Buenos Aires is a city that speaks to me. Whenever anyone asks me about some of my favourite places or cities that I could see myself living in, I always manage to sneak the Argentine capital into the list. It’s kind of hard to pinpoint what it is exactly that draws me to the place, but I suppose you could say it’s a mixture of little things. For my dad it’s “the smell of coffee, facturas and diesel mixed together in the early morning” – he literally had me sniffing the air as we walked down the street together when he visited!
Prior to this most recent visit to Buenos Aires, I had only been to the city twice before. Once as a child when my family relocated to Argentina (we moved to a small village in the province of Cordoba put passed through Bs As), and then in my early twenties when my friend Rebecca and I decided to spend a few weeks backpacking the country. But even though this wasn’t my first visit, I was surprised by how much I had forgotten, or rather, hadn’t noticed the first two times around, so in many ways, this extended stay felt like my first true glimpse at Buenos Aires.
And so, I thought I would share my first impressions of Buenos Aires. If you’ve been before, feel free to pipe in the comments and share some of your own impressions of the city. 🙂
First impressions of Buenos Aires:
+ Mornings always start with a café con leche (coffee with milk) and a few medialunas (croissants) or facturas (pastries). This is a staple at every single cafe. On that note, you will start drinking café con leche every day even if you were a tea drinker beforehand.
+ People go out to cafes on their own. They’ll often be reading a book or a newspaper without the need to constantly be checking their cell phones. It’s quite refreshing.
+ The subway feels archaic and it is so loud in there that you can barely hold a conversation with the person next to you, but it’s cheap and it gets you where you need to go.
+ This is a city filled with kamikaze drivers that hurl their vehicles through intersections. Beware: pedestrians do not have the right of way in this city.
+ Politics aren’t a hush-hush topic and people openly discuss and argue their political views. Not only that, but there are plenty of billboards, slogans, and pieces of graffiti that make it clear who is pro or anti-government.
+ Evita is either loved and revered, or absolutely despised. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground.
+ You will start putting dulce de leche on everything: bread, bananas, ice cream, alfajores, cookies, and eventually you’ll just start eating it out of the jar. No shame.
+ There’s a reason why Buenos Aires is called the Paris of South America. Sometimes you’ll turn a corner and see a cream coloured building with those iconic blue-grey rooftops that scream Haussmann and Paris.
+ There are entire aisles devoted to yerba mate. The green herb is drank as an infusion out of a gourd, and I’d go as far as saying that people are addicted to it. I saw people drinking mate while riding the subway, during government protests, during their lunch hour, walking in a parade, and waiting for a friend outside an apartment building. Porteños carry their hot water thermos and mate with them wherever they go.
+ If you’re visiting in the summer months, you’ll likely have AC drip on you while you walk down the sidewalk.
+ And if you’re walking around the city after it has rained, you’ll likely be squirted by one of the thousands of loose tiles in the city.
+ You will come across professional dog-walkers with 10-15 dogs peacefully walking side by side, and yes, you may feel the need to befriend them all…especially if you come across a sausage dog named Tequila who frequents the square in front of Recoleta Cemetery.
+ The porteño accent is abrasive. If you’re not familiar with it you might think people are angry or annoyed at you, but that’s just because the language and people’s mannerisms carry a lot of emotion. (I think this has something to do with the Italian influence!)
+ You will encounter some sort of demonstration or protest at least once a day, but they tend to be more on the festive side.
+ There aren’t enough people picking up after their pups and you really need to watch where you step. Stoop and scoop, anyone?
+ You will be tempted to attend a milonga (this is like a big tango dance party), but when you see that they suggest arriving early at 1:30 a.m. (if you want to get a table), or at 3:00 a.m. if you want to be there once the dance floor is already going, you might just change your mind. When do people find time to sleep?
+ You will see more couples making out in parks, sidewalks, street corners than you have in any other city. PDA is at an all time high here.
+ Pizzerias are a very popular lunch stop and many people eat it standing up. Most pizzerias have a bar area sans stools or chairs, and every one just stands around chowing down slices with the thickest layers of mozzarella you have ever seen. Just head over to El Cuartito or Pizza Güerrin for some of the best slices you’ll ever taste in your life!
+ You will ride in antique elevators with sliding metal doors that give you a full view of each floor as you slowly go up the building.
+ If you show up for dinner before 8:00 p.m. you’ll find that most restaurants haven’t even opened yet. This is a culture of late night diners, so you’ll have to adjust your schedule and show up closer to 10:00 p.m.
+ This is a city of bibliophiles. Not only will you come across book shops every few meters, but there are lending libraries in the park. They also celebrate a national ‘Book Day’ (April 23), and the city hosts La Feria del Libro, which is one of the biggest book fairs in the whole world.
+ Speaking of books, if window displays are any indicator, you’ll find that locals aren’t just interested in the latest flick turned book. They read philosophy, politics, and economics.
