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Ever read a travel article like ‘How to Live Like a Local in (insert latest hot city here)’? Sure. We all have. Were you disappointed that the article didn’t tell you how to live like a local? Instead, it was a travel piece suggesting the locals spend all their time lounging by the beach/mountain top/sidewalk café and never get any real work or living done? If you want to know how to live like a ‘local’ in Buenos Aires, read on. You won’t be disappointed.
If you’re in Buenos Aires as a tourist, you’re apt to sleep in late. The breakfast buffet at the hotel lasts until 11 and your first tour excursion doesn’t leave until noon. That gives you plenty of time to lie in bed, take a leisurely shower, check out email and do other housekeeping chores. A local is up before dawn making sure their clothes are pressed, clean and spotless. If there are kids in the house, they’re bundling them off to school. No real time to sleep in and be lazy. By the way, splash on plenty of perfume or cologne – you’ll find out why later.
No one eats breakfast in Buenos Aires. At least they don’t eat breakfast in the same sense as Norte Americanos. Breakfast in Argentina isn’t at ‘breakfast time’. Breakfast is more like 10AM. Forget the bacon, eggs, oatmeal, juice, toast and jelly. A tostada is the breakfast of choice, and most wash it down with a small – think shot glass-size – sparkling water and some of the strongest coffee outside of Turkey. Tostados and coffee can be picked up at any sidewalk café. But don’t think about eating and drinking while walking, as people in New York do. That’s a no-no and considered a social error. Take it to the office with you.
Remember the suggestion about plenty of perfume? This is the reason why. Unless you are in town in January, or from New York City, be prepared to be crammed up close and personal with strangers in any of Buenos Aires’ Subte – Subterráneo, ‘underground’ or ‘subterranean’ – lines. The rush hour lasts from 6AM until 11AM when there’s a small break for lunch. The Subte fills up again about 3PM and stays like the proverbial sardines-in-a-can until 6PM. Don’t worry about buying temporary Subte cards, there is no such thing. You’ll need to buy a plastic Subte card which can be bought from the kiosks at each train platform. It’ll cost about 100 pesos (around USD$6, but it will be good for 20 trips on the Subte.
Lunch will probably be at a sidewalk café. If you venture out to the barrios – suburbs – ‘sidewalk café’ is exactly what it sounds like. But if you’re stuck in Center City, ‘sidewalk café’ is more of a dream than a reality and only hints at the idea of a sidewalk café. As often as not, you’ll find your table at a sidewalk café taking up space in the street. In Center City, where the streets are old and narrow, this tends to be the rule rather than the exception. So don’t be surprised if you and your lunch-mate must interrupt your meal to pick your table up, carry it two meters to the side, let a rumbling, oversized truck pass, carry the table – and contents – back to the street to eat your meal in ‘peace’.
When it’s time to go home, you’re presented with two choices: the Subte or a taxi. You already know from the morning commute what the Subte is like, so hail a cab. It can be a little tricky, so pay attention. The yellow-over-black taxis are ubiquitous. At last count there are almost 40,000 of them zipping around Buenos Aires’ avenidas and back alleys. To hail one, stand on the edge of the sidewalk – not in the middle of a sidewalk café though – and face the traffic. Hold your right arm angled downward as though you were a clock and pointing to four o’clock. Don’t hold your arm any higher or you are just as likely to stop the next ‘Collectivo’ (bus) that passes. Climb in and tell the driver where you want to go. Be prepared with smaller pesos – most drivers won’t accept a 100-peso bill.
If you were really a local, dinner would be served around 8PM and your sisters, brothers, grandparents, parents, children, in fact your entire extended family would all gather around the table in one big noise-inspired, Malbec-induced cacophony of ages and voices all talking at once about whatever their favorite topic du jour is. But, since you’re not a local, dinner is served around 8PM with friends and fellow travelers as you gather around the table in one big noise-inspired, Malbec–induced cacophony of ages and voices all talking at once about whatever their favorite topic du jour is.