the most about South America is that people there aren’t afraid of expressing themselves — they touch you when they want to, they speak frankly about their woes and joys, they impulsively ask you to dance, kiss, or to go on an adventure with them without hesitation.

Growing up in New York, I’ve become well-accustomed to people, including myself, being very dry, standoffish, and dare I say, arrogant and cocky at times. And though I must admit that it isn’t entirely fair to compare two different cultures — each one being independently influenced by their respective languages, economies, and international “standards” — I can’t help but to see a different light being radiated throughout South America. One that my eyes weren’t used to seeing until I started my journey below the equator five years-ago.

Argentina’s Italian-infused dialect of Spanish called Castellano gave me a new language to speak. A language which expressed things in ways that weren’t available to me in my own tongue. Cosas como, “buennooo,” “esta bienn,” “ chau chau” y “dale!” And each day that I speak it, I remember the times when I learned this or that word — the people whom I sat with and the little times that were shared around the table with a gourd full of mate, a native tea traditionally drunk in the region.

Without a doubt, weaving in and out through the various cities of South America — Rio, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Salta, Colonia, Ponta Grossa, Paraty — has taught me something that no book or school could ever teach. It has opened up my heart in new ways. Impassioned me with a new zeal and thirst for the things I’m doing with my life. And it has taught me how to sit back and relax more often, without always worrying about the next “thing” that I’m trying to accomplish. The poor and tremendously happy children who spent their days walking the beaches of Brazil, showed me this lesson.

I’m indebted to South America. There were many good times there. And soon, I’ll be going back. Hopefully sooner than later. But this is an article about both the aforementioned advantages and the disadvantages to come. And disadvantages, there were many. But let me first qualify that my disadvantages were subject to me and my life. So what may be an inconvenience to me, may be readily accepted by you.

  • The constant scamming is the first major disadvantage that comes to mind. South Americans seem to have a fantastic notion that all Americans (and many Europeans) are filthy rich with money bursting from their pockets to burn. I guess they get this impression from being hypnotized with too many Hollywood movies. There have been plenty of times when I heard “You’re American. You’re rich. So you pay for me.” Ha, this always made me laugh. It has become very obvious to me that the average South American has no understanding of “economies of scale” and they are all too quick to disregard that even though Americans may have more money, the products sold in your country cost less — which corresponds with the lower wages that you make. But inevitably, this sort of ignorance makes Americans prime targets to be ripped off in every possible fashion, multiple times per day! Pick your medium (re: trap): taxis, restaurants, on the streets, malls, cafes, everywhere. It’s not uncommon to be ripped off two or three times per day if you aren’t accustomed to the local scams. Each country has hundreds of scams; so many, that you’d need a dictionary dedicated to explaining them all. So if you plan to spend serious time in South America, study up! Then prepare yourself for the onslaught of constant attempts at your money. It gets real annoying and depressing at times, for sure. I can’t tell you how many times taxi drivers said “Oh, I forgot to turn on the meter… so I’ll just add the extra at the end…” Bullshit! What they add amounts to three or four times the value of the destination. And to make matters worse, if you argue with them… one needs to remember that you’re in South America… and I’ve know of taxi drivers locking foreigners in the taxi until they’ve paid the ransom. It happened to my friend from London.
  • Horrible customer service, especially in Argentina and Uruguay. Brazil wasn’t so bad. When it comes to customer service, mostly in restaurants, expect to encounter a rude waiter that doesn’t give a shit about when your food is ready. Expect to wait upwards of an hour in most restaurants for your food — even if it’s a simple pasta dish, doesn’t matter. Sure, not all restaurants are like this, but the frequency of getting a foul waiter and hellishly long waiting times for your food happens too often to be unnoticed. South Americans have the exact opposite mentality of Americans (re: United States) when it comes to service “We are always right and you, the customer, are always wrong.” Expect this attitude in restaurants, hotels, cable / phone services, etc..
  • I’d estimate that South America, as a whole, is about five to ten years behind in technology. Buenos Aires only recently received WIFI and I don’t think that I’ve ever been to a place in South America with fast Internet; certainly nothing like the standards of America. Even in the ritzy and posh areas where I’ve lived, there was always some sort of problem with the Internet. And for someone like me who needs a fast connection to upload videos and transfer large files, a readjustment in expectations is definitely needed. For common Internet users who just surf around and send the occasional email, there shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Oh, and if you’re someone that’s not into meat — vegans and vegetarians such as myself — you’re not entirely screwed… Because, believe it or not, there are vegan spots in South America, especially in Buenos Aires where I found several. But you’ll have to spend a few weeks finding all the places. The main problem is that when you’re in regular restaurants, you’ll almost always have to order pasta, salad, or pizza as vegetarian dishes are virtually nonexistent there. The concept of “no meat” is not only confusing, but sacrilegious to most South Americas. Get ready for a volley of laughs, jokes, and weird looks from people when they find out that you don’t eat meat. Which leads to the disadvantages of many South Americans lacking sympathy and understanding for other cultural practices. I’ve found this sort of attitude in all the countries I’ve visited there. It goes something like “Okay… I’m passionate. I’m South American. I express myself. But if you don’t align with my customs, you’re fucking weird and an arrogant American.” This sort of shortsightedness is rampant throughout Argentina (re: Buenos Aires). Anyone that has spent serious time is Argentina will encounter their superficial sense of pride and nationalism that does more to blemish their character than lift it up.

