While I haven’t felt the need to conjure up one, long-winded piece on how much I love Buenos Aires nor create some sort of online daily journal, I have felt the urge to write about the little things. The little details of life in Buenos Aires, the ones no one even recognizes because they are so second-nature, almost afterthoughts to the big adventure itself. The small touches that make Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, for better or worse. The details that you won’t read in a travel guide, or see posted on Instagram. For without these little things, Buenos Aires would not be the charming urban jungle everyone has dubbed the “Paris of South America.” Buenos Aires itself can be compared to a wildly popular film seen by millions. But without the thousands of people working behind the scenes to create such piece of art, it would not exist. So, for lack of a better word, here are some (not all) of the credits to the film that is Buenos Aires.
1. In Buenos Aires, there are very few chain stores that exist. There are some, but none have such a presence as Starbucks and McDonald’s do in the United States. Starbucks and McDonald’s both exist in BA, but you won’t find them on every other block as you might in San Francisco or Los Angeles. Instead, there are hundreds of different coffee shops, book stores, and restaurants. Same goes for carnicerias, pastelerias, joyerias, and zapaterias. In other words, Buenos Aires still functions under a sort of specialization in the economy. Unlike in the United States, BA has a specific store and business for anything and everything you could imagine. There are stores that specifically sell fans, plastic bins, zippers, chairs, headphones, knives, etc. Specialization. There’s a store for everything.
2. Incredible (and cheap) public transportation. In Buenos Aires alone, you have the bus (colectivo), Subte (underground tube), and the train. Sure, many other urban cities have all of these vehicles of transportation (pun intended), but it is the cost of them in BA that sets it apart. If you’re smart and get yourself a Subte card, which you load up with pesos at any kiosco, you’re looking at spending less than a dollar a day for navigating around BA. Each fare on any of these options is between three and four pesos. Right now, the exchange rate is one dollar for 13.6 pesos. Do the math. Incredible. Anywhere you want to go in BA, you can do it through public transportation. The city is that connected. And if you’re feeling lazy or don’t want to enjoy the refreshing downpour of a storm, you can hail a taxi where you’ll almost always get ripped off.
3. Irregular trash services. This is a minute detail only someone living for an extended period of time will come to understand. For reasons I have yet to research, the trash pick-up system is irregular and elementary, at best. I say this because dumpster trucks come by every house almost every single night of the week. Yes, everyday. Not weekly. Sometimes they won’t come for a few days, and the streets smell wreak of rotting garbage that’s been baking in the sun. Nor is there a regulated system for collecting recycling or compost. Every night, you will see Argentines tie little trash bags tied to their gates for the dumpster trucks to collect. You can hear them late at night, snatching the bags from gates and tossing them into the trucks. There is no separation of trash, recycling, or compost. This I find worth noting because, trashcans inside of Argentine homes are very, very small. Argentina still operates on a normal, small scale, day by day capacity concerning trash, food, and household needs. Unlike the states, most people don’t have large trash cans, nor stock up the fridge because they only visit the grocery store once a week. It might not sound like the most regulated, sensical, or environmentally friendly, but that’s just how things here are done.
4. This brings me to my fourth detail: food purchase and consumption. Argentines go to the grocery store often– but they also go to many other stores. As I mentioned above, specialization is alive and well here, and that holds true for food products as well. There are grocery stores such as Disco, Coto, and Carrefour where you can buy pretty much what you’d buy at Safeway or Albertson’s. But when it comes to purchasing meats, produce, fiambres, and facturas, many Argentines frequent these speciality stores. Given that many of these products are very perishable and consumed relatively soon after purchases, the need to buy fruit, vegetables, dairy products is assuaged once or twice a week. Back in the states, I normally would only visit Trader Joe’s once a week, maybe twice if I needed to pick up some Lagunitas for a get together. But here– people go often. I’m still perplexed as to why, but I digress.
5. Uber has existed in Argentina long before Uber was ever even created. No, I’m not saying Uber was created by Argentina or will exist there. What I’m saying is, the idea, and existence of this idea, has long existed here in BA. They are called remises. A “remiseria” is a car company you call to have a driver take you to a specific location. It is very similar to that of Uber. Remiserias exist all over Buenos Aires, and there a several different companies that operate in different cities and neighborhoods in BA. Like taxi drivers, each driver uses his own car, and has a license to work as a remis. You pay a fixed price, based on where you are going and what time of the day it is. Taxis have always been a part of metropolitan cities. But the remis itself has been a unique component of Argentine culture for a while. Leaving your grandmother’s to go downtown? Call a remis. Need a right home from a late night asado at your uncles? Call a remis. They aren’t taxis. They aren’t Uber. They are remises. Check them out.
These are my credits as of now. More to come soon.