I don’t like to think about the hours of my life that have been wasted listening to conversations about cars. I say listening because I know so little about the subject that I was never able to make an intelligent contribution. Neither did my attempts at humorous interventions elicit warm chortles. “How’s your Bentley Chicken Massala going?” is unlikely to inspire lasting friendship with the guy who has just mortgaged his mother to buy said Turbo Mulsanne. But it was my only car joke and it’s owner was a prick who used to ensure that everyone knew he drove a Bentley by parking it in the pub car park in a way guaranteed to block several other guests, so that the barman would be obliged to ask who owned the Bentley and its clearly under-endowed owner could proudly move it. Repeatedly. And given how irritated its owner became after my repeated mispronunciation added to the fact that he was continually talking about said appendage replacement, I felt I had to ask. Repeatedly.
I could perhaps understand the obsession to talk cars in somewhere like Germany where you can still drive at a thoroughly scary speed. However the photo album from my last trip to England is entirely peopled by pictures of me jockeying some little ford with a minuscule engine, kindly provided by the speed cameras belonging to those nice chaps at the metropolitan police. If after two weeks in a Ka I can’t afford to return to my country (my mother obligingly wrote back to them to explain she had no idea where I lived), how can a Ferrari owner ever afford to leave his garage?
Of course in Argentina you can still drive at a scary speed and in a terrifying manner, with virtual impunity. It would be actually be fun to have a fast car here. I cleverly consulted my taxi driver of 18 years, the omniscient Juan, before making my automotive purchase thinking I would get the ins and outs of what made a vehicle mechanically suited to the mean streets of Buenos Aires (think break pedal connected to horn, accelerator peddle connected to horn, roll bars, bull bars, papier mache break pads that need to be preserved by not using them, security devices for electrocuting street corner window-washers etc.).
“Don’t get anything that makes you stand out. It might make you a target for robbers or even express kidnapping” There went the first rank of luxury autos. “Don’t buy anything not made in Mercosaur, you won’t get the parts due to the import restrictions.” There went the possibility of a hot hatch and narrowed the field to about 4 brands.
“So what do I buy?”
“A Ford Ecosport.”
“Because it is about the most common vehicle on the road, so the odds are that if someone wants to steal one it won’t be yours. And don’t wash it, even car thieves prefer a shiny, fragrant car.”
So there we have the reason why I have never wasted a moment here listening to a conversation about cars. While in all other things the Argentines veer towards stubborn individualism, with car purchases that wily element known as la viveza criolla takes over. They look at their neighbours cars and deliberately buy the same, calculating that they have just cleverly reduced the risk of having theirs nicked. And of course as they all drive the same car and none of them has any outstanding feature other than that of being unremarkable, job done, there is nothing to talk about. Car communism perhaps but I like it.