Meet Julie and Jamie Butler, Americans who moved to Argentina in 2011. In this article, they share their expat story, why they chose Argentina, the cost of living, language learning and more.
Argentina Expat Life: Julie & Jamie Butler, San Rafael, Mendoza Province
The Expats: Julie & Jamie Butler
Where are you currently living?
I have been living in a small town outside of San Rafael, Mendoza Province, Argentina for about six months.
What's Your Story?
I am from Littleton, Colorado. In the early 1990's I moved to Honolulu Hawaii to start a new life, where I met the man who is now my husband. He asked me if I wanted to travel the world with him, and I fell for it.
We have traveled together and lived in various places all over the United States and into Canada, Mexico, Central America, and now South America.
We are self-employed vagabonds who live to travel and explore.
When did you get the idea of living in Argentina?
We live abroad because we have become disillusioned with the culture in the United States. Speaking for myself, I see the world as an interconnected whole, while the underlying attitude in the States is separative. Forgive me for being all philosophical, but that really does sum up my feelings.
I am distressed at how the United States looks at the rest of the world as cogs in its own economic machine, and I do not want to be part of that. If the WikiLeaks cables showed just how demeaning the “diplomats” could be, then what does that say about everyone else? I connect with people abroad who see the world in a more holistic way, whose values are more in line with mine – on an entirely different level.
We have no idea how long we will be in the area we are now. We were in Patagonia for about a year before this, and in Uruguay for about nine months before that… The plan is, there is no plan. My husband is retired, and we are both writers.
How's your Spanish?
Neither of us had any formal Spanish training – we learned on the go. In our early days in Mexico and Central America, it was not essential that we be fluent, although we always worked at learning vocab. My husband is a news junkie, so reading newspapers and watching newscasts was a good way for him to accustom his ear and learn. For me, I needed to sit down and study grammar books. Between the two of us, he has an enormous vocabulary, while I am better with grammar.
Here in Argentina, it is possible to get by without Spanish – we know of many yanquis who do. However, it is extremely limiting as to interacting with local people, and I did not come all this way to only be able to talk to foreigners in this country! Local shopkeepers treat us differently when we come in and converse with them instead of just pointing at things.
When we go out, we know that we will be able to converse with people who love to converse about many different topics. We rented a house in Patagonia from a family who did not speak any English, so our Spanish improved tremendously during that time – and we also learned a lot about Argentinian culture, history, and current events from them.
I advocate learning as much of the local language of any foreign country before leaving because it will get you that much further ahead when you arrive and you will soak in vastly more vocab if you are not struggling to understand the very basics. Is it essential? Maybe not for survival, but for connecting with people and engaging in the culture – absolutely essential!
What do you do?
We are both writers. I wrote a book before leaving the States that I self-published as an eBook: No Stranger To Strange Lands: A Journey Through Strange Coincidences, Connective Thoughts, And Far Flung Places. It is about a period in our lives when we traveled to Switzerland, Tahiti, Australia, and back to the States – full of introspection, philosophy, science, politics… and descriptions of our travels.
I kept up a blog for about two years, and I took my posts from our time in Uruguay, added more commentary and the previously unpublished poetry that I wrote while we were there, and created another book: Nine Months In Uruguay: Past, Present, Progress
How do you find the cost of living in Argentina?
Cost of living is higher than it was when we first arrived back in April of 2009 due to inflation plus the weak dollar, and our income is in dollars. The currency situation is changing, but the inflation is still persistent.
The area we are in is rural – San Rafael is a full-fledged city, but it has a rural feel, with agriculture being its lifeblood. It is one of the lower cost of living areas in Argentina. The farmers here do not live lives of luxury – in fact, farming here is a very difficult and uncertain way of life (despite what the promotional materials that are targeted to yanquis say). So people don't have a lot of money, and prices remain low, except for the inflation problem.
What do you love about Argentina?
What I love about Argentina: I'm not sure I can put it in words – I love the Tango – elegant and complex, yet earthy – and a little raunchy. I love the gauchos and the poets. I love the Italian foods. I love the ritual of the mate (sharing a gourd filled with an herb that is like tea) and the way that people will drop everything they are doing to talk for a while – because it is important.
I love the siesta. I love the ice cream. I love how hard it is to get the waiter's attention when it is time to pay the bill and you want to get out of there – they seem to want you to stay, but not to sell you more drinks, as it is also impossible to get their attention for that.
I love the (non-Starbucks) cafes. I love the artwork for sale in all of the restaurants. I love the kissing of the cheek when meeting, greeting, and again when you depart. I love to see teenagers and the most macho of men kissing each other with such joy and affection…
Argentina has many social problems – poverty, corruption, economic and political instability, to name a few. Theft is something to be concerned about anywhere in this country, some places being worse than others. The resort city of Bariloche saw riots and the burning of police stations in the Barrios (the vast, sad, poor neighborhoods where people of indigenous descent live their meager lives in squalor) while we were in Patagonia last year – and there were also the squatters' riots in Buenos Aires. These are places with enormous inequality, but poverty exists everywhere.
It may be easy for a yanqui to ignore or be ignorant of these issues, but then you will be surprised when burglars break into your house or your car is broken into. The police are generally corrupt and ineffective. Doing business requires constant diligence because workers will try to take advantage of you – you have to oversee every aspect of your business. You must take safety into your own hands and be aware of what the attitudes are and what is going on around you. This is an important reason why you should be able to speak Spanish.
Have a question or tip about living in Argentina? Join us in the comments!