After spending a whole year abroad living and studying in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, I’d say Tara India is more than qualified to give us a little insight into what life there is like! Here, languages student, artist, fashion enthusiast, and Sub Editor of The World Wide Wardrobe Tara does just that, as she shares with us her top 10 of the many life lessons a year in Buenos Aires taught her. (I’ve been meaning to get this brilliant blog post up and published for months- thank you for being so patient with me Tara!) Happy reading!
10 Things Buenos Aires has Taught Me, by Tara India Kergon
Buenos Aires is the middle ground between Latin America and Europe; immigration and emulation of Paris has left the streets littered with beautiful French architecture and cafe culture, while the air in summer is always thick with asados and mate is the national drink. Attempting to assimilate was made slightly easier by this balance, but culture shock and a process of adaptation was inevitable. As I leave Argentina to return home, I cannot help but reflect on how the city has changed me, and which parts of it I will be taking back to England. And these are just some of the lessons I have learned…
The British are far too punctual.
Upon arriving, my British brain struggled to process the vaguer sense of time: walking into class 15 minutes late, I still arrived before my teacher; when meeting friends I learned that if we agree on 10pm, it should be tacitly understood the earliest we will arrive is 10.30pm. Considering the city centre is a traffic-choked nightmare, and if a bus timetable exists, it cannot be trusted, such flexibility is useful. Perhaps this is how BA manages to maintain a relaxed air that London could only dream of despite being so much bigger. Oh, and heads up – I’ll never be on time in England again.
Just how safe England feels.
In spite of the recent wave of terror, I can’t help but see England as secure after living here. It’s not just the protests awash with smoke, or the riot police I see on a weekly basis, it’s that I’m constantly hyperaware of my belongings and surroundings. While BA is no Rio de Janeiro and is arguably the safest city in South America, I’ve got used to not wearing expensive jewellery, and carrying a paper copy of my passport. It took Terror Alert 1 to put armed forces on the streets at home, while it’s a daily fact of life here. In spite of the fact that bad things can happen anywhere, at least in England I can come off my personal alert.
British summertime is a myth.
Those balmy blue-skied days (or weeks if we are startlingly lucky) which we call summer have nothing on that of Latin America. Argentina is prone to temperatures of 35+, with clear skies and sunshine for months on end, and now that it’s cooling down I’m reaching for jumpers at 17 – the same temperature I’d start sunbathing in back home. It’s not all delicious sunshine in the city however, since air conditioning on public transport is not guaranteed and the subte is what I imagine the outer circles of hell resemble.
University language teaching does not prepare you for life.
This one is just for the linguists: Buenos Aires has one of the most confusing, challenging dialects in castellano. At first I wasn’t even convinced I was speaking the same language as I tripped up on the strange pronunciation and unfamiliar vocabulary, and struggled to use the pronoun vos in place of tu (you). And besides, accurately using the imperfect subjunctive was useless when I couldn’t find the word for toothbrush. Lesson: learning from the Spaniards does not prepare you for Latin America.
The meaning of patriotism.
In London they say you’re never more than seven feet from a rat; in Buenos Aires the saying should be that you’re never out of sight of the flag. Looking up around me I can’t remember being unable to see the blue and white bandera, and it’s more than that. The streets in every city are named after the same heroes of independence, there are so many national holidays celebrating the country, and there’s an air of national self-confidence that I’ve never felt before. We may bring out the flags for the world cup or the queen’s jubilee, but British national pride has nothing on Argentina.
Personal space is not a universal concept.
I’m aware that the English are considered cold and reserved because we don’t greet everyone we know with a kiss. What I hadn’t realised was that it’s not just a greeting; the whole concept of personal space doesn’t exist here. Within days I was complaining as people queued too closely behind me, as it was normal for any man to comment on my appearance as I walk down the street, and as I was forced to hug everyone when walking into a room. While I’ve adapted to it over the year, I’ll be glad to be able to be British in my greetings again: only hugging the people I know and with a foot of empty space around me at all times.
What a real protest looks like.
Before arriving I could count on the fingers of one hand the protests I had attended, or even seen. Demonstrations in the UK are a singularity, while marches and protests are so common here that I barely bat an eye: 3-4 times a week the main square is closed off; all transport can be stopped; and recently half a million people gathered to protest the 2×1 law that could see Dirty War criminals go free. It’s not just banners and taking back the streets, as I saw firsthand when I joined the women’s march in Rosario, but there are flare guns, smoke, singing and shouting – protest is a way of life here. Anything in England will now seem calm, ordered, and decidedly quaint.
How to make mate.
Being English I thought I knew my tea, but I have learned better. What I believed to be an unfounded national stereotype turned out to be true: everyone drinks mate. And if you live here it’s practically a requirement to own all the equipment and know how to make it. It’s simple enough: just put the yerba (leaves) in a mate (cup), add in the bombilla (the straw that acts as a strainer) and pour on hot water. It’s a delicious, if acquired, taste and now not only do I feel very Argentine, but the same method works in a mug with loose leaf tea so I can forget about digging out strainers back home!
Wearing an outfit more than once won’t kill me.
In England I was a self-confessed shopaholic whose natural habitat was Topshop and I barely ever wore the same outfit twice. Twelve months later, I think my desire to splash the cash has been curbed. First I was forced to streamline my wardrobe to what could fit in one backpacking rucksack and a carry on suitcase, and secondly I arrived to Argentina to find an economic crisis. The official inflation rate is 40%, so even the poorest quality fetches far too high a price. Since I’m too proud to waste my money I’ve had to get creative with my combinations and even be an outfit repeater, and nobody has died.
Living abroad means you’ll never really belong anywhere.
Despite the welcoming atmosphere in Argentina, I always feel like a foreigner: I want personal space, I can’t get used to supermarkets closing at 9.15, and in spite of my best efforts my accent gives me away (it’s currently a mix of English, Spanish and porteño). But coming home will be equally difficult in a way because I have changed over here: I want to drink mate in class, my understanding of ‘on time’ is radically different, and I cross roads recklessly at best. Perhaps it’s not that I don’t belong anywhere, but that I could belong anywhere – and in a world that’s increasingly global, maybe it’s a good thing I have more than one perspective.