Bloopers and Ubers

After surviving a scathing plague and a visit to “the Arizona of Argentina,” hitting the 50% mark of this educational experience is quite retrospective. For one, the internet can enhance, or torpedo, your language learning.

For a full week I only left my host mother’s apartment a couple of times, due to what could have been the flu. While I got into a habit of making a toasted peanut butter/chia herbed fried egg sandwich everyday, I lost my Spanish speaking routine while quarantined to my room. Venturing down several world wide web rabbit holes, it became clear after a couple days that I was predominantly consuming content in English. It was my default setting, as David Foster Wallace says, and I forgot to tweak the parameters. With the situation I was in, I might as well have never left the United States. To truly reap the fruit of your labors while studying abroad, you should limit English simply to those friends and family at home. Otherwise, why are you there?

With a fire beneath my feet to get out and interact with the world again, some friends and I trekked our way to Salta and Jujuy. If you find yourself there, I highly recommend Cafayate, the salinas grandes, and an alfajor factory in Tilcara. You shall not regret it.

One regret of mine from the trip however, is taking an Uber home from the airport. The sketchy details of this ride are a story for another day; the real juice of this story lies with the concept itself.

In Argentina, Ubers and other ride-sharing services are quasi illegal. In typical Uber fashion, they showed up one day with a local LLC and just burst on to the Buenos Aires transportation scene without a speck of legislative consultation. The government immediately sued for not paying taxes, and more importantly, lack of labor unions.

Argentina has a long and accomplished history of labor law protections, spurred by demonstrators and protesters. For a foreign hot-shot, high value company like Uber to just barge in with no plan is insensitive, to say the least. A court decision found ride sharing to be legal, to connect a driver with a passenger, but to profit off the connection was deemed illegal. Thus, Argentina forced Visa/Mastercard and others to not accept payments to Uber from Argentine bank accounts, still making it accessible to foreigners but cash-only to Argentines. Further moral issues arise when considering how the influx of Venezuelans see Uber as a way to make money with little experience in the country.

As complicated as it is, the whole debacle opens a window into Argentine labor disputes, and the growing international question of how to deal with disruptive and emerging technology. In fact, it’s especially poignant now with an economy struggling to find ground between rising inflation and a tumultuous election year.

One uplifting insight came from an author/civil engineering chief executive I interviewed a few weeks ago, who sees progress in the fact that Argentine people have now learned to not accept military rule during times of uncertainty. A baby step it may seem, it demonstrates the trust in democratic representation.

That’s all for now,

Stay tuned for Picture Day.

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