Yesterday I celebrated the 3-month anniversary of my arrival in Argentina. 3 months?! It seems like just yesterday that I muddled my way through introductions to my host family and ate empanadas for the first time, yet at the same time the way I’ve grown accustomed to the life here attests that much time has passed. All the things that seemed so foreign and gawking-worth have now become part of my everyday life. Looking back on those first weeks, I’ve compiled a few commonplace rarities of Buenos Aires.
Lack of personal bubbles.
For non-Argentineans the immense amount of physical contact in everyday life may take one aback; foreigners should prepare for the popping of their personal space bubble. First off, handshakes just do not cut it when greeting someone. Whether male or female, young or old, smooth or scruffy, the ritual of kissing on the cheek does not discriminate. When you enter a room it is expected that you kiss everyone on the cheek, and when you leave as well. I loved watching the guys in my group of American friends the first couple weeks; as an Argentinian guy leaned in for the mandatory cheek bump their eyes would widen…what?! Is he gonna kiss me?!…until they remembered they weren’t in the States and awkwardly returned the gesture. I’m so used to it now that I feel weird leaving someone without the customary touch of skin. Not only in greetings are Argentineans more touchy-feely, public displays of affection are much more common. Best friends always walk with arms linked and couples seems to constantly need a point of contact as they never seem to let go of one another. It is perfectly normal for couples to make-out on the streets, or in the cafes, or on the subway, or…inches in front of you on the bus! It may perhaps be a bit uncomfortable at times, but hey, I’m glad they’re happy! In general I’ve grown used to the non-existence of my bubble and enjoy that Argentineans know human beings require anothers touch.
How to walk.
My walking-persona has changed since my arrival in Buenos Aires. Back in the States I make my way to school and travel between classes with a bounce in my step and smiles jumping from my face to every passerby. Now as I walk to school or journey around the city my rapid purposeful steps accompany a practiced blank face and downcast eyes. This change did not come without heartache. I love to smile. The first days as I walked to school I noted that the people seemed rather grumpy, or at the least, bland. I learned that smiles are not given freely. Yet my face just did not want to cooperate, I had to un-train the instinct to move my cheeks into a smile as I passed people in the street. Although it feels rather cold it’s best to keep eye downcast, first to watch out for dog-poop, but also to avoid more than the usual “piropos” (catcalls). I’ve had to learn to ignore the whistles of “bella” and “linda” as I explore the city. I am still not sure why men of all ages (11 years old, really?) feel the need to whisper “mamacita” as I walk by.
Porteños take dog walking to an extreme; instead of walking one dog, or even two or three, they walk packs. It is routine to see one of the many “dogwalkers” passing through the streets holding a leash that branches off like a bunch of balloons to the 8-15 dogs bobbing along. There are collections of little puffball Caniches in fleece jackets and throngs of the larges German Shepards and Labradors hustling against each other. I still do not understand how one person keeps control of that many dogs.
Buses, Trains and Cars, Oh My!
Jumping on the bus to meet friends downtown or slipping into the subway to travel to a tango class I find it hard to believe that three months ago public transportation was as foreign to me as Argentina. Back home I don’t use buses or subways or trains; I have my Purple-Passion Honda Accord for when I need to visit the Mountains outside of Denver or run to the store during a rainstorm. I laugh now at how nervous I was to take the subway for the first time, how do you know what direction to go in? How do you buy the ticket? And the “colectivos” (buses) were worse. How are you supposed to know when to get off?!! What if I miss a stop? How can the guy in the corner sleep with his head knocking against the glass until 30 seconds before his stop? I had to read every street sign! Now I’m used to the system…and LOVE it! Although waiting for a bus for 45min at 1:00am or getting pushed through the gerbil-cage pipes of the subway system are not my favorite, the practicality of public transportation has seduced my efficiency-seeking mind. Now I’m not sure why we do not have more advanced, and used, public transportation in the states.
All that you hear about the nightlife here is true; it doesn’t start until after midnight and goes until the sun begins to think about rising! My first week here, I dove right in. Embracing the Porteño lifestyle fully did mean that I got to take a nap before going out, I’ve never been much of a napper but now I’ve discovered that I’m rather adaptable when I need to be, naps are amazing! I met up with friends in the bares (bars) of Palermo around 12:30am, things were just getting started. After good chatting over drinks and collecting more friends we took an adventurous route to find salsa dancing. After a lot of walking and finally a taxi ride we arrived at Azucar, a boliche (club) for Bachata and Salsa dancers, my favorite! I slipped by the Bachata and headed upstairs for 3+ hours of Salsa wonder! I don’t think I quit dancing until 5:30am and did not get home until an hour later, yet I had a blast! Dancing fills my soul whether in my bedroom sola or with the flirty men of Buenos Aires, when I dance I know that I’ll always come away feeling better! Although the super late (or shall we call it extremely early!) nightlife is fun, it does leave one pretty dead the next day. Like everything in life you’ve got to find a balance!