Okay, so let’s wrap this up here. South America has the love, quaint tranquility, passion, romance, and chill way of living that I’m enthralled with. That brings me back there over and over. But with all its deep passion, it’s brought back to balance with it’s vile corruption, constant scamming, dog-shit-laden streets, lack of technology, and insanely horrific customer service that’s so bad, you feel like you could kill yourself waiting another ten minutes for a meal that was supposed to be out an hour ago.

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About David Askaripour

I've been thinking about life, existence, and truth for as long as I could remember. When I was about 7 I remember getting a headache trying to figure out who created God...and if someone created him, then who create him? I love investigating and testing, taking nothing for truth that outside my direct experience. At the age of 12, I started my own candy selling business; it grew so large that the principal ended up closing me down (but that was just the beginning...) Through my videos and articles, I share my journey with the world.

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12 Responses to The Advantages and Disadvantages of Living in South America

  1. fun-da-mental October 13, 2010 at 6:49 am #

    Wonderful post!
    Regarding scamming: The situation is better in Costa Rica, however, Costa Rica is a pretty expensive country, at least in comparison to all other middle American states.
    And yep, internet is painfully slow in Brazil and Costa Rica, as well as Panama, which are the South Americas I visited.
    The customer service in Costa Rica though is pretty much ok – the food however is terrible…

    Pura Vida!

    • David Askaripour October 23, 2010 at 3:14 pm #

      Yeah, I hear great things about Costa Rica — I really want to visit! Thanks so much for your input, my friend ;)


  2. Sandra December 19, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    I lived in South American for 21 years. I lived in the UK for about 3 years, and right now, I relly want to run away from South America.

    Living in South American sucks! It’s boiling hot and the people tend to be so superficial. Grr…It’s great this article is mostly positive!

    • David Askaripour December 19, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

      Hahah…what part of SA are you in? Have you ever been to Argentina? Thanks for sharing.

  3. laragazza January 24, 2011 at 8:27 pm #

    I can totally understand where you’re coming from, I was born and raised in Mendoza, went to high school in the US, I was shocked to see the differences when I came back, it’s kinda depressing, I’ve been ripped off many times which goes to show that the scamming isn’t only aimed at tourists. Next time you visit Mendoza let me know, thanks for the article David.

    • David Askaripour January 25, 2011 at 9:55 am #

      I love Mendoza so much—the people there are so much more friendly than in Capital. You’re right…everyone gets scammed here…tourist more, but natives of course. I’m in Capital now…. you also let me know next time you come up here. Best, Dave

      • laragazza January 25, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

        Check your e-mail!

    • David Askaripour January 31, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

      Hey, I got your voice message! Thanks for calling! I’d like to call you back—was that a landline number you sent me? Yes, let’s meet in Buenos Aires when you and your mom come :) I look forward to that!

      • laragazza February 1, 2011 at 9:42 pm #

        You’re welcome, yup it’s a landline, waiting for your call…

  4. laragazza February 3, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    BTW we just bought your book :) I’m in the process of reading it, where do you think we should meet in BA? mom and I will be staying at a hotel in Calle Corrientes, will be flying there on Feb. 28th, try to make some time to call me so that we can set up a time & place to meet, un beso.

  5. laragazza February 9, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

    Dave, I got your e-mail and replied, I have a feeling you’re not getting my e-mails, would you mind sending me your home # in Buenos Aires? either that or you’re playing hard to get, just kidding ;)

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