Figuring out porteños

I depart in 10 days, so for the next week and a half, I’ll be jotting down some expectations derived from my study of a few Argentina travel guides. I’ll quote from my two favorites, Time Out’s Buenos Aires guide, and Culture Shock: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette by Fiona Adams.

I’ll start with tips Adams and the Time Out experts have doled out about porteños*…

*not sure what the direct translation of this word is, but it’s always used to refer to “the people of Buenos Aires.” Google Translate helpfully tells me that it means “Buenos Aires.” Alright…

A vein that runs though all descriptions of porteños is that they’re pretty tough to define; Adams notes that someone once called Argentines, “a nation of Italians who speak Spanish, dress as though they’re French and like to think they’re British.” I’ve chosen six descriptions that are particularly interesting:

This is how I now imagine Argentinean women: beautiful, heavily done-up, well-dressed, and ever taking selfies.

Fact #1: They appear to be quite infatuated with their own appearance, and very impressed with the outcome of their grooming habits: “Frequently voted the world’s best-looking citizens… no one bats an eyelid if you stop and comb your hair in a reflective surface on the street or casually admire your reflection in a spoon in a restaurant,” Adams writes.

  • What I’m taking away from this: my Middlebury habits of walking around inpublic with drying hair and applying minimal or no makeup on a regular day might not fly. The book also notes how porteñosare consistently dressed very well; the easiest way to identify oneself as an outsider is to wear tennis shoes or jeans. (Or – horrors!- both at the same time.) Therefore, I resolve to try to put together an outfit every day. Or, we’ll start with 4 days a week. That seems manageable.

Fact #2: Eeeek. This one isn’t too flattering: “To put it bluntly, being overweight in Argentina is socially unacceptable… Argentina is now in the unenviable position of topping the world charts for eating disorders.” Apparently, smoking and drinking yerba mate are the most popular modes for maintaining one’s weight in a society simultaneously (/paradoxically) obsessed with food (beef!) and being thin. Ruh-roh.

Winnond at

  • What I’m taking away from this: 1) More leftovers for me.  2) Don’t try to look like Argentine women; it’s unhealthy.

Fact #3: BA has the highest ratio of psychoanalyst to population in the world; compared to NYC’s 1:300, BA’s is 1:30. Interesting. Adams says that, “Even the psychoanalysts have psychoanalysts, and trade unions and industrial organizations frequently look upon psychotherapy as an essential part of employees’ benefit package.”

  • What I’m taking away from this: Honestly, no idea how this applies to my study abroad experience. But it’s interesting!

Fact #4: Argentines are perceived to be very vain by most other Latin Americans. (Maybe they’ve been caught admiring their reflection a few too many times?) A popular joke: “How does an Argentine commit suicide? He throws himself off his own ego!”

Fact #5: This confidence starts early — even with young-uns. Adams says “There’s no awkward adolescence for these kids; instead they seem to ooze confidence from a young age and are remarkably relaxed and chatty.”

  • What I’m taking away from this: I wonder if this trait will extend to the preschchoolers I will be teaching for the first 5 weeks in BA. Is this something children have acquired by the time they’re three years old? Apparently Argentines don’t discipline their children much, which is great because kids never seem to take me seriously when I try to tell them what to do anyway.

Fact #6: They love the mullet. Time Out says, “Trends wax and wane in BA, but the male mullet is still a great way to make a style statement (that statement is: ‘I’ve plenty of free time in the morning to preen my manly flowing locks- apologies for my lack of taste.’)”

  • What I’m taking away from this: Ew. 1) Many Argentinean men will be ruined by their hair. 2) I will not be getting any haircuts in Argentina.
  • A thought: How do porteños feel about my favorite variation on the mullet, the drullet? (A fantastic combo of dreads and mullet that you have to see to believe)
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