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Great Friends


The Tango

At the southern end of South America is Argentina. The capital, Buenas Aires, was probably named for the fresh breezes off the Rio de la Plata. This is actually a wide estuary that drains a good portion of southwest South America. It separates Argentina from Uruguay on the east. At Buenas Aires it is approximately fifteen miles across to Uruguay.

In the early 1900s, Argentina was one of the wealthiest nations in the world. By 1913, it boasted the world’s tenth highest national per capita. Unfortunately, beginning in the 1930s, the Argentinian economy deteriorated rapidly due primarily to political instability when a military junta gained power. Argentina transitioned from being a very stable and conservative country prior to the Great Depression, after which it gradually turned into one of the most unpredictable and unstable economies. Trying to build a successful and sustainable business there is a true challenge today.

I was introduced to Argentina by Luis Maria Cravino and his wife Cecilia Bastide. They turned out to be extraordinary people and great friends. Over the next two decades I made several trips to Argentina. Luis Maria is a tall, handsome, young man, in his mid-thirties, with a natural charm about him. If he had chosen acting he would certainly be the romantic leading man. In time, I was to learn that he is a very respected professional. I can imagine how attractive he must be to the ladies of Buenas Aires.

On one visit Luis Maria invited me to lunch at the prestigious La Cabana men’s club renowned for its steak barbecues. The building is a richly decorated nineteenth-century Spanish hacienda. Inside, it’s covered with expertly carved, dark wood walls carrying photos and paintings of cattle and gauchos along with exhibits of ropes, branding irons, spurs, hats, saddles, and boleros. It is subtly macho.

Cattleman’s Mansion. Whenever I address a group of people in a Spanish speaking country I always open with, Quiero hablar contigo en tu idioma, pero mi español no es muy bueno. It means “I would like to speak to you in your language, but my Spanish is not very good.” I follow that with, Mi esposa se llama Laura Esperanza Sanchez, and I put all the accent I can manage into her name. That brings the house down and now we’re friends. Therein lies the lesson. If you seriously try to speak the local language people will assume you are appreciative of their culture. The only exception I know are some French people who are upset when a foreigner fractures their language.

Coincidentally, a gentleman came up to me during the pre-meal cocktails and said he had a question. The question is, “What do you call someone who speaks three languages?” I replied, “Multi-lingual.” He went on, “What do you call someone who speaks two languages?” I replied, “Bi-lingual.” Then, he asked what do you call someone who speaks only one language?” I said, “I don’t know.” He said with a broad smile, “American.”