UCL languages student Holly Lawrence tells Katie Morley what it's like to intern in retail banking in Argentina
As a nation, the Argentineans are extremely relaxed. Even though I was working for a big bank, I hardly ever heard anyone complaining about being stressed at work. Everyone was very friendly – it almost didn’t feel like a workplace! People got on with what they had to do but they were all chatting in the meantime, sitting on each other’s desks, laughing and joking.
Being an intern, I was allowed to turn up at half past nine. Everyone else arrived at around 9am, though no-one was ever in the office much earlier than half past eight. At lunchtime, people tended to take a generous hour. There wasn’t a canteen at the bank, so instead we’d go to little cafés nearby. The women in Buenos Aires are generally slim and health-conscious and so they usually opted for a salad or something else light. Since most people in Buenos Aires don’t normally eat dinner until about 10pm, there was never a big rush to get home and cook dinner. The people I worked with would often stay in the office until about 9pm, and then go straight out to a restaurant and eat a big meal all together, usually a selection of meat, pasta and salad. I found that people liked to eat in large groups – there’s a big emphasis on family meals as well.
The people I met in the bank had formed really close friendships with each other. They’d regularly go for drinks together and they even met up at weekends. It wasn’t like some other places that I’ve worked where people feel they have to have a different type of relationship with their colleagues than they do with their friends.
I was a little nervous when I started the internship, but I soon found that the people in charge of my department weren’t intimidating at all – they seemed to get on with everyone. It wasn’t like they were too important to go for lunch or for a cigarette with someone much more junior. It really didn’t feel like a hierarchy was in place. And the dress code was very casual for a bank. It was a swelteringly hot summer when I worked there, and the men would wear chinos and short-sleeved shirts - pretty much the only time any of them wore a tie was in meetings. I’d imagined I might have to wear stiff pencil skirts and smart blazers, but instead I would wear black trousers, a t-shirt and a cardigan most days. At the end of the week we had “Casual Fridays”, where we were allowed to wear whatever we liked!
One of the only irritating things about working in Buenos Aires was getting to and from work. I lived near enough to the office to walk there, but I never did because it was so hot that I’d have needed a shower by the time I arrived. The bus system was so complicated that for the first few weeks I took a cab twice a day. They’re relatively cheap, but the cost really does add up when you’re getting them all the time. After a while, I managed to work out how to navigate the bus system but I still didn’t like it because it was just so complicated. It’s not like in England where you find a bus stop and can easily find out where the buses go - in Buenos Aires it was really difficult to work out which one I needed to get. And being on the bus wasn’t very nice. They were often ridiculously packed and there’d even be people hanging out of the sides on busy days.