5 things that will drive you nuts in Buenos Aires
Ok, don’t get me wrong. I LOVE this city. LOVE IT. The people are muy simpatico, the girls go crazy for blue eyes, and stuff is CHEAP (blog post on this coming soon).
But like any city, Buenos Aires has its foibles. And by foibles, I mean downright frustrating stuff. And by frustrating, I mean that feeling you get when you get all the way to the beach and realise you forgot your togs. Sigh…naked swimming again.
The top 5 things you’ll do your nut on in Buenos Aires
1. Everyone walks on the right…EXCEPT anyone over the age of 65
So I’ve been here almost 5 weeks now and I really, really can’t figure this one out. Like the traffic driving on the right-hand side of the road here, everyone walks on the right-hand side of the pavement.
EXCEPT anyone who is over the age of 65.
I know what you’re thinking – he’s exaggerating to get some blog material – but honestly I’m not. It’s truly impressive – there can be 100 people walking towards you, 90 of them will be quite efficiently walking on their right-hand side of the pavement, and you yours, and then there will be 10 grannies walking DIRECTLY AT YOU.
I’ve even tested this one out empirically. I went out the other afternoon and wandered around until I had the ideal control conditions: me, a long piece of pavement, and a solitary granny walking towards me. Kind of like the dirt road showdown in the old town centre at high noon. Walking sticks at 50 paces and all that.
She actually started out on the right side of the pavement, and I thought maybe I had just been catastrophising things to myself. But sure enough, as soon as she got within 20 feet of me, what I call the ‘gradual drift’ started, and within seconds I was face-to-face with blue-rinse and an enthusiastically-patterned muumuu (Google ‘Homer Simpson muumuu’). Top tip – they tend to travel in packs, don’t get blocked on a narrow street.
2. There’s no such thing as giving way. Or roundabouts. Or traffic lights.
Ok so I’m exaggerating slightly here, but not by much. Like most intelligently planned cities, Buenos Aires is laid out on an easy-to-navigate grid system. Now if you think of other cities that use this approach – Melbourne and New York just to name 2 – when 4 streets intersect you’ll usually find a roundabout, traffic lights, or at least give-way markers painted on the road to determine the flow of traffic.
Not so in Buenos Aires.
While the main roads have plenty of traffic lights, and even some of the suburb roads a couple of streets back from the main roads as well, get much further off the reservation and its every cab driver for himself. I have no idea what they use here to determine who gets to go first driving across an intersection, but after careful observation I’m fairly sure its based on a complicated mix of spider-senses, voodoo, how well you used to play ‘chicken’ when you were a kid, and how suicidal your driver is feeling on that particular day. One thing is for sure – you always arrive at the pub heart pumping and ready to party.
3. Have narrow public thoroughfare, will block it
A variation on the granny thematic, one thing the portenos and portenas (aka. Buenos Aireans) of all ages like to do here is pick the narrowest point on the sidewalk – say one that is half-blocked by a newsstand – and then stop there and have a discussion with their mate. You can set your watch to it…ANY time you’re about to walk through a narrow gap on the pavement, someone will stop and look in the adjacent shop window, bend over and tie their shoelace, drop off a little dog nugget or just stop and navel gaze.
4. The customer comes last
There is no such thing as customer service in Buenos Aires, or even acknowledgement that you exist in some cases. I’ve ordered 2-course meals and drinks in restaurants here without the waiter so much as even looking at me, with the only hint that he had heard me being the subsequent arrival of my food a short while later, sans-speech. Same thing at the supermarket – the guy swiping your food will quite happily make you stand there and wait 10 minutes (no exaggeration) while he chats up the checkout chick one counter over – this happened to me yesterday. While initially quite a shock to the system, in many ways it’s quite refreshing. Because while it can seem very rude, once you realise that they don’t expect any politeness in return you can really go to town. Enjoy!
5. Argentina will never have to worry about a personal credit bubble
Forget about using your credit card in Buenos Aires – they’re hardly accepted anywhere. Cash is king, and US dollars are even better (see the reasons for this in my previous post here). The good thing is you generally keep a closer eye on what you’re spending when you’re handing over cash all the time. The bad thing is if you have that one extra beer on your night out and spend your cab money, you’re walking home.
But it’s all part of the charm
If you’re not a relaxed person, Buenos Aires will either teach you to relax or break you, if you’re staying here for any period of time. It took me a couple of weeks to let go of the complete lack of efficiency/expediency everywhere, but once you do it’s actually quite liberating. So while all of the above is likely to get up your goat when you first arrive, I encourage you to persist and try and rediscover what for many of us these days has become the lost art of just not caring.
For previous Buenos Aires travelers – what other funny foibles have you noticed about the city?
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