Arrivistes on Alvear – Status anxiety over a Chinese Market

As if Argentina’s elite didn’t have enough to worry about. Currency controls, rampant inflation, stricter tax collection, and staying thin -it’s enough to make you cancel your trip to Punta del Este. Now, Buenos Aires society is up in arms over a possible “mercado chino” (Chinese-owned supermarket) from opening its doors on Avenida Alvear, the capital’s Rodeo Drive.

This is ridiculous on a number of levels. On the surface, it’s hard to believe that a discount retailer operating in a country with price controls on food staples would fork out $10,000/month to rent a former luxury boutique. It’s even harder to believe that many in the neighborhood are shopping for bargains.

Supermarket politics aren’t anything new in Argentina. I lived in Buenos Aires in 2004 and when my host family found out I shopped at Coto rather than their preferred Disco, they looked at me as if I might whip out a secret Bolivian passport and come clean about an affair with the mucama. But now this? And in a city that has already has thousands of successful Chinese entrepreneurs that make a living with supermarkets and other small businesses?

More than my erstwhile Bolivian shopping habits, what’s really ridiculous is the outsized and outdated notions of grandeur that Argentina’s crème-de-la-crème have about their place in their country and in the world, and the disconnect they have with other Argentines. Europeans can’t even afford luxury shopping these days. It’s not hard to imagine how these types of attitudes can stoke anger and antagonism, and the very policies from Argentina’s president that the rich resent. 

The real irony is, if Argentina had loosened its entry policy to accommodate the record demand for Chinese tourist visas, the Italian luxury brand may have had customers to serve.

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