5 tips for being a good “fake Porteño”

In Buenos Aires, The Art of Travel Fall 2016, Places, Tips by Hashmita

So you think you want to spend an entire semester in Buenos Aires? Are you constantly faced with slightly confused NYU friends who think it’ll be a “brave but rewarding experience” when you tell them of your decision? (They’re probably right). Here are five tips that I have tried to drill into my head throughout the semester, hopefully they’ll help you get the “brave” part down.

 

  • Bring cash.

You’ve heard this before and I’ll tell you this again; Argentina has a heavily cash-based economy. There is little scope of digitalising your payments and there’s no guarantee that your international credit card will work even in a place that accepts card. Cabs, many bars and restaurants, bodegas etc. also only accept cash. ATMs don’t always work either, and have been out of cash on several occasions in my experience. Plus, exchanging money is big and easy here – there are over a 100 casas de cambio or currency exchange centres in the city and the fluctuating dollar and peso rates can give you plenty of bang for the buck on a good day. Just make sure you guard your dollar bills like you would your life.

 

Don’t throw the Internet out of your life, you will need it to find obscure sources on Latin American counterculture and declassified CIA documents to impress your professors with your various papers on how the US staged and/or supported a military coup in yet another country in the region. Also to stay in touch with your family and friends I guess. But, at the same time, know that every other NYU student spoilt by 100 mb/s speeds on campus is as frustrated about the Internet speed and unreliability in this country as you are. The FOMO can be so real sometimes, but it’s best to wean yourself off it before you make the plunge to the Southern Hemisphere.

 

  • Find a quality, fairly-priced verdulería near you, and swear by it.

You’re going to be talking about the lack of vegetables and healthy options at your homestay a lot. Heck, the amount of carbs the Argentines annihilate at every meal might make up at least 40% of your conversations with your fellow study abroad mates who are visibly thrown into panic by the lack of salad and juice bar options within 100m of their homes. Your best bet would be to befriend your local vegetable vendor so they pick out the best bunch of arugula for you and let you know when the next batch of avocados would be coming in. Remember that you can make a salad without kitchen privileges (sigh) and that broccoli can be delicious even when steamed in a coffee mug in the microwave. Don’t wait until the dulce de leche catches up with you to do this.

 

  • Discover and appreciate the art spaces.

Buenos Aires bleeds art through its every crevice. It is full of museums, galleries, cultural centres, exhibitions, parties, collectives, theatres, shows and any other kind of space that could be used to showcase creative expression. As you will see, even the streets are just a huge canvas. Even if you aren’t ~artsy~, you owe it to the city that is housing you to look at and learn from the works of various artists, whether renowned painter or first-time slam poet.

 

  • LISTEN to what the people are saying!

What you hear in your classes about the socio-politico-economical situation of Argentina from your professors at NYU is going to be very different from what your host parents, taxi drivers, and anyone else you’re conversing with might tell you. The country is divided by its strong feelings for or against the Macri administration. As tempting as it may be to greatly favour one of those viewpoints over others, remember to at least listen and engage in discussion, but still take every claim with a pinch of salt in either case. Argentina and its youth are very politicised, and last year they underwent a major governmental change similar to that of the current state of the United States – you are gifted the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and wins.