10 Things I Wasn’t Expecting in Buenos Aires

Fileteado Porteño - Artistically Adorned Building Facades in Buenos Aires

Fileteado Porteño - Artistically Adorned Building Facades in Buenos Aires

I’ve been in Buenos Aires, Argentina with the Porteños (people of the city of Buenos Aires) this semester studying abroad. Although it’s about halfway through the semester now, I thought I'd share a few things that jumped out at me after my first few weeks in the city.

1. So Many Kisses!

People kiss on the right cheek here whenever you meet and greet someone in pretty much all circumstances that I’ve encountered. I would say it's instead of shaking hands – but in the US you don’t usually shake hands with everyone unless it’s a formal type of interaction or occasion (or you go to Harvard). If you’re just casually meeting a friend of a friend, or you're running into a casual acquaintance, a simple “hey, how’s it going?” and maybe a wave will suffice. Here all those situations would go with kisses. They even end emails with “Un beso” (a kiss) – you definitely couldn’t say that about handshakes.

2. The Magic of Milongas

Milongas, clubs designed principally to dance Tango and Folklorico, are like nothing I’ve experienced before. The sensuality and chemistry between partners, the swirling of scarves and the flicking of wrists, the unspoken harmony between the lead and the follow. This is dancing without having to be wild or inebriated, without having to rub pelvises, and without it having to be a professional full contact sport with tricks, lifts and flips. Just strangers coming together for the love of the art and the joy that dance brings. Simply beautiful.

3. Public Displays of Affection

From the looks of it, romantic relationships are 50% making out and 50% everything else. You would think that the main thing a couple would do on a subway ride is have a conversation. Turns out that a hot, crowded subway makes for a romantic canoodling opportunity. Gettin’ sexy on the subway, bus, in the middle of the sidewalk, in the check out line, it seems like it would be hard to get a word in.

4. Public Displays in General

A gun window display, next to a bra and panties window display, next to a piano window display… This city tends to be blunt and in-your-face and the window displays are definitely a part of that trend. There are several specialty shops and you never know what kind of shop you’ll run into next. I’ve never seen underwear advertised so prominently.

5. The Sweets

Alfajores for days! These are palm-sized round cakes with dulce de leche filling that are sometimes coated in chocolate and always delicious! There are the homemade varieties, found in panaderías (bakeries), and the mass-marketed type, several brands of which you can find at any kiosco (small convenience/snack shop). There also seems to be a preference for aerated chocolate bars – which are not nearly as common in the US. And I of course have to mention dulce de leche, used in candy, ice cream, pastries, spread on toast, eaten for breakfast, snacks, deserts, all day every day.

6. Buses on Buses on Buses….

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There are upwards of 100 lines of busses! Each with several ramales (branches) with varying destinations, and I know you haven’t told the driver where your going because there’s a line in front of you at the machine to pay but just squeeze onto the bus so he can close the door because he’s already started rolling off....It can be a bit daunting to say the least (and you thought public transit in NYC was intimidating, pshaw!). At the bus stop you have to hail busses like you hail cabs, and the bus guide-book doesn’t explicitly say where the proper stops are (and sometimes there is no official stop – you just have to know). Asking around is essential. The GoogleMap-esk interactive Buenos Aires Map helps too.  A big plus is that the public trans is SO CHEAP! It's 1.70 for your average bus ride (that’s about 50 cents USD) and 2.50 for a subway ride. Splurge on a taxi and your apt to spend 5-10 bucks.

7. Wide Proliferation of Artificial Sweeteners

It’s in everything – coffee, sodas, juices, and seems to be the preference. Now personally when it comes to sugar I’m about the real deal, but people have definitely developed a taste for it here. I’ll have a water please!

8. Burger King

I knew that McDononald’s was a world-wide enterprise, but Burger King? Stepping up its game! There actually seem to be more Burger Kings than McDonalds’ in many places (as it should be). The Whopper Extreme is on point and the Churrasquito Tradicional is tasty as well. I even saw a Wendy's, which I'm going to have to check out before I leave.

9. Katy Perry’s Firework Playing in the Background of the News Forecast

This one really caught me off guard. I’m used to hearing non-descript instrumental background music or songs related to the theme of the story or program. Here it seems like they play older, thematically unrelated US pop music as background music. Perhaps because of the language difference it’s easier for Porteños to tune out, but I definitely lose focus - takes me completely out of context and back to 9th grade. It’s pretty hard to keep from laughing.

10. Language Quirks

Acá instead of aquí, chau instead of adiós, plata instead of dinero - as with any country there is quite a bit of site-specific vocabulary, including the lunfardo (local slang). Another prominent feature of the language is the voseo – which is kind of like a singular version of vosotros that is used in Spain. One very Porteño trait is pronouncing the “ll” as “sh”.  As in “me shevo bien con los Porteños!”