Tips & Contributions

The dog who tried to steal our tips

The dog who tried to steal our tips. By the way, he is wearing clothes…!

Another hot, hot, hot, hot, hot… day in Caminito. I’ve recovered from my stomach thing, thanks to Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and my roommate Delia for making me ravioli when I thought I didn’t have anymore appetite. We find out that actually, the folkloric dancers at Piccola, also had the same stomach issue during the days we had off… So that explains the cause. It was the tap water that we were drinking while we were working there, and it wasn’t just a little, we had a ton of it during those 2 hot days. Today, I got bottled water and “jugo exprimido” (fresh squeezed orange juice) from the stand. No more iced water that I thought was filtered water hahaha.

The theme that came up for me at Caminito today was about “tipping”. Being foreigners, we have no idea what would be the appropriate amount of “tips/contribution” you may want to give to performers. If we think about the dollar-peso exchange rate, which today it’s at US$1=AR$13 (blue rate), this will probably give you the wrong idea. I’ve seen the performers get mad when someone tries to leave some “moneda” coins or a 2 peso bill. They think it is an insult that they’re being treated cheaply. I had to explain that in the US, dropping some coins and dollar bills into the hat may not be that strange. With what the exchange rate is, you would think the value of a 2 peso bill seems valid as a tip.

I think, for one thing, we just don’t know what’s right, especially with the changing peso strength, and the different market rates. It’s confusing. You would buy a cup of “jugo exprimido” at about 20-30 pesos, which means it’s like US$2-3 at the blue rate, not even the official exchange rate. It seems pretty expensive considering the fact that the dollar is about 10 times stronger. Some of the things sold in the markets are sometimes about the same price or even more expensive than what it would be in the States. A random example, a package of cotton swabs (100 units) was about 20 pesos, that’s about US$2. At Target, you can find ones with 300 units at US$1.49. Five Bananas are about 12 pesos = US$1.20 at the supermarket, where you can get US$0.19 per banana at Trader Joe’s. I can keep giving different examples. But things are pretty expensive for people if you consider their monthly income median being 9,400 pesos, about US$940 (blue rate).

Caminito is a touristic area. As soon as you walk onto the street, you get attacked by all the people who are trying to get you to eat in a restaurant, offer to take tango photos (US$5), or to sell you something. I get approached by these people as well, if I am walking there alone, unless I’m in full tango gear. You can kind of get wary with it, and get more protective over your money knowing how people are trying to extract money from you. We get the sense that we’re prey. That could also be one of the other reasons why some people may feel uncomfortable and not give anything or drop in monedas when the hat is offered for contribution.

The dancers say that leaving 10 pesos is minimum (a little less than US$1). There is usually a main pot and the tips get split at the end of the day with all the dancers. If you think  that 10 pesos is divided by 6 people, it’s really not that much. These are all professional dancers, there’s a slight base pay from the restaurant, but the rest is dependent on the tips. For most, this is one of their main income sources. In the end of the 7 hour day, with the addition of the base pay, what we make might add up to be more or less a “Jackson”.

Right now at 11pm, the weather forecast says it’s 90 degrees, with it feeling like 107 degrees with humidity 75%. There is thunder and rain. Lightning. Kind of exciting…. But imagine what it was at 2pm in Caminito…! And silly me, I forgot to wear my sun block. Bad, bad, bad. I came home all red. I had to go to Farmacity afterwards to buy aloe skin lotion so it doesn’t get worse tomorrow. With the water, juice, snack, lotion, and ice cream that I had needed to obtain for my day at Caminito, I pretty much used up the earning of the day!

Tonight will be chill. No milongas. Falling asleep just listening to the rain… If it’s still raining tomorrow, there’ll be no Caminito. Let’s see what tomorrow brings…!

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