I'm excited to share a guest post this week from my mother, who recently returned from spending one month in Buenos Aires, leading college students on a study abroad trip. Read about her thoughts on the city below:
Back one week from spending a month in Argentina with a group of college students, I’ve had a little time to process and reflect on the experience and the amazing opportunity of living in Buenos Aires for long enough to get past the “vacation” aspect and be a part of daily living in this sprawling, vibrant city.
There’s so much to share, but I thought I’d focus on life in the city – going about one’s daily routine as the Porteños do. Citizens of Buenos Aires are known as Porteños, or “people of the port”; sitting on the edge of the expansive Rio de la Plata, Buenos Aires is a port city and evidence of this is deeply rooted in everything from architecture to food.
One of the things I noticed right away is that Argentines are inherently courteous and gracious. Upon greeting someone, or even meeting someone for the first time, expect a kiss on the cheek. Even toward the end of our stay, this continued to catch me by surprise as I’m not accustomed to kissing someone I’m only just meeting. But this is the custom, and everyone gets a kiss – men to women, women to women, men to men. When departing, “Ciao” is heard far more often than “Adiós”, an influence of the Italian roots that run deep in this South American country. Even at the end of a half-day tour that we went on, others in the group made sure to say “Ciao” to all the rest of us before leaving.
The greater Buenos Aires metro area is home to 13 million people, so it can be crowded at times. The Subte, BA’s subway system, is massively popular and during rush hour can be unbelievably crowded, but even so, as the train approaches a station you’ll hear “Bajas?” – people asking those between themselves and the door if they’re getting off (literally – “are you getting down?”). If so, the asker will wait, and if not, those staying on engage in a coordinated effort to shift around and allow the asker to get off. On a train where every part of one’s body is pressed in by other bodies, this is definitely a team effort as there is just no room to spare. (Side note, by week three I discovered the bus, which was far less crowded and allowed me to see the city at street level during my commute – win-win!)
Speaking of the Subte, at times when it’s not so crowded and there is room to move along the aisles, you may see people placing items on the hands or laps of those who are seated. These are vendors selling everything from candy bars to packs of tissues. The vendor walks the length of the car placing the items, then walks back before the next stop. If you want the item, you hand over your money and if you don’t, he simply picks it back up.
This pervasive courtesy, which to me comes across as a sense of community (a “we’re all in this together” type of attitude), extends to other parts of life as well. Lines in Buenos Aires are a fact of life – people stand in line for buses, ATMs, even lunch at McDonald’s(?!?). But have you ever seen a line for an elevator? Upon arriving to our school building the first day, our students bunched up in front of the elevator as that is how we tend to do in the US; but in Argentina, the right thing to do is form a line – it’s all very orderly and polite.
Argentines are evidently huge lovers of dogs. We stayed in Palermo, a comfortable neighborhood bordered by large parks and sprinkled with green spaces. During the day it was a common site to see dog walkers with 8, 10, even 12 dogs making their way toward the park for some outside time. For a dog lover seeking adventure, consider a stint as a dog-walker in Palermo – seems to be no shortage of opportunity!
While we were in Argentina we witnessed 2 subway strikes, an airline strike, and numerous protests/demonstrations. Strikes and demonstrations are frequent occurrences and for the most part are peaceful events. One that we experienced was a massive gathering with groups seemingly supporting a variety of causes with huge banners, music and chanting. It was a passionate and high-energy event, and while the crowd coursed down four large avenues toward the main plaza with banners showing support for all manner of serious issues, it also had the feel of a street festival, with food vendors and general good vibes.
Buenos Aires can be a bit much – it’s a huge city! But as such, it also has much to offer. Even in the busiest areas there are green spaces or small, neighborly coffee shops that can offer some quiet and a respite from the busy-ness of the city. If it’s just too much, stop into a coffee shop and order a café con leche. It will most likely be freshly brewed just for you, and served in a cup and saucer with a tiny napkin and a little cookie – so civilized and nice, it just begs that you spend a little time to relax and realize how remarkable the world is and how blessed you are to be able to experience it!
I travel and then I write about it. I hope you enjoy my experiences, and can learn from my trial and errors!