Most days in Buenos Aires I wake up slowly. I have a relaxed morning that yawns into afternoon over a cafe con leche and Argentine avocado toast or Italian-style gnocchi. (Argentine food is funny that way. There are several dishes that are distinctly Argentine such as empanadas and tartas but in day to day city life, it seems porteños (the local name for people who live in Buenos Aires) eat a combination of knock-off American food or Italian food which is actually pretty good! I’ve been surprised at how many restaurants here serve Italian style food on their menu! However, most mornings I wake up to the sound of cars screeching on the road beneath my window. I’m jolted from sleep to the noises of the fast-moving city. With a quick bite of toast for breakfast, I head downstairs straight out into the bustling city. No matter what time of day, cars and people are moving up and down the streets. So no matter how quick or slow my mornings are, there’s always road noise outside my window. I fall asleep and wake up to the whir of bus tires running their never-ending back and forth across the main road.
It’s this dichotomy of time- you have two pieces of toast and you’re out for the day! But then you have a big meal around 1 or 2, a merienda (tea or coffee with a pastry) around 5:30 and dinner at 9. It’s so wild to see people eating dinner out at 11! And people stay out and party until 6am! It’s like the day here is stretched to the max! It seems like Argentines want to get the absolute most out of each day and that is very palpable living here. Days feel long and filled with infinite possibilities. Time is not rigid like in the United States. Here, time is fluid and less important. I was talking to a friend (over our 4 hour coffee convo) and she said that by caring less about how much time it takes to get something, you put more value on the human connection. You relinquish control over what’s already out of your hands and invest energy in the experience.
Argentines always do things, they go places, I see people everywhere, in every cultural place, every cafe, bar, restaurant, they are open, not judgemental. My host mom’s mother (so my host…grandma?) was over for dinner my first night here and in a conversation comparing Argentine and Chilean social habits she commented that porteños are much healthier than chilenos because porteños keep everything in the open and talk about controversial issues rather than bottling them up inside. At every meal in Buenos Aires, you sit around the table talking for hours. Every topic is openly and comfortably discussed and no topic is off limits, including politics or personal lives. Porteños are really friendly and open. It is so wonderful to be able to connect with any porteños you talk to because after the conversation you feel like you have made a best friend out of this person who was a stranger only hours ago. The openness and approachability of porteños makes the city such a charming place and enriches my experience so much because it welcomes me and makes me feel like part of the community here in Buenos Aires. Conversing in such an open-hearted way makes visible the essence of life which is connecting over the human experience. I absolutely love how porteños have a value of sharing, community.
I felt this same connection transfer over to coffee with a friend. We sat down at this tiny, window-side table looking out onto the rain pouring down onto the blue-grey streets and before we knew it we had been there for four hours. It went from light to dark outside during that one conversation! That’s just what you do here: get a coffee between events and have a conversation without any concern for time. That could mean 5 minutes used to purely enjoy each others company or several hours of a total heart-to-heart. The intimate connection formed when people share a coffee or a mate (the local tea drank here) is a very important and personal part of living in Buenos Aires. In fact, when I got coffee with a designer friend of mine, she questioned me not wanting a coffee at 4pm and insisted I get one alongside herself. In that moment it became apparent to me that it was almost rude of me to refuse a coffee in this situation. When you’re meeting people in Buenos Aires, you sit around the same table, sip coffee, share the same food, use the same mate cup and straw, and look each other in the eyes. When you take the time to be together, you connect deeply with others and that’s what porteños are all about.
Buenos Aires is an old fashioned city. Just as the city slows down time, it also turns back the clocks. Simply walking around is a blast to the past by looking into window displays for toys, yarn, toiletries, etc. Window displays present absolutely everything the store offers (sometimes so much so the window looks stuffed) on cloth countertops with fake flowers. It really feels like another era as compared to the modernity of the States. For example, today I walked into a skincare store run by an older woman. She clearly knew absolutely everything about every one of the products offered. What really got me was that she pulled out a magazine to look at all the new brands of makeup remover. A magazine! Who uses them anymore?! It’s so funny and so charming. And that’s how life is done here. People here actually read the newspapers, it’s not just a new hipster trend to seem like an old soul. Couples of all ages sit down in the middle of the day and get ice cream. Old women go to the bakery down the street to buy tea sandwiches made out of pressed white bread. Every store, restaurants and cafes are packed with people; porteños actually go out and do things instead of ordering everything online!
With the value of using real, physical objects and experiencing all types of cultural and local places, I feel people in Argentina take their time to truly experience the world as it has been for years rather than focusing on efficiency and immediate productivity. Argentina is a country of slow progress. Porteños rely on wholesome traditions to keep their world running and live by the idea that things will be figured out so don’t worry. In a presentation about Argentine economy, the director of CIEE Buenos Aires shared a quote with the group that went along the lines of this: No matter what the Argentine economy looks like, porteños know how to have a good time! All I can say is that much is true.