“Am I man or woman? I know that’s what you’re thinking,” the woman on stage said for the sixth time. She was the final act on the only English comedy club in Buenos Aires. After staring at her for a solid thirty seconds, I decided she was a woman, but she was pretty close to looking genderless.
We thought it would be brilliant on our third day in Buenos Aires to go to comedy club, thinking we were going to laugh our asses off. What we got instead was a sneak-peak into the dark self-deprecating Argentinian humor. Now combine that with the graffiti sprayed literally on every wall around the city and you now begin to understand Argentina’s culture. Argentina was our final stop and it’s the only country I have strong mixed feelings about it. I can’t decide if I miss it or glad that we’ve finally left.
“What do you think of Argentina so far?” asked Clayton, an Australian guy we met on a tour in Argentina. He was a handsome 27-year old six feet tall guy who had decided to move to Buenos Aires to be with his girlfriend.
“We love it! It’s such an awesome city. Beautiful architecture. Friendly people. It’s great,” Dumpty answered.
“Really? If you ask an Argentinian, he will tell you it’s a shitty place. The government is corrupt. Dog shit everywhere. And the traffic. Lets not even talk about traffic. And the pay is terrible. So you really like Argentina?” he asked.
“Yeah. I don’t think it’s that bad. So…I have a question. How is it that people here are so fit and skinny? All I see people eating are steaks, pizza, pasta, and empanadas. It’s just meat and carbs,” I asked.
“Have you seen Argentinians eat at home? They are obsessed with how they look. When they go out, sure they eat everything but then they starve themselves the rest of the week. My girlfriend might eat once a day. You’ll also noticed there’s a ton of cosmetic surgery here. Buenos Aires is one of the biggest hubs for plastic surgery. Didn’t you notice women with nose jobs?” he said.
Hmmm, I did notice a few women on the train with bandages on their noses and with Angelina Jolie type lips. And I did notice plastic surgeon promising improved procedures for remodeling your body and face on billboards and magazines.
“It was kind of hard making friends here. Argentinians stick with their childhood friends. They don’t like forming new
friendships. It’s a really tight knit group and nearly impossible to break into it. I would like sit with my girlfriend’s friends at someone’s house and nobody would talk to me. Or if I would try to join a conversation, they would give me weird looks,” said Clayton.
“So aren’t you lonely?” I asked.
“No. I travel a lot. Eventually her friends did make me a part of their group but you have no idea how hard that was,” he said.
“So would you want to live here permanently?”
“Nope. I want to move back to Sydney. There’s no way I can live here. I mean, the people are great. Once you make a friend here, you have a friend for life. They will do anything for you. I mean anything. But anyway, I need to make a living and there’s no way I can earn a decent income here. I have to go back,” he said. I didn’t blame him.
I learned so much about their culture; by far the most I’ve learned about any culture during our trip around the world. Argentinians are not a proud people by any means and will be the first to point out their failures and faults. I found that baffling; especially coming from the U.S. culture, were we have slogans like “proud to be an American”.
Buenos Aires in particular was a fascinating city made up of 50 neighborhoods, 700 art galleries, 10 soccer stadiums, 5 T.V. stations, and countless cafes and closed door restaurants. What took an awesome graffiti tour around the various neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, and learned that the majority of the graffiti were political expressions of the people being oppressed by the government for decades.
Argentina has been through guerrilla warfare, civil wars, and dictators who have killed and imprisoned thousands of innocent people. They’ve a heartbreaking history, but then yet again Argentina is also the first country in Latin America to allow same-sex marriage and is the birth place of the Tango. Unlike in the U.S., graffiti is a welcomed art form. Technically it’s against the law to paint on someone’s wall without permission, but nobody cares. Not even the police. You can read more about Buenos Aires graffiti here.
Our favorite neighborhoods were La Boca, La Recoleta, and, of course, Palermo. La Boca, one of the most picturesque parts of the city, was originally built by Genoese immigrants. Although I was slightly turned off by how touristy it was, it was still a super cool area. It looked like Rainbow Brite went apeshit in La Boca. Now combine the vivid colors of the town with Tango dancers on every street corner and restaurants spilling out on to the sidewalks and you get the complete picture of La Boca.
Unlike La Boca, La Recoleta was residential area for the rich and “jet-set” crowd. With boutique perfumeries, luxurious restaurants and hotels starting at $500/night, La Recoleta stood out from the rest of Buenos Aires. I loved walking down the clean poop-less side walks (people do not clean-up after their dogs. Gross) and people watching. It is also home to the famous Recoleta cemetery where rich and famous Argentinians are buried. We lost our minds in the cemetery. In fact we went back twice and are doing a separate blog on just Recoleta.
We spent majority of our time in Palermo, the largest neighborhood in the city. This is were we found the trendiest restaurants, cafes, clubs, Botanical Gardens, zoo, and a ton of parks. And amazing shopping. Palermo Soho in particular had the best boutique shops–perfect for hours and hours of window shopping (I left Dumpty at the hotel for this). Palermo Soho did feel a lot like Soho in Manhattan (but Soho in Manhattan shopping is still better).
We had blast in Palermo on New Year’s night, especially since my friends from NYC decided to visit for the celebration. My girlfriend and I got hammered on the Jamesons. At one point I spilled my drink on myself and started to suck my shirt–couldn’t let alcohol go to waste. Not of one of my shining moments. I only remember how much fun we had running up and down the stairs of the restaurant, singing with the bartenders and dancing with random people. Dumpty and another guy friend were completely sober since they ate too much. They were not impressed with the our performance that night. Oh well. Their loss. That night I had no mixed feelings about Argentina.
Buenos Aires reminded me of New York in many ways–you either hated or loved it. It took me some time to get over the dog shit left to air dry on every-single-street. It took even longer to get over eating sweetened croissants, caramel, ham and cheese for breakfast every single morning (Argentinians consider this a light breakfast). And yet I find myself wanting to return there one day to explore the city walls for a new graffiti artist’s mark or eat at one of the many private closed door restaurants, which are homes that operate as a restaurant for a couple of days a week.
Buenos Aires will always hold a special place in my heart–even if I can’t ever live there.