Sunday, February 7, 2010
It's taken me about a week to make my observations and get a feel for this place. although I haven't done everything, I've definitely tested the waters. I'm more of a wanderer than a planner, so I've taken to going on a daily adventure (yes, mostly alone, but no worries). Some of the best and most memorable times I've had have come about by my tendency to wander, and try a few things with no real direction or plan. Sometimes it works out, sometimes things fall through, but wandering is the best way to get to know a city and immerse myself in the culture. It's too easy to get into a groove, speak basic Spanish when necessary, and get into the routine of going out to all the same places on weekends with all the same people. Here's a few things I've learned by myself (or with a friend or two), that I think are more valuable than anything a guidebook can provide:
1. Make friends with the doormen of your building. The guys that work the desk are called Mario, Raoul, and Jose. Jose told me if I wanted to practice Castellano, I could always chat with him. He gives me directions, useful information about things to do, and always makes sure I'm going somewhere safe. They've got my back.
2. Find a neighborhood cafe. The cafes on Cabildo (commercial area in my barrio) are expensive, impersonal, and crowded. Luckily, Alison and I found the perfect spot near our building today. Much cheaper and much comfier!
3. Take buses/el subte as much as possible. Taxi drivers sometimes try to rip you off, and it's so cheap ($1.10 pesos= 30 cents) and actually a lot safer (I've heard stories about them kidnapping girls?!)
4. Don't speak English when you get on the bus, and throw your coins in the machine like you know what you're doing. Usually the bus drivers don't care if you've paid enough of not, but if you get flustered and whatnot, he'll let you keep putting coins in the slot until you've paid for more than one ride. That being said, the colectivos (colloquialism for bus) are a lot of pressure, because you pay after the bus starts moving and you're always rushed.
5. On that note, always carry monedas (coins) with you. They're hard to come by, and people hoard them. There's a national coin crisis (literally) right now because of obsessive hoarding. I think the problem would be solved by bus cards (they take coins only), but that's just me. And people at stores hate giving change in coins, so give them as small a bill as possible so you at least get a couple of monedas back.
6. Avoid bars blasting American music. I'm already sick of (most) Argentinian guys, and they hang around those places to pick up American girls.
7. Don't walk in huge groups (more than 4 or 5), especially on the subte's. It's a dead giveaway you're a tourist, and it's obnoxious. I was riding the subte by myself when a group of American girls got on. They were so loud and annoying-no wonder people think the stereotypes are true. When I spoke to them in English, they nearly jumped out of their skin--I was sitting quietly like everybody else, so I guess they thought I was a Porteño?
8. Go see movies on Wednesday nights, because it's much cheaper. $15 pesos>$26
9. The streets here are surprisingly clean, at least in my barrio. Actually the city is very well-kept. Even the graffiti has its charm. But no one picks up their dog's shit, so watch where you're walking!
10. Order randomly off menus (only if you eat meat!) because you'll usually get a nice surprise.
11. The ham here is so much better than at home. I don't know why, but even something as simple as a jamon y queso sandwich is delicious.
12. Apparently restaurants don't believe in tap water. It's perfectly safe/tasty to drink, but for some reason people always drink bottled water (agua sin gas or con gas) and it's more expensive than, say, a glass of wine. If you order water at a restaurant, expect to pay 6-8 pesos for it.
13. People here seem like they're racist, but I think they just acknowledge those differences without...tact. Every time a person of Asian origin is mentioned, someone always pulls back the skin around their eyes. Yeah. We get it. Unnecessary, but it's not like they don't like Asians. It's hard to explain, but I guess race has always been an issue in Latin America.
14. Not all people here are out to get you, as apparently our programs would have us believe (with horror stories of rape/robbery/etc). Most are friendly, will give you accurate directions (they'll even ask if you need help if you look lost), and are just trying to make a living. Of course, there are creeps and shady cab drivers and whatnot, but some Americans I've met are very cynical about the locals. As long as you say hello, how are you?, please/thank you, goodbye, people are polite right back.
15. However, people think Americans are too polite. Argentinians are more direct, and we tend to give indirect answers such as "well, i don't know," "maybe..." etc. People can actually be kind of blunt, but they appreciate direct answers.
16. Walk as much as possible. It's the best way to get the know the area (which in turn makes it safer for you) and see things you wouldn't have otherwise seen. Alison and I discovered a beautiful park and coffee shop today, just by wandering for a few hours around our own neighborhood.
17. There's no need to rush anything. Argentinians are punctual for class/work/etc, but they take their time when it comes to leisure. Like going out at night--it's unnecessary to arrive anywhere before midnight, because most people take their time eating dinner/getting ready. Going out shouldn't be a chore, and being too early/meeting people at an exact time makes it not fun. As with eating out or taking a coffee, waiters aren't rushed to bring you the check; they just assume you'll sip and talk and enjoy yourself, without having to be somewhere in 15 minutes. That's why there's no real fast food here--if you're going out to eat, be sure you have plenty of time. I like that mentality; it makes spending time with friends so much more enjoyable. Like the other day some friends and I planned to go to a museum, but we ended up sitting for three hours at a cafe and having a great time instead. The waiters even brought us free ice cream! I guess they liked our un-American attitude :) So why rush anywhere?
18. Bring a notebook and pen everywhere. That way you can sketch out maps, write down directions before you go so you don't have to consult a guide, take notes on street names and places you want to go in the future, and just write down thoughts about experiences and sensations.
19. Get the feel of a place before you engage in eating there. Look at the owner's/waiters'/patrons' faces when you walk in. You'll know immediately if you're not welcome (as a non-local or a woman). If you decide to stay, you can expect poor service and to be ripped off.
20. Above all I guess, practice speaking Spanish. I wish more than anything I spoke better Spanish, and that I'd studied harder before I came. Foreigners who can communicate faster and better and to a wider group have to best experiences and find off-the-map things to do/see. Like today, I asked a guy where that roaring noise was coming from, and he brought me to a futbol stadium! Ok, he did speak English, but if I hadn't stopped him to speak to him in the first place, I never would have gone. Ok, so I didn't actually go to the game, but now I know a) where the stadium is b) how much tickets cost/where to get them c) that some guys here are actually decent!