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Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Real Facts About Uruguay

So it seems my little adopted homeland has been getting an awful lot of buzz on the International scene, lately. I can't think of year in recent memory where Uruguay has been more in the news than 2013; in no small part due to its very charismatic president and his modernizing ideas.   And now, no less than Buzzfeed has declared and given its reasons why you should move to Uruguay in 2014.

I moved to Uruguay in 2003. As usual, I'm ahead of my time. I'd love for more expats to hang out with, particularly gamers; and obviously, I wouldn't still be here if I didn't think Uruguay was awesome.  But at the same time, I don't want people moving here under false notions that this is some kind of utopia. So...

Let's clarify some of these points presented in the article:
1. Mujica is a pretty cool president. Unfortunately, Uruguay does also have a political system that, while one of the most stable and least corrupt in the region, is still hopelessly plugged up with pointless bureaucracy, high taxation, very low levels of services, rampant nepotism and control by special interests that don't necessarily reflect the democratic wishes of the majority (for example, the public employees union have massive influence which they generally use to prevent desperately-needed change; the tiny communist party (which has very little public support) holds an inordinate level of sway over the leftist "Frente Amplio" coalition party that runs the government). 
On the other hand, Mujica is awesome; he (and his party) could have easily followed the terrible populist model of Chavez like so many other countries in the region did, but instead he has gone in a different direction, encouraging rather than discouraging business and investment and maintaining Uruguay's democratic values (both of which, for a former maoist guerilla, are a very big deal); and the result is that Uruguay is today one of the most economically prosperous countries in the region and growing considerably IN SPITE of the problems with its basic government bloat.

2. Uruguay hasn't been called the Switzerland of the Americas in a really long time; but your banking will be basically safe here; though banking is quite a hassle.  I still do almost all my business with foreign/international banking.

3. Education is free, secular, and universal. It also sucks ass. The quality of both the education infrastructure, and the general education people receive here, is very poor, as the recent international rankings have demonstrated.  That is, its decent by latinamerican standards, but terrible compared to Western Europe or North America.  If I had kids, I would not want them to be educated here.  Its also heavily partisan; the teacher's union and the government use the education system to indoctrinate kids into leftist ideology, to the point that they've tried to rewrite history (implying that the guerillas in the 1960s were "freedom fighters" opposing a dictatorship, when in fact they were trying to overthrow a democratically elected government to try to impose a Soviet-style Marxist Dictatorship). 
There have been some positive changes lately.  For example, the One Laptop Per Child initiative which has meant that EVERY SINGLE CHILD in the country got a free laptop and is being taught in the use of computers; this will make a HUGE difference within a generation (both to these kids lives, and to the country as a whole), and its amazing, and I give full credit to the Frente Amplio government for this amazing accomplishment.  Unfortunately, the Teacher's Union was opposed to it and continue to oppose it, and have done their utmost to try to minimize its efficacy.  They've also steadfastly opposed any effort whatsoever at educational reform on all levels of the education system, from pre-school to University.

4.  Uruguay does have same-sex marriage; and has changed enormously in the last decade in terms of its tolerance and acceptance of gays and lesbians.  Its one of the most gay-friendly countries in south america.  That doesn't mean that there isn't still significant prejudice on the cultural level, of course.

5. Marijuana and Abortion are legal (as of this year) and yes, Uruguay has great beaches and all kinds of other wonderful natural details; and if you're not a nature or beach fan, the city of Montevideo is wonderful too, full of culture, amazing architecture, beautiful monuments and art, and fantastic cafes.

6. Uruguay's food is amazing, in the sense that its all locally-grown, a lot of it is organic; the meat is AMAZING. Yerba Mate is awesome.
On the other hand, if you're someone who wants to go out for thai food every week, you'll have a problem: there's very little gastronomical diversity in Uruguay.  There are few ethnic restaurants to be found: there's a couple of nice Korean restaurants, some decent sushi places, one or two Mexican restaurants, some good Shawarmas, but you won't find a single thai, vietnamese, Indian/curry, ethiopian, etc restaurants at all.  There's a couple of generic "chinese" restaurants which serve the generally crappy "chop suey"-type dishes-for-white-people, but no dim sum, no cantonese, no authentic szechuan, etc.
On the other hand, the cafe culture is fantastic; and this is the country that invented dulce de leche (or at least, perfected it).

7. Cabo Polonio is a hippie beach resort, but its rapidly becoming highly commercialized.  Punta del Este is a ridiculously overpriced tourist trap. But there are still a half-dozen amazing beach-resort towns that are true gems. I won't mention most of them, to avoid their destruction, but they're there. There's also Piriapolis, a beach resort built 100 years ago by a mad alchemist (I kid you not), and Colonia, which is not technically a beach resort but is an amazing town with an incredible old-town core (U.N. world heritage site) that dates back to the 18th century.

8. Uruguay has an amazing music scene (and was and still is disproportionately influential in the region); and it has a great carnaval. Not as showy as Brazil's, but it makes up for that by being the longest carnaval in the world. The party starts at the end of January and lasts until the beginning of March.

9. Uruguay's soccer team is the best its been in 50 years. And if you're a soccer fan, you'll see some great games here.

10. Uruguay has the largest open-air street market (antiques, crafts, food, etc) in the continent: Tristan Narvaja.  It happens every Sunday, and I love it.

11. Uruguayan women are, I would say, generally more attractive than the North American average.  The men, however, do not usually look like Forlan.  I don't know how it happens, but this country seems to me to have an inordinate number of short fat bald men walking around with stunning, thin, attractive women.  I guess that's good news if you're a short fat bald guy.

12. Uruguay's people are great. Very friendly and welcoming.  A significant percentage of them also speak English (to varying degrees of competency).

Besides that, Uruguay has a culture that is different but recognizable; contrary to what some might think if you move here you won't be living in a jungle, nor will you live in a shantytown.  If anything, Montevideo looks like a slightly run-down Spanish or Italian city.  In other word, its culturally like living in southern Europe, but with a much lower price tag.  You can drink the water right out of the tap, you can get all the amenities you're used to in north america (though, as I mentioned in point #6 not all of the luxuries!). 

Things like electricity, water, fuel, etc are all as accessible and reliable as they would be in most American cities.  The internet here is very good, and Uruguay has embarked on a massive project to try to become the country with the fastest internet service per capita in the world within the next 5 years.  I know that Uruguay's average internet speeds are already better than the U.S. or Canada's.

And for the roleplayers out there, there are no local gaming stores, but Uruguay has a big and very active gaming culture.  If you speak spanish, you'd have no problem finding a gaming group. If you speak english, well, I can personally attest to there being at least one regular English-language campaign going on.

Anyways, them's the facts.


Currently Smoking: Dunhill Classic Series Rhodesian + C&D's Crowley's Best


  1. But what about the important things: Heavy metal bands? :)

  2. I know there's a fairly decent heavy-metal scene in Uruguay. I know very little about it, however.

  3. You mention expats. Are you, yourself an expat? If so, from where? Context suggests that the US, but your recent handoff of your wife suggests origins in Canada. All of this then begs, how did you end up in Uruguay? :)

  4. Yes, I'm an expat, and originally canadian. I came here as a tourist, and I liked it so much I threw away my return ticket.