Europe. But not really.

In The Art of Travel, 5. The Spirit of Place, Buenos Aires, Places by CY2 Comments

“The Paris of South America” is a name that is often given to Buenos Aires, due to its position as one of the most developed cities in the continent, its reputation for being a cultural center, especially because it is the place some would consider the Mecca of Tango, and because in many places, Buenos Aires resembles Paris. This is because many of the buildings in the city were constructed when Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world and the aristocrats from the city were inspired by French Architecture when constructing the city.

But the European influences does not stop there. Walking around the city, one can experience the many European influences onto everyday life in the city, and this is, to me, is the spirit of Buenos Aires: Europe, but not really.

Buenos Aires’ history as a port city has resulted in it being a city built up by immigrants, particularly from Europe. It is common knowledge that no one in Buenos Aires is 100% indigenous, and that everyone is a mix of something. Have a conversation with anyone and they’ll tell you that they are a mix of some Italian/Spanish/German/Indigenous blood. The City too, is a mix of many European influences.

The language is of course, Spanish, but Argentine Spanish is very different from castellano, the name typically given to the language spoken in Spain. In Argentina the Spanish is rioplatenese. In simple terms, Argentines speak much faster, often fail to pronounce their consonants, and instead of using the “you/tu” form of Spanish, they say “vos” instead, completely eliminating the plural second person from the language. Here, one says “Y Vos?” instead of “Y tu?”. In Buenos Aires, the name for the slang spoken by the people of the city is lunfardo, which comprises words created by local people, often with Italian influences and incorporated into daily speech. As such, a native Spanish speaker not from Buenos Aires would not understand these words, or the meaning of certain words in a certain context.

The food here is mostly Italian, where the most common kinds of food are pastas, empanadas and pizzas. However the Argentines have added their own twist to these foods, an example being how the pizza here usually has a thicker crust and contains more cheese. The type of liquor that most Argentines drink, (although their national beverage is wine, also of European heritage, as it was brought over by the Spanish Missionaries when Argentina was a Spanish Colony) is Fernet, which in itself is Italian as well. Yet the Argentines also love their beer, evidenced by the many craft beer outlets all over the city and the existence of various brands of Argentine beer.

As mentioned earlier, one of the most European things about the city is in its appearance. Now I’m no expert on Architecture, but I have been to many cities in Europe before and one of the things that struck me the most about Buenos Aires when I first arrived here was how European the city looked, from its plazas and the European and Italian influences in the buildings all over the city, to the existence of cobblestone streets and even the prevalence of street side cafes. But Buenos Aires being Buenos Aires, will find a way to make it their own, and it is easy to find a beautiful European-inspired building beside a plain looking house, or diagonal streets that don’t follow European city planning or honestly just plain ugly buildings. Even the people resemble Europeans. In general, Argentines dress very stylishly, particularly the Argentine women’s propensity to wear platform shoes.

It’s no wonder some say that the portenos (the citizens of Buenos Aires) speak like the Spanish, dress like the French, and eat like the Italians. Europe. But not really.

(Image: Cobblestone Street in La Boca; Source: Pinterest)


  1. This was a really interesting read! I’ve similarly been struck by the multitude of influences on my home for the semester, Prague, as well. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is how this blend of influences creates a collective identity in a place. It’s something we’re certainly struggling with in the States, and have been for centuries, but it seems to be something that Prague and Buenos Aires have worked out pretty well. And of course, this intersection between the physical environment and the cultures that have formed it are incredible! Lends some more doubt, I think, to the Durrell piece from this week.

  2. When faced with cities like Buenos Aires, Lima, and the like, I always wonder how much of the city comes from local culture and how much is a result of European colonization- and here you take us through some of the ramifications European colonization has had on a South America. Although it’s been a while since Argentina was actively dominated by Spain, they still feel the influence of their colonizer and have to sort through the cultural and emotional mess left behind. With the rising pressures of globalization and the influx of foreign products from more and more countries, Buenos Aires will probably be dealing with that kind of influence for a long time.

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