Teach Yourself Porteño: The Buenos Aires Lifestyle

Mate kit – Photograph by Ignat Gorazd

There are Argentinians, other Argentinians and there are porteños. Used to refer to the citizens of Buenos Aires, porteño means ‘person of the port’, and harks back to the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Spanish and Italian immigrants in the first half of the 20th century. So while the porteños might share the same country as their compadres from, say, Salta or Rio Gallegos, they look and act more like Italians.

Buenos Aires is proud of its identity, so you’ll see and hear the word ‘porteño’ (or ‘porteña’ in the feminine) all around, to describe restaurants, taxi firms, football teams and tango. But porteño is more than just a geographical indicator, it’s a way of being. Porteños have their own slang (‘Lunfardo’), their own fashion, their own complex psyche and their own attitude. So if you want to ‘do’ porteño, you’ll need more than a Spanish dictionary and a smile.

Walk the Walk

Porteñas in particular love shoes and will usually shun the standard-issue gringo Havaianas for pretty sandals, sky-high platform stilettos or wooden clogs. As long as you need prescription painkillers to walk more than two blocks, you’re fine. All of these rules apply until the temperature dips below 20C, at which point you put on a pair of leather boots and don’t take them off until December.

Make sure you’ve got plenty of it. For chicas, enough to suffocate a small family of guinea pigs – somewhere around rib level is perfect. Chicos, you’re looking for a good level of neck coverage, but if in doubt, an all-over shave is acceptable. Just make sure you compensate with some artistically sculpted facial hair.

Don’t do it. At least not between the hours of 8am, when you get up for work, and 5am, when you decide to call it a night. In order to achieve this, see ‘Mate’.

This leafy green infusion is porteño fuel. Not only is daily – hourly, even – consumption of mate (that’s ‘mah-tay’, not ‘may-t’) the key to their extraordinary ability to function on almost no sleep, it’s also an appetite suppressant – handy on a diet of red meat and ice cream. You could write a book on making the perfect mate. For a quick-fire intro, see this blog post.

Affiliate yourself with a team. Not just Boca or River, preferably one of the 20-odd other outfits across Buenos Aires. Pledge fearsome allegiance to your chosen team and be prepared to cast bloodcurdling aspersions on the honour of opponents’ mothers in your defence of it. Even if it’s not very good.

Guys, listen up: in order to operate as a true porteño, you need to make some fundamental changes to your PR strategy.

Remember that…
You are always the most handsome man on any street.
You open your mouth and harpsong pours forth.
Women love being courted in the street, especially when you mutter incomprehensibly as they walk past.
It’s important to bestow your irresistible charms on a minimum of 46 women every day.

Talk the Talk

Don’t ever miss a ‘stop and chat’ opportunity. There’s always time for talking. And if there’s no-one in the immediate vicinity, call someone on your Blackberry and talk to them. If you can’t talk, text. If you can’t text, smoke.

Don’t hold back
Don’t just talk – express yourself. Put every inch of your being into what you’re saying. Your vowels cannot be too long; if your ‘a’ isn’t stretching at least into next week, you’re still speaking gringo. For example, ‘claro’, which is pronounced ‘claaaaaaaaaaaaaro’. Also apply to ‘dale’. Roll your ‘rr’ like your life depends on it. And move your mouth when you speak, as if you were speaking to someone behind soundproof glass.

Porteños are spectacularly expressive. Conversation is accompanied by a frenzy of hand gestures, each with its own connotation. For example, if you want to emphasise anything you’re saying, purse all your fingers together, point them at yourself and shake backwards and forwards with the requisite level of vehemence. If you think someone is tight with money, hit your elbow repeatedly, if you want a coffee put your finger and thumb out 5cm apart. The range of gestures is so extensive that there’s even a dictionary, Sin Palabras, dedicated to them. Generally though, if your hands are dancing around like a pair of excited ferrets, you’re on the right track.

Porteño Phrasebook

Boludo – ‘Dude’, but also ‘asshole’, depending on the delivery, so exercise caution. Prefix this with che, which means ‘hey’, but also ‘dude’ or ‘bro’ on its own.
Re – prefix to mean ‘very’, emphasised with a hearty roll of the’r’ e.g. Re-tranquilo
Que grosso! or Sos un grosso! is a compliment. Que forro! (literally ‘what a condom!”) is not.
Escuchame/Dame – listen to me/give me (not as rude as it sounds).
Dale – right, OK.
Bondi – bus.
Super – prefix words like ‘cool’ or ‘fashion’ to emphasise coolness or fashion-ness.
Quilombo – a disaster, total mess.
Abbreviated words are also very porteño, so tranquilo is tranqui; buenos dias is buenas; fin de semana is finde (as in buen fin de); boludo is bolu.

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Anna Longmore

Anna Longmore

Four years ago, food journalist Anna came to Buenos Aires, stuck her fork into a piece of cow the size of the Lonely Planet, and vowed to return. In the spring of 2010, she did, armed with a jar of Marmite, a bag of chilli powder and a Michel Thomas podcast. Since then, she has travelled the length and breadth of the country by bus, eaten the remainder of that cow and written for Square Meal, Mr & Mrs Smith, House, Men’s Health, Project Magazine, The Sunday Times and www.therealargentina.com. In her spare time, Anna tries to lay off the provoleta, nurtures a fledgling mate habit and upsets her Argentinian friends with spicy cooking. And then writes about it all on www.senorsuitcase.com.

8 responses to “Teach Yourself Porteño: The Buenos Aires Lifestyle

  1. “You open your mouth and harpsong pours forth.” << heh. You open your mouth and harpsong pours forth.” << heh.

  2. Lunfardo is a whole different language! My personal favourite is not so much lunfardo but altering the order of the syllables so that you start the word from the last to the first syllable, so pelota becomes “talope”, vino is “novi” and so on. Some words may lose letters in the process, like tordo (doctor) and boga (abogado).

     “Women love being courted in the street,” ermmm…nope. I used to hate that and I would always shout profanities back at them. Not very ladylike but some of these guys were very crude indeed. I'm not interested in what they would do to me with their tongues, if you know what I mean.

    I might be wrong but I thing that the short from “buenas” comes from “buenas y santas”, which was (and probably still is) used in the countryside. BTW, it should sound like this: “bueeeeeeeeeeenas' 🙂

    Que grosso el post, che!

  3. Gardel says:

    Among Argentines, we recognised a Porteño from someone borned in the Provinces (the rest of Argentineans) when they pronounce the “y” or “ll”, in Spanish those letters sound the same.
    ie. “llamame” (call me),
    Porteños pronounce: shamame
    Provinces say: yamame

  4. Annica says:

    Anna, you've outdone yourself! Best travel blog I've ever read. Please come back and write for meeeeeee! (Note all the vowels: I'm passionate about this!)
    Annica xx

  5. Anna_longmore says:

    Thanks, Ana! I had no idea about all the switching of syllables in Lunfardo. Just when I thought I was getting my head round the castellano…

  6. My suegro used to constantly talk about his “rope” (RO-pay). Took me years to work out that he was flipping the syllables of “perro”.

  7. Fridureiks says:

    funny article….    🙂

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