A video aimed at extranjeros has gone viral on the internet, and this time, it’s not an unwitting Bubble intern mimicking one of Argentina’s fine presidents.
It’s a survival guide for foreigners, with the apparent target demographic centering on students studying abroad and tourists visiting Argentina. Produced by a pay-to-volunteer company based in Buenos Aires called Voluntario Global, the video became a sensation after being picked up by La Nacion. The minor uproar has been divisive, with the Facebook comments both glowingly positive and overwhelmingly negative since it was first posted on Tuesday.
Culture shock trigger warning: milk comes in a bag, exact change is typically welcomed, coffee doesn’t come to-go, dinner is at 11pm, and learn to line up for the bus. It’s like it’s a different country or something…
The comments section went wild (something we here at The Bubble are not at all familiar with): “This is stereotypical! It’s not all of Buenos Aires! This is great! They are trying! Parts are true! None of it is true! This is insulting! All of you should be fired for your shoddy work! I love lamp! Has anyone seen my lost cat? Die alone!”
With that in mind…The Bubble receives mail every once in awhile, asking, “How do you survive in Buenos Aires?” With its mad bus drivers, mad inflation and madly cobbled streets and mad – truly truly mad sunsets?
Where to begin?
How do people explain what it’s like to come here for the first time to live as a foreigner without lapsing into the offensive — what I would call (the all too typical) fetishization of Buenos Aires. Without calling it Neverland, without the usual comments about “monopoly money”, without lapsing into the bro speak of privilege from those who live in… well in a bubble. A bubble created by social media posts that depict Buenos Aires not tan eterna como el agua y como el aire, but as a bacchanal of parties far past dawn, of endless asados, of life on pause. One endless 21st birthday. A scene from Entourage against the stylized aesthetic of deteriorating glamour, of decaying architecture and milk that comes in god forbid a bag.
And such is the problem with writing a “survival guide,” with trying to make a video to explain what exactly it is about living here that would shock someone. By its very nature it points out this sense of otherness, of alienation. The idea that “This is not where I am from and maybe that makes its less than.”
So. An Argentine survival Guide? How could one even begin? Let’s take on a few things addressed in the video and go from there. Here. We. Go.
1) Milk in a bag.
This has never been an issue for me. I do not drink milk because a) I’ve had my sixth birthday and b) I’m an Ashkenazi Jew. We are lactose challenged. See? Not a big deal.
Prepare for grocery store culture shock. If you come from a land where the Trader Joes are a-plenty, and the mega stores grace every corner, you will be shocked. In my first weeks I used to wander around grocery stores with my mouth agape murmuring “There’s no food, there’s no food.” I was, as usual, very wrong. There is food. There is food on every corner. Raw food just waiting to be cooked up. Or if you are less culinarily inclined like the author, you can buy an empanada. Fast food and groceries here look different but they exist.
3) The colectivo
Public transport here is miraculous. I say this as a Washington DC native, where the bus comes once an hour and maybe will drop you off you 10 blocks from where you want to go. The bus will take you anywhere you need in this city no matter where you are and it comes all the time. Do you know when that time will be? No, no you do not. You will wait for 20 minutes and then three 39 buses will come trundling up all at once. And you will raise your fist to the gods to blame them for your perpetual tardiness.
Not such a big deal though, the bus eventually always arrives.
This brings us to a concept so lovingly labelled Argentime. As in, everyone has a very loose idea of when you will be getting somewhere. There’s a tenuous grasp on the concept of promptness. I honestly do not find this to be all that different from anywhere else. You get to a pre-boliche when you have finished changing shoes five times and burned all your clothes in despair because you have nothing to wear. This usually makes you about 45 minutes later than you said you would be. Is this not international? People here still tend to be on time for things that count, like you know, the office.
And frankly, what is time but a construct imposed upon us by society to pressure us into desk jobs and tiny humans?
5) Money, Honey
Argentina, a place where you will become aces at basic arithmetic. Argentine skill in this area blows the mind. You’ll hand over a cien at the kiosco for something that cost 66 pesos and you’ll hear “tenes dieciséis?” Why? Oh that’s right. Because if you hand them 116 they can give you back a crisp 50. Makes perfect sense. This will not happen every once in awhile, it will happen to you 95 percent of the time you do not have exact change. Arithmetic! Brush up before you get of the plane at Ezeiza. It’s not a big deal though, you can just say “No, No tengo.”
6) Friends, Love, and Other Basic Necessities
The listed items above, well, those are just the details. The icing. Differences and developments feel normal after a while. That’s life anywhere. It does not really matter. Give me my milk in a bag, I laugh in the face of danger. But how do people relate to each other? A kiss hello and a kiss goodbye and my mistranslated sarcasm? Knowing what’s too friendly or not quite friendly enough? How to know the difference between te amo and te quiero but once you learn it how do you tell when someone feels one but not other for you? How to read into between the lines when you come from place where the social and emotional cues are so extraordinarily different? There are no easy answers to this little beauty of a problem. It is something that is a struggle for transplants everywhere, for their whole lives. What I can say is this — and yes I know, gross generalization alert — a big difference, one that truly matters, is the time here in Argentina that people make for each other, how naturally friends slide into the daily landscape of your life. How easily people become a part of your family. You do not live for your 9 to 5 and you do not live for a deadline. Here, at least more than where I came from, at least comparatively, at least to this bright-eyed yanqui, you live for the people that mean something to you, and you do it today.
And maybe today is full of milk in bags, and long bus queues with rules you don’t quite understand, and metro stations that won’t sell you the actual metro cards, but it’s the one I asked for when I came here, it’s the today that I got. And damn, what a beauty.