By: Uki Goni
The newly elected prime minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, caused a minor scandal during his electoral campaign earlier this year when he claimed that "1,200 young Spaniards are emigrating to Argentina each month" due to his country's economic crisis.
Rajoy's claim was probably exaggerated, but the mass arrival of young Europeans is nonetheless clearly evident in the streets of Buenos Aires today.
Most of them come from Spain and Italy but some are from Britain.
"There've been evenings in Buenos Aires coming home on the underground where I ride listening to English conversations on the train," says 28-year-old former London stockbroker Jeremy Hanson, who moved here two years ago. "Then I get off at Carranza station and I come up the stairs and there are people ahead of me speaking English and then I'm walking down Campos Avenue to my apartment and there are people walking towards me and as they pass they're English too."
Mixed Italian, Spanish and English accents stand out in colonial San Telmo, middle-class Belgrano or the trendy boutique-lined streets of Palermo Hollywood and Palermo Soho, the neighbourhoods most favoured by the growing number of young professionals who have come here seeking jobs and a more relaxed lifestyle.
"In Barcelona I didn't even bother looking for a job because there just is no work in Spain," says Montserrat Fabregas, a 30-year-old architect who came here last year to join one of the most important architecture studios in Argentina.
Fabregas is ecstatic at her success in Buenos Aires, where she combines working on projects for the MSGSSS studio with serving as a volunteer for a non-governmental organisation that provides improved homes for poorer areas outside the city. "I have already built my first house, even if it is just a humble nine by 18-feet one in a poor neighbourhood," says Fabregas. Every weekend she climbs the scaffolding with construction workers, building wooden homes to replace the aluminium-siding shacks of shanty-town dwellers.
For Chiara Boschiero, a 33-year-old film producer from Italy, Argentina has provided a similar escape. "In Italy, with the crisis, people my age have closed up inside, you feel there is no more hope," she says sitting at a café near her home in the tree-lined neighbourhood of Belgrano. "Here people are still willing to put their heart into what they do. Italy is a country of old people, it is very difficult for a director under 40 to make a film. But Argentina is young and there are many directors and producers here younger than I am who are very successful."
Two years ago, Hanson decided to leave his job at a London financial services firm to teach English privately to business executives in Buenos Aires. The effects of the crisis on his London firm had become unendurable. "The company was adjusting, making redundancies, tightening everything," he says, relaxing at an ice-cream parlour near his shared Belgrano apartment. "I was completely asphyxiated by ridiculous things like measuring how quickly you responded to phone calls."
Sunny Buenos Aires has proven a welcome change from that stress. "The climate is perfect, getting a job here was pretty easy and the people are great."
The large majority of young Europeans here work under the radar of the Migrations Department, residing as students or travelling back and forth to neighbouring Uruguay to renew their tourist visa every three months. But figures for official residency permits for Europeans have about doubled in the past five years, to a projected 2,000 for this year. The real number of new residents is much higher, with Spaniards leading the wave, followed by Italians, French, Germans and Britons.
Few plan to return home any time soon. "Mine is a lost generation in Spain," says Fabregas. "I had planned to stay two years and go back, but now I realise I won't because the panorama is too bleak. My friends still have no jobs. I am very lucky I moved to Argentina."
Hanson is thinking of buying an apartment to stay permanently. "I've read stories on the internet from people with bad experiences, but I think a lot of it comes down to the effort you're prepared to make on a personal level.
Some people come without learning Spanish and they expect to start a life without knowing the language and when it doesn't work out they go on the internet and they give it a bad press."
Boschiero agrees. "The bureaucracy here is horrendous but if you take the time to sit down and have a coffee with someone then the doors open magically. It's a country with a complicated history so people are used to helping each other out, I do this for you and you do this for me and together we form a human chain to help each other out."
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