Best Standard Of Living In The New World?

Best Standard Of Living In The New World?

“I’d been bouncing around Latin America for about a decade by the time I discovered Uruguay,” writes Correspondent from that country David James.

“After years living, traveling, and doing business in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and elsewhere in the region, what struck me about Uruguay was how orderly a place it is. Things work here. Traffic is controlled. Roads are paved. The streets are clean.

“I’d heard Uruguay referred to as the ‘Switzerland of South America’ but dismissed the idea as so much rhetoric. When I finally saw the place for myself, I realized there’s really something to the association.

“Uruguay isn’t Switzerland. But the parallels are striking. Mention ‘Switzerland,’ and people think beautiful, safe, peaceful, clean… They think of tradition. Efficiency. Trains that run on time. Systems that work.

“Uruguay is Latin America, no question. But there are theaters everywhere. Bookstores. Cafés. Art galleries. The place has a European feel. The Spanish even has an Italian accent to it.

“Everywhere is the contrast between Latino and Euro. People idle at the corner cafés, sipping coffee and watching the world go by, just as they do in Europe. But you also see them walking down the street carrying leather-covered gourds, sipping mate through pewter straws. Businessmen are as at home galloping a horse on the pampas as they are taking lunch meetings in the city. Tall, slender, sophisticated, well-dressed women unashamedly put away two-pound steaks…

“Not only the people, but the cities, too, have a European flavor, with parks and plazas and tidy tree-lined avenues. But in these parks on Saturday afternoons, you see locals, young and old, passionately dancing the tango. It’s like Europe with the cobwebs shaken off. The premier cities of Europe are beautiful, of course, but they can seem dead. Uruguay’s cities are modest by comparison but gloriously alive.

“There’s one comparison between Uruguay and Switzerland that, in my mind, is quite literal…and that has to do with how safe and peaceful Uruguay is. Coming and going as much as I do, I’m struck, every time, by how lax the security is at the international airport in Montevideo compared with security in the States, certainly, but even elsewhere in Latin America. These people aren’t worried about terrorists. Why would they be? Why would any terrorists come this far south? Uruguay is one of the world’s last refuges, a truly safe haven, blissfully separate from the troubles of the rest of the world.

“Uruguayans are happy, friendly people. My new neighbor embraced me and kissed me on the cheek. I have to admit that I was a bit taken aback by this at first. In most Latin countries, men only kiss women. But, after the initial shock, I was charmed.

“I actually look forward to my return flights to Montevideo. The Uruguayans on board walk up and down the aisles, greeting each other and treating everyone, even strangers, like old friends.

“For me, Uruguay is a chance to recapture a quality of life that’s a fading memory in the States right now, a chance to live in safety and friendship and at peace, a chance to escape the craziness of much of the rest of the world these days.

“It’s also a dramatically beautiful place, with white-sand beaches and lush mountains.

“Maybe the biggest difference between Uruguay and Switzerland is the cost of living.

“Uruguay is more expensive today than it was when I first discovered it and decided to make the move from Nicaragua to Montevideo. But this is a relative statement. Things that were dirt-cheap two or three years ago are only very cheap today. It’s still possible to live well here on about US$1,500 per month.”

Kathleen Peddicord