In Buenos Aires, fitting in is a more complicated process than simply knowing your steak, wine and football, or becoming a pro at multiple-dog walking, staring and protesting.
Dog walking: dream job or bum deal? Photo courtesy of LWY.
Here are some ways you can act, live and love like a local. If you follow them you might just avoid men on passing motorbikes hollering “Gringa!” (but probably not).
It Started with a Beso
Whether it’s their amigo, boss or total stranger, Argentines peck each other once on the right cheek to say hi and bye. It can seem homoerotic and large gatherings can shave hours off lives, but it’s a nice touch that isn’t all about leading to a nicer touch. Latinos are passionate, but it’s not always about sex.
From A to Buenos Aires
The complex Guia T is my Baires Bible. It’s a guide to the buses (AKA colectivos or bondis) and you’d be lost without it. Pimped disco vans hurtle around the city with up to 10 different routes (the No 60 has 10 pages dedicated to its various lines). You’ll get kudos with one of these under your arm, for deciphering it – or, at least, appearing to.
More Merienda, Vicar
You’ll rarely see a local wandering down the street gorging on sandwiches or crisps. Porteños merienda. They tea. Although Argentine women don’t seem to eat, they’ve somehow wedged another meal into the day. Merienda is all about galletitas (biscuits), medialunas (croissants) and mate. Palermo’s Café Montenegro is known for its medialunas and Tea Connection for having over 30 tea options, but for mate go to Cumaná (Rodriguez Peña 1149, Recoleta).
Café con leche and medialunas. Photo courtesy of Wes Meltzer.
Life’s a Carne-val
Weekends are all about inviting your pals round for an asado. Have a butchers at the butchers, grab coals and salt, and learn to be an asador on the beef altar that is the parrilla. When it comes to slabs of meat, tourists usually go for the superficial lomo (tenderloin), but to appear local, get your chops around asado de tira (ribcage), morcilla (blood sausage), entraña (skirt steak), matambre (flank), mollejas (sweetbreads) and chinchulin (small intestines).
For local vibes eating out, pile on the chimichurri at Palermo’s Club Eros (Uriarte 1609), one of the city’s many hole-in-the-wall parrillas such as Don Niceto (Niceto Vega 5255), or the dozens of grill stands serving up choripán (chorizo sausage in a roll) and bondiola (pork shoulder) on Costanera Sur.
You’ll see Argentines frequenting ice-cream parlours very late at night and, shock-horror, they’re not drunk. Kill that binge monkey and end your night at heladerias such as Patagonia’s Juaja (Cerviño 3901, Palermo) or Chungo (Humboldt 1906) for creamy dulce de leche ice creams.
Feasting post-midnight is the norm. A massively popular local hangout is Kentucky Pizza (Santa Fe 4602). Go at 6am for some fugazza slices before heading home – and wonder why it’s so heaving when it’s sounds like a cross between 2 bad things, KFC and Pizza Hut.
What the fugazza is that? Photo courtesy of Rebecca Caro.
A Tip. Literally
Locals rarely tip more than 10% in restaurants and 25-50 centavos in cafes, but feel free to give more if the service is good (and it usually is). You never need to tip taxis, but you’ll get a “muy amable” if you round up.
Buenos Aires’ nights give you jetlag. When it’s already the day-after-the-night before, Porteños are just making their way to tango halls, cumbia nights or electronic boliches. This isn’t saved for the weekends either – Wednesday nights are all about ‘After Office’ parties and Thursdays are ‘Noche de Trampa’ (cheating night). Yes, really.
Depending on your vibe, check out Niceto, Crobar, La Trastienda, Ciudad Cultural Konex, Club Cultural Matienzo, La Peña del Colorado and Makena Cantina Club – and share a Fernet and coke between all of you – a local drink that has a foaming 2 inch head. You’ll also need to lose your rhythm when dealing with dance music. Argentines love a tango and a choreographed move, but often have two left feet when it comes to freestyling.
It Takes 2 to Tango
Argentina is all about machismo and piropos (chat-up lines/catcalling). Locals love a bit of chamuyo (bullshit) and PDA. Women, be prepared. Men, watch, learn, and improve your game. Someone once told me if you get a cerveza (beer) and a pancho (hotdog), you’ve had a good date. Hone your tonsil tango skills in Parque Las Heras or head to a telo (sex hotel) if you want to step it up a notch.
What’s the Skinny?
Argentines are keen exercisers. If you’re not up for working out alongside the superb bodies at a Megatlon gym, get yourself to the Costanera Sur parks and lakes. Join the Porteños running, power-walking, rollerblading, cycling, on stilts, pedalo-ing and bird-watching. Or just rent a bike at La Bicicleta Naranja.
Exercise is taken very seriously. Photo courtesy of Alex Proimos.
Chicas, grow your hair long enough to flow down the loo. Chicos, get yourself a dodge hairdo(n’t). Chicas, don some fringed sandals. Chicos, wear bad shoes. You got it. In Buenos Aires it’s the elderly ladies who are the best dressers. The octogenarians show us up with their perfectly coiffured hair, accessories and furs – so keep an eye out for Ferias Americanas (secondhand shops), especially around the barrios of Once and Flores. Although pricier than the others, the best-known vintage shop is Juan Perez (Alvear 1429) in Recoleta. It’s also worth checking out Avenida Cordoba’s outlet stores and Villa Crespo for designer boutiques at discounted prices.
Issues? See a psychologist. It’s standard practice go for weekly sessions for years – and not at all taboo to mention it – constantly. The aptly named Villa Freud, around Plaza Güemes, is the place to get your mind shrunk.
Talk the Talk
If you really want to pass as a local – learn Spanish. Alongside lessons, the best way to do this is with ‘intercambios’ – hang out and chat with Argentines and literally exchange languages (and sometimes saliva), then you both get something out of it.
“Telo“. “Japi“. These words are lunfardo – street slang. Words are shortened, twisted and inverted to make your life harder. Get acquainted and drop them in when you can. My Argentine workmates found it hilarious when I’d say “mi compu no funca“ as a casual way of saying “mi computadora no funciona“.
Yeh, I’m acting local – but my computer still doesn’t work.