Monday, June 20, 2016

Buenos Aires Holidays: National Flag Day

Extra holiday number two this weekend, Día de la Bandera Naciona,l is a day to celebrate the Argentine flag and its creator Manuel Belgrano. Writing this (several months) late, I feel compelled to mention that I've since learned that they honor Belgrano in another fashion. Every city of any reasonable size we've been to in Argentina has a Belgrano street and/or bario. It is kind of a joke when we're travelling, because every time I asked my (navigating) wife where something was, the answer is inevitably: "Avenida Belgrano." He is a rather interesting man, who largely contributed to the independence of both Argentina and Paraguay.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Buenos Aires Holidays: Martin Miguel De Guemes Day

Argentina (and Embassy Buenos Aires) have done an excellent job pairing up holidays to make 4- and 5-day weekends. Today's extra holiday is courtesy of Martin Miguel De Guemes, a war hero from the Argentine War of Independence. This seems like a particularly poignant rememberance, with this year being the bicentennial for Argentine Independence. 

The story gets a little fuzzy for me here, since Argentina celebrated the 200th anniversary of the May Revolution in 2010, but are now again celebrating the 200th anniversary of actually declaring independence. You can read more on De Guemes on wikipedia...

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Post Allowance

I've spoken before about the various ways we get paid while overseas in the Foreign Service. Today I'm going to focus on the Post Allowance portion of our pay. Here's a quote of what it's meant to cover.

"Post allowance is a cost-of-living allowance granted to full-time employees officially stationed at a post in a foreign area where the cost of living, exclusive of quarters costs, is substantially higher than in Washington, D.C."

When we arrived in Chennai, we were receiving a Post Allowance of 10% (which is a made-up number based on some weird charts the government publishes). HOWEVER, conveniently, the percents for my current pay and family size equate approximately to US dollars per day. So, when we arrive in Chennai we were receiving $10 per day. Now we're not ones to use name brand products and don't have any brand loyalty. In Chennai, the only expensive items were American branded versions of things, so we were, in essence, making out like bandits. Of course as the rupee inflated (or the dollar deflated) our post allowance eventually disappeared.
Fast forward two years and we arrive in Buenos Aires with a 42% Post Allowance. We kind of assumed it would be the same situation. Of course, 6 days after arriving the allowance was lowered to 30%, but hey, I can live with that. It stinks, but it's probably fair. However, I now understand why we get this allowance. Sure, we've noticed our food budget has quadrupled, but we expected that moving from India to Argentina. What really stunned us was when we were at a baby store, looking at strollers, when my son picked up a toy, and we noticed the price. I don't have a picture of the specific toy he picked up, but it was a plastic airplane that would run for $15 in the US. It was ARS750 or $53. That's when we started noticing that imported products in Argentina are insanely more expensive than in the US. That's why we hadn't really noticed with food items.
Long story short, we're very thankful for our Post Allowance (as well as our access to Amazon and other US mail). I don't envy people who are here with companies that don't provide similar allowances, as some purchases could get very expensive!

The toys shown are ARS 1500, 1000 and 855 ($106, $71, and $60), respectively!

PS: The irony that my last post got a 5% raise (increased hardship differential) my last pay period and my new post got a 12% PA reduction my first pay period, is not lost on me!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Useful Air Baggage (UAB Arrived!)

Huzzah! Exactly one month after arriving in Buenos Aires, we've received our Unaccompanied Air Baggage (UAB). Even better than that, this time we packed stuff we actually wanted! So no more "Useless Air Baggage!" Highlights include kitchen supplies, baby supplies, towels, pillows, sheets, and TOYS! Actually, we've pretty much completely packed ourselves away from needing the welcome kit (though... we're still using the welcome kit plates and bowls). It only took about 4 hours to unpack (and neatly fold the packing paper, for later use as art paper), not too shabby.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

BBQ Winner!

How do you make a name for yourself when you first arrive at Post? WIN THE BBQ COMPETITION at (and bring a teeny tiny baby to) the Hail/Farewell. This weekend we had a big party/pot luck/BBQ competition. I submitted a BBQ brisket and grilled mushrooms, and won both the Beef and Side categories. I'd be very proud of myself... except... I was the only competitor in the Beef category... and since the weather had been cold and rainy all week, I was the only person to use a smoker or grill. Either way, we had a good time and there was plenty of great food. Kudos to the CLO for a fun party.

PS: I totally forgot to get pictures before the food was all eaten... so here's a picture of my winnings!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

DPO vs Pouch

Everybody loves mail! Living overseas is like going to summer camp. There's no better feeling than finding out you have mail to pick up. It sounds silly, but it's really true. Besides that, having (US) mail is one of the most enviable benefits of living overseas on government orders. The other expats I've met are immediately jealous, as their options for buying American products are mostly limited to... well... having someone bring it to them.

That being said, when it comes to mail there are two types of Posts. In Chennai, all of our mail came through the Diplomatic Pouch. The benefit to this is that shippers 'think' they're shipping to the US. The down side is that we were generally looking at 7 days minimum shipping time AFTER it's delivered to the pouch facility. Having a Diplomatic Post Office (the State Department version of an Army Post Office or APO), as we do in Buenos Aires, has its own positives and negatives. On the positive side, our mail can arrive in as few as 3 days after arriving at the DPO facility. However, some retailers, e.g. Amazon, know that APO/DPOs aren't in the US, so their standard shipping timing is thrown out the window. It took one item we ordered 25 days to SHIP from Amazon, not to mention travel time to the DPO.

Of course, in Chennai we received our mail once per week, so you really looked forward to mail day. Here mail arrives almost daily, so perhaps some of the morale-boosting rush of receiving mail will wear off. Oh well, I'll just have to order some tissues to wipe away my tears of woe. :-D