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Expatriate games

By Thushan Amarasiriwardena | 3 Comments » February 3rd, 2008

Six thousand miles away, the game is still on, and it still was no fun to watch if you were a Patriots fan. Watch the Super Bowl, from the other half of the world in today’s photo gallery.

Surveying the dark, oak-clad room with its boisterous crowd and seemingly requisite sticky floor, Rich Lang makes an observation. “It looks like any American university bar,” he says.

As a crowd comprised mostly of twenty-somethings erupts after a play on the flat screen TV mounted behind the bar, it’s hard to dispute Lang’s point. The thing is, Toto, this ain’t Kansas – indeed, far from it.

Six thousand miles – as the crow flys – from the where Tom Brady was being pummeled, Buenos Aires, Argentina is brightly showing shades of red, white and blue. And those colors are growing with more than 20,000 registered American expatriates calling the city home, according to the U.S. Embassy. The “Paris” of Latin America is rapidly becoming a star-spangled colony.

A new lifestyle

With its leafy European streets, tantalizing night life, can’t-complain-weather and an exchange rate that crowns even the dollar king, it’s not hard to see why Americans are pouring in.

Taking a set of wide-eyed visitors around his five-bedroom pad in the swanky Recoleta borough in B.A., you can tell Mitchell Cohen loves asking this question.

“Guess how much this place cost?”

The guesses for the antique laden, no-extras-spared home is always too high.

“More like $180,000,” he says. In 2003, Cohen traded up from a one-bedroom in Manhattan for this spacious home. “I could have bought three of these for the price of my one bedroom and still have money to spare.”

The once-strong Argentinean peso, still carries a 3:1 exchange rate to the dollar after the country’s sheer economic collapse in 2001. Since then, Americans have come in search of a life and lifestyle which would be out of reach stateside.

“I feel more at home [here] than in New York, I was like every other nit over there. Here, I have a maid and a cook … and all that for a quarter of the costs,” the characteristically brusque Cohen explains.

Argentine pigskin

Past the half-century mark, Cohen is able to do something else that would be unimagineable in the states at his age. He is a league-leading quarterback, and he has the arm sling to prove it. An owner/player on the Legionarios, one of six teams in the Football Americano Argentina league (FAARG), Cohen and his team went 10-1 this season. Much like the Patriots, the Legionarios lost only in the FAARG Super Bowl.

Evolving out of a flag football league, FAARG is comprised mostly of Argentineans with a smattering of other Latin America nationals. Very few are from the states, according to Brian Saletta, a wide receiver on Legionarios hailing from Massachusetts’ south shore and a former Brown University player.

Locally, football level is akin to a high school game. “The field is practically a parking lot,” Saletta said, as he shows off bruises from the pitch. The game is one of the many reflections of home for expatriates. Saletta doesn’t “speak a lick of Spanish” said says that there are neighborhoods where English is just as likely to be heard. “Spanglish will be the next language in B.A.,” he said.

The lack of a language barrier helped spurn Saletta to quit life as a stock trader in Manhattan and start a hostel in B.A. Pure economics is a compelling reason for most expats doing business here. “I’m paying out in pesos to build this thing, and I’ll be raking in dollars once its open,” he said.

The Alamo

The city’s appropriately named expat watering hole, “El Alamo” is a veritable embassy. Once inside those doors, you might as well be on US soil.

When asked about the circumstances of his arrival, Jack Geisser, a 37-year-old Rhode Island pharmaceutical lobbyist turned English teacher said that he wanted to shake things up in his life. So, he packed his bags and hopped on a flight to Buenos Aires. Eight months in, his plan is still open-ended. His problems are few and far between here. He points out that his major issue while looking down at his 2004 Red Sox World Series shirt. “This is a 2004 shirt, obviously I need my mother to send me a new one.”

Off in a corner as Rich Lang watches the game with two porteños (Buenos Aires residents), he discusses why he loves living here. “Buenos Aires is the perfect telecommuting city,” he said. He does legal work for a company he and his brother started in Rhode Island. Being three hours ahead of the east coast allows him to either get an jump start on the American day, or to work from noon to 9pm and still be able to enjoy those late night Argentine meals. Dinner starts no earlier than 10pm here.

“It’s just a jamming US city that’s cheap – honestly I think it puts New York to shame. People are just beginning to go out at 1am here, when back home places are about to close,” he said.

He and his Argentinean wife are splitting time between the two countries, but either way, he said that they are very similar locales. “It’s very much like the northeast, where different cultures come together,” he said. Pointing to his two newly-made Argentinean friends, he notes that one’s last name is Italian, and the other’s grandmother was Irish.

Just then, Francisco Pertini (the one with the Italian last name), chimes in with something that reminds one that they’re not in America after all, but in futbol (soccer) crazed Argentina, “I just ask you one question – why do you call it football?”

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3 Responses to “Expatriate games”

  1. Bette Says:

    Have you tried the Mate, So.Americas traditional tea, that you showed in a gourd with a “filtered straw” ???? I’m an avid tea drinker and just wondered how palatable it was…but don’t make yourself sick, if it not “your cup of tea”….

  2. mandy blake Says:

    I’m a flight attendant and Saletta was just on my flight to new york, going back so Argentina… he made an amazing business move, he told me all about it and I’m terribly impressed….
    Gave me a few ideas..

  3. cheap vs inexpensive Says:

    Argentina is not inexpensive period. Beef is inexpensive and services are cheap. i say cheap because the service and the finished product is cheap. Cheaper or less expensive than New York or Boston? Yes! BTW I always laugh when I meet people in Buenso Aires from Boston. Met dozens and all always from Boston and never elsewhere in Mass. Funnier yet is that after a short cnversation I find that almost all no nothing about the city itself. Maybe there is a stigma applied being from the Cape or the North Shore or even Lowell.

    El Alamo is so hyped from a few reviews from a few travellers a few years back that have made is seem more than it is. What is it? it is a dive bar worthy of Revere or Lowell or even Boston. A dump started by a disgraced perv American that thought he could get women if He opened a bar.

    Poor music, beer on par with the poorest beer anywhere, poor service, poor food and poor ventilation. This is not the only American or foreign owned bar/club that airs U.S. sports. This is just a well known dump that fleeces Americans and Portenos alike with an outrageous cover charge just to sit in a smoke filled run down hole filled with Argentines that do not speak with foreigners, old yanquis ( old Americans on sex holidays ) and the rest of us that read these horse pucky reviews and think this is the place to go.

    i recommend you travel at length to a place before you put pen to paper and see what things are for real and for happy hour.

    Cheers

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contributors

Thushan Amarasiriwardena

, former Senior Multimedia Producer at The Boston Globe, has always loved telling a great story. Combining his eye for visual story telling and his technical background in computer science at North Carolina State University, Thushan has reported on business, sports and travel for The Globe. You can find his site here.

Michael Kurtz

, graduated with a degree in Ethnomusicology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. His thesis research focused on the intersection of race and music in Northeastern Brazil. He worked previously as A&R and Production Coordinator for Putumayo World Music, an international music record label based in New York City. You can find his site here.

Brian Rogers

graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies, and has traveled extensively in Latin America.

Alicia Conway

is LongJaunt's home base chief and a Technical Producer for The Boston Globe. She joined and contributed with the team out in England, Kenya, Tanzania, The Netherlands and Thailand.