Inspired by my granmother’s impending visit, here are ten ways to look and act like you belong in Argentina.
Disclaimer: These tips apply specifically to Buenos Aires, and may not be applicable in other provinces.
1. Wear more black.
Maybe it’s the winter weather, but these days most porteños dress in muted colors. Trying to blend in wearing brights is a no-go, so disguise your foreign-ness with as dark a wardrobe as possible. The more foreign you look, the more black you should be wearing. (Result: I’m usually dressed like a ninja, with the occasional colorful sweater or scarf.) It also helps to pretend to think it’s as freezing cold as the Argentinians do. You might even start to believe it.
2. Platform shoes.
Yes, you read that correctly. Everyone here (with the possible exception of children and the elderly) wears platforms, the higher the trendier. This is especially relevant for fashionable women ages 16-25 and, once adhered to, is foolproof — when I wear my platforms, people ask me for directions. Sometimes I can even answer them. It’s all in the shoes.
3. Become a carnivore.
Here, vegetarianism is more or less a moot point. I have friends who came to this country vegetarians and left semi-guilt-ridden-yet-extremely-satisfied meat-eaters; the red meat here is just that good. With some effort you can opt out, but rest assured you are missing out. Yield to peer pressure on this one, trust me.
4. Let your hair down.
Right now my hair is the healthiest it’s ever been. Why? Because I do nothing to it. The most common hairstyle in Buenos Aires is waist-length, natural, slightly frizzy, with enormous numbers of split ends. Occasionally a small clip is used to pull hair back from the temples, or a quick bun is twisted atop the head for transit. Other than that it’s wash-and-wear, and I’m not complaining.
5. Shop around.
Walmart is definitely not a thing here. Quite the opposite — there is a specialty store for everything. I once walked by a storefront filled exclusively with umbrellas… nothing else. Just umbrellas. The same goes for food. If you want meat, go to a carnicería. Bread? Panadería. Fish? Vegetables? Pastries? Pescadería, vedulería and pastelería, respectively. While you can’t actually cook anything without visiting 6 different stores, the upside is that the quality of each component will be infinitely better.
6. Pick up some slang.
Or, as it’s called here, “Lunfardo.” Argentinian spanish isn’t academic spanish. You’ll hear words like “che,” “boludo,” “pebe” and “quilombo“ floating around (dude, butthead, kid, and clusterfuck, respectively). The more slang you can recognize and use, the better chance you have of being mistaken for a native, and sounding like a cool kid in the process.
7. Use public transportation.
Virtually everyone does — it’s here for a reason. The bus and subway systems take a bit of practice to figure out, but once you get the hang of it you’ll have access to every corner of the city. Of course a whole set of bus-and-subway (mostly bus) etiquette accompanies this step, but some careful observation should tell you all you need to know.
8. Get a manicure.
This may sound ridiculous, but on that same bus or subway you may notice everyone’s hands clutching bars or rails to remain upright. You may also notice that on virtually all of these hands are clean, well-groomed fingernails. Invest in some nail polish remover, a good pair of clippers and a file, and keep them handy. This includes men — I’ve spotted several male-folk with fingernails trimmed and, yes, polished.
9. Eat late, snack often.
In the states breakfast is as soon as you get up. Lunch is at noon and dinner is at six, possibly with a small snack in between if you’re feeling desperate. Not so in Buenos Aires. Breakfast is late — 10 or 11 a.m. Lunch happens around 1 or 2 p.m., and then comes a novel invention dubbed “merienda,” or snack. An altered version of British tea time, this meal takes place at 5 or 6 p.m. and involves pastries and coffee, usually. (The lines at Starbucks around this time are insane.) Because of merienda, Argentinians eat dinner at 9:30 or 10 p.m. and go to bed even later. This also ties into the fact that in Argentina it’s uncool to be at a bar or club before 1 a.m., but that’s another subject.
In the U.S., everyone is over-scheduled and frantic for 87% of the day. In Argentina, people regularly arrive 20 minutes to an hour late to every event/meeting/occasion. It’s just a thing that happens. Deadlines are more lax, meetings involve more gossiping, and tasks take longer to complete. When I first arrived this freaked me out to no end — the deadline is there for a reason, people. Now, though, it’s growing on me.