The Expat: Emmanuel Burgio

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Born: in Holland to an Austrian mother and Tunisian-born French father
Lives: Recoleta
Education: Economics at the LSE
Profession: Founder of Blue Parallel
Book: A Little History of the World
Film: La vie d’Adèle
Gadget: Laptop

Although his first visit was an initial flirtation as part of a round-the-world voyage, by his third trip on business Emmanuel Burgio had fallen for his Argentine wife. Twelve years on, the Frenchman has founded a Latin America-facing luxury travel company and lives in Recoleta with his young family.

Emmanuel says: “I took a sabbatical for six months to travel around the world and so the first time I came to Argentina was in 2000 at a time when the country was very expensive, at least in comparison with Chile. The last leg of the round-the-world trip was Latin America and the final part of that was Argentina. When I crossed over into Patagonia from Torres del Paine and visited Perito Moreno glacier was when I realized everything was more expensive so I went to Buenos Aires then back home – that was the end of my sabbatical.”
While that first visit was a mild flirtation with the country, it was the third time round on a business trip that led to a permanent stay, and he swapped New York City for BA.

Meeting the wife
Emmanuel adds: “When I came back, a year and a half later, it was a different kind of experience. I was undertaking some due diligence for my father’s telecommunications company, which was interested in making an acquisition in Argentina. I came for a week, left then returned again a few months later and that’s when I met my wife. And that is the main reason I’ve been living in Argentina since 2003.

“One night I went out with a friend to a bar, and she was also there with some friends. We exchanged emails, I got her a beer – which turned out to be a very expensive one! As I was living in New York at the time, we ended up having a long-distance relationship for a bit. Until she invited me to spend New Year’s Eve with her in Jujuy, where she is from. I had a plane ticket back to the United States on January 14 but I realized that all the stars were aligned: I had a girlfriend I got on well with and as I was starting up a travel company, I thought that instead of having a base in New York where life was very expensive, that I could make Buenos Aires the base. It was just after the crisis and there had been a devaluation so things were a lot more affordable. The focus of my company was going to be Latin America so from a strategical point of view, it made better sense to create all these relationships with providers and build a product from Buenos Aires.

“And that same week, a friend of mine in New York was desperate for a place to stay and I thought I could sub-rent him my father’s apartment I was in. And I didn’t use my plane ticket on that January 14 – I just stayed! That’s how it all started.

“My family understood and what also helped was that my father was involved professionally in Argentina so they were spending a lot of time here. So I wasn’t really away from home. That said, I couldn’t speak Spanish when I got here – the only thing I could say was ‘vamos a la playa’ and that wasn’t very helpful in Buenos Aires! So to think back that I created a travel company in Buenos Aires without speaking a word of Spanish… then I started taking some classes but I didn’t improve much! Day-to-day life helped, however, talking to cab-drivers or going to the bakery. Initially I would speak English to my wife but over time, that has transitioned and now we speak Spanish to our three children. I’ve spoken to them in French since the day they were born but they respond in Spanish! So my language skills have improved but sometimes I meet foreigners who have come here to take intensive language skills and I tell myself ‘well, you’ve been here for 12 years, their Spanish is better than yours’ and then I feel ashamed!”

Home is Recoleta
Emmanuel’s stomping-ground has always been Recoleta and although he has moved between properties, he has contentedly remained in the same neighbourhood. “I like the fact that I can walk everywhere, I can walk to the office and I love the fact that when I come back from work I can stop off at the fishmonger or buy fruit and vegetables from the Peruvians in the street and there’s a bakery on the corner. It’s very lively, and I like having all the local produce right there.

“And being European a lot of people say Alvear Avenue is the Paris of South America. I don’t really feel that way about it but nevertheless in comparison with other neighbourhoods, you have high ceilings and French-style buildings.”

While Emmanuel has lived in various countries, he says he doesn’t necessarily miss France but his family and the proximity that unites them. He says: “It was my mother’s birthday last week and there was a big family reunion in the south of France. I have three sisters, one has five kids and the other has four so what I miss, as they all live in Europe and it’s easier for them to get together there, is that. It’s an investment to take all five of us, and it’s not easy to be on a plane for 13 hours with three little ones under the age of six. I miss the proximity of my siblings and also the fact that my kids have very strong relationships with their Argentine cousins, who live in Jujuy. I wish they could have the same bonds with their European cousins.”

After 12 years in the southern hemisphere, Emmanuel says his most Argentine characteristic is not shaving every day and that he also loves taking charge of the barbecue at weekends.

But on a more serious note, he is also aware of coming full circle with regards to his own relationship with the country that includes downs as well as ups.

He says: “I’ve gone through different stages with Argentina. When I first arrived, it was a love story with Buenos Aires which I think a lot of foreigners go through: it’s summer while it’s winter in the US, the food is good and cheaper than in Europe, there is a great social life as you can go out to bars and cafés, movies and theatre, beautiful landscapes, people are cultured and friendly and you can have intellectual conversations as well. It’s easy to fall in love with Buenos Aires.

“Then there’s a second phase where one starts to see some of the issues with regards to living in Argentina. You need a place to stay and you’re looking to buy an apartment and stay long term but then there’s all the paperwork. There are a number of complications and that’s the second stage, where you hate Buenos Aires: everything is inefficient, back home you don’t have to wait in line or want to install cable TV and the technician actually comes between nine and 10 like they say, and you don’t waste an entire day waiting for someone who will never arrive. That second stage makes you feel miserable.

“But then I realized that whenever I went to France or the United States, I was starting to criticize those places as well. So I’d go through customs in the US and there’s a blue line and if you put your foot on it, you get yelled at! Or in France, everything is so small while the concept of space in Argentina means you can go outdoors and see blue sky. So then I got to the final stage that I am really enjoying, objectively, what I do and don’t like, and try to make the best of wherever I am. I’ve come full circle.”

Buenos Aires Herald, August 30, 2014
Ph: Mario Mosca

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