Hello from sunny Uruguay! This is our first blog from our new location in South America and it compiles random yet useful (I hope!) reflections from my recent move back to Montevideo, after 13 years of living in the UK. These thoughts are particularly aimed at British exporters who have an interest in Latin America, and the idea is to get you all thinking…
First of all, I found Uruguay incredibly expensive. I was expecting so, from my visit back in April, but when I did my first supermarket shopping, I suffered it first hand! A weekly shop cost me the same as in the UK (and we are talking Tesco, not Waitrose). This is partly due to the exchange rate. I remember just a few years ago, when £1 = 56 pesos. Now, £1 = 30 pesos. Add inflation to it and high commodity prices and the cost of life in Uruguay is the highest in the continent. One empanada at the supermarket costs £1, roughly the price of the equivalent Cornish pasty in Britain. Ouch. Some things are still cheaper (like going to the hairdressers) but the paper costs just over £1, like the Yorkshire Post…
The second discovery is variety. At my local supermarket (Disco, part of the French Geant group), there is not only Worcestershire sauce but also horseradish sauce. There must be demand for both, so either too many expats in the area (not really) or taste is changing… Both products would have been confined to tiny gourmet stores a while ago. Same for Tabasco Sauce and Coleman’s Mustard…
Now, cultural shock in reverse: 10-hour delivery time slots. Honestly. The plumber announces he will come “tomorrow, at some point”, and the washing machine “will be delivered between 8am and 10pm”. Which reminds me of the other struggle I will have, after too many years in Britain: the total impossibility of arranging a meeting more than two or three days in advance. “Call me later”, “pop in when you are nearby”… and this is business. You can imagine what the “familia” is like…
Now, that’s the best part of it. The family and the extended family. If you are an exporter, you must get to grips with the influence that people have on each other here. Decisions seem to be social. And they almost always involve a lot (a lot) of talking. Call centres seem a total no-no, people just go to a shop or customer care centre and talk. They won’t trust a website or a leaflet, they want to ask questions and interact with a real human being face-to-face. This in turn translates into business operations. It is not about information, it is about relationships.
I am truly delighted to be back in the country I grew up in. A country that is far from perfect, but where people are warm and care for each other. If you are interested in doing business in Uruguay, I am here for you. But before I conclude, let me leave you with another thought: attempt no work here in January. The country is way too busy enjoying the sunshine. And when in Rome…
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