Expat-Talk (2): Working in Buenos Aires

In this series, we've asked expats and former expats to talk about their experiences abroad. The second is Theresa Eitel, project lead automations, certified product owner at American Express. She has been living in Buenos Aires for the last eight years

I did my bachelor’s degree in Germany and Italy and came to Buenos Aires with my ex-boyfriend, an Argentinian. Everyone said that as a German with my degree I’d easily find a job, but it turned out not to be easy at all. So I did a postgraduate course to find my way around and learn the language. Although everything is very multinational here, you can’t get anywhere without Spanish. You won’t get hired. Although the official language of an international company like Amex is English, 100% of the colleagues in the office speak Spanish.

People here are considerably more open-minded. In the language, a formal “you” exists, but it is handled very loosely. In the business context, you can use the casual “you” as high as the CEO. During job interviews, I even experienced HR people hugging me and kissing me on the cheek. The contact is much more open and informal. At my job, I can go to our CEO at any time. The door is open, we drink a mate tea together and chat about the weekend. It makes the work atmosphere very pleasant.

“The contact is much more open and informal. I even experienced HR people hugging me and kissing me on the cheek.”

The tape principle

Argentina is a country that has been plagued by severe crises and high inflation for decades. It is said that in Argentina everything is fixed with tape. That’s why the Argentinians have learned one thing over the years: they make the most of the situation and have developed incredible creativity because there are no perfect solutions and there is always something that doesn’t work. This starts with such mundane things as local transport – there are no timetables, no official stops,  or they are simply ignored. So you don’t know when a bus leaves or where it leaves from.

What has been difficult for me as a German is an enormous gap between the rich and the poor. It starts on the way from the airport to the city, where you pass slums. Sometimes only a three-lane road separates these extremes – on one side misery and hardship, on the other the bustling streets of Buenos Aires where the super-rich live. That’s South America.

Diversity and equal pay are not an issue in our company, which is certainly due to the fact that Amex is an American company. That’s not the norm in Argentina. We have very clear, transparent salary structures, we have internal women’s networks, and we have high self-obligatory quotas for women in management positions. But as I said, this has to do with the company. Argentina is a very politically active country that is always in the streets – there’s a demonstration here every day. Violence against women is a big topic at the moment.

“The country has changed me over the years. You don’t moan all the time, you don’t criticize. You accept it and get used to the imperfections.”

Training in change management

Going back is not an option at the moment. I have built a life here, I like the work, I have a boyfriend and a circle of friends. But because the economic and political situation is precarious, there are no long-term plans. You live here from one day to the next. Everything constantly changes, even at work. You always have to adapt and stay flexible. In this respect, the country has changed me over the years. You discard certain, typically German, idiosyncrasies. You don’t moan all the time, you don’t criticize. You accept it and get used to the imperfections and make the best of it. This is the best experience you can have in terms of change management.

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