+ Also, you will walk into bookstores that will make your jaw drop. You need to pop into El Atenéo to see this former theater turned book shop.
+ Argentinean men have no trouble showcasing their emotions. Whether it’s a man throwing a fit on the street after snapping his umbrella in half on a rainy day, or a two taxi drivers duking it out in front of you while they argue who has the biggest trunk, emotions are always high.
+ Tango is one of the most passionate dances in the world, and you would not believe the skill that goes into learning it.
+ Alfajores are so much more than a ‘cookie glued with caramel’.
+ You will be tempted to go into every ice cream parlour you see; this city has some of the best ice creams in the world.
+ You will experience the frustration of ATMs that only allow you to withdraw 2000 pesos at a time and charge an exorbitant 9% fee every time you do so. And if you’re unlucky you’ll even get to experience the ATMs with a 1000 pesos limit.
+ You will wake up at 7:oo a.m., and see kids singing and laughing in the streets as they try to make their way back home after a night on the town.
+ Siestas are mandatory if you want to function on the Argentine schedule.
+ People love to talk in this city, and not just that, they speak loudly and over each other. This may look like a shouting match from the outside, but that’s just a normal conversation in Buenos Aires. This is a place for extroverts.
+ Almost every single bathroom has a bidet. I’m guessing the French brought this custom over?
+ Even if you rarely eat meat back at home, you’ll start going out to steakhouses at least once a week. Not only is beef more affordable, but it also tastes unlike anything I’ve had before.
+ That being said, beware when you order an asado completo as this one can contain things like blood sausage, tripe, kidneys, and other strange cuts.
+ You will ride in a taxi down Avenida 9 de Julio at night and marvel at the splendor of the city as you zip past the Obelisk.
+ This is a city where stranger doesn’t mean danger. You can approach people, ask them questions, or even have a full conversation without anyone looking uncomfortable or suspicious.
+ You will choose wine over water at restaurant because it’s cheaper, and because this is Argentinean wine we’re talking about!
+ A bowl of chimichurri should always be at the table. Same goes for a basket of bread and some butter.
+ Don’t order bottled sparkling water when you can order a bottle of soda sifón. So much cheaper and a lot more fun to pour.
+ Canes are not just walking aids; they are also very fashionable accessories.
+ If you meet someone once, the next time they see you, you’ll be like family.
+ Food by the weight restaurants are super popular and you can eat like a king for a few dollars. Look for the ‘comida por kilo‘ signs.
+ Buenos Aires runs on a different clock. No one is in a rush here, which means no one is on time either. If you’re meeting with someone you’ll agree on a rough time, but then they’ll get there when they get there.
+ They have a lot of parks and green spaces for such a big city.
+ All the convenience stores seem to be run by Chinese immigrants. I’m curious as to the history behind this.
+ You will see the older generation dressed to the nines, even if they are just grabbing a coffee. So far the 2 individuals who impressed me the most were a man sporting a white suit with a pink button down shirt, and a woman dressed in an ankle length black dress, with chunky black heels, a Chanel tweed jacket, dark sunglasses, and a cane. They both looked to be in their mid to late 70s, they weren’t together, but they were each out enjoying their day.
+ Life doesn’t end as a senior citizen! I didn’t see people looking dejected or defeated, on the contrary, they were out and about enjoying their Golden Years. My favourite moment was sitting next to these 2 ladies at a restaurant (who looked to be well into their 80s). They were both looking at the menu and the one lady said, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe I’ll just order something small and share,” and the other one retorted with that Argentine sass, “No, no, noooo! What are we even doing here? We are each going to get our own steaks and we are going to enjoy them!” And feast they did.
+ Whenever there’s a football match on, people will crowd around the TV. In restaurants you’ll notice that the tables around the television screens will fill up first, and there will even be people standing on the sidewalk, peeking through the windows to get an update on the score.
+ You will find that single beds are really narrow. I’m not sure if this is just in homes with older furniture or if this is the standard, but single beds in Argentina remind me more of cots…or beds in Hong Kong.
+ Cartoneros have one of the hardest jobs. They descend into the city when businesses start shutting down for their day, and their job is to sort through the garbage looking for recyclables they can then sell for a profit. It’s not easy work.
+ There are so many Bostonians in this city. I don’t know why, but it seems every American I met hailed from Boston. The two aren’t even sister cities, so if someone has the answer to this mystery, let me know!
+ Milanesas with mashed potatoes are a classic at the lunch table.
+ If you are into collecting vintage seltzer bottles, the flea market in San Telmo will be a dream come true.
+ You are going to have trouble finding a bigger tree than the towering ombu trees scattered across the city, which are also hundreds of years old!
+ Once you set foot in this city once, you’ll have the urge to come back again, and again, and again.
Have you been to Buenos Aires?
What were some of your first impression of the city?