City dwellers of Buenos Aires, commonly referred to as “porteños/as,” are fiercely proud of their overpopulated and culturally diverse South American city. Although they are generally welcoming and friendly people, porteños, too, have their limits.
1. Don’t drink the Mate
Mate is a heavily caffeinated tea-like drink that porteños consume daily along with their oxygen. The yerba, or the tea leaves, are packed tightly into a hollowed out gourd and filled to the top with hot water (never boiling). Mate is a very social drink and an integral part of the Argentine experience. Groups will drink out of the same bombilla (straw) and discuss politics, life, and the like while passing around the mate. If you are a bit of germaphobe, learn to repress your anxieties, at least temporarily, and taste the saliva of new friends. It is custom when the mate is passed to you to drink the entire cup until you make a slurping sound and then hand it back to the server. Anyone who insults the mate may end up with a face full of yerba.
2. Be a vegetarian
As one of the top beef consumers in the world, Argentina takes pride on their ability to mercilessly slaughter and grill large slabs of various grass feeders. If you ever get invited to an asado by a porteño, make sure leave your animal rights flyers at home. The asado offers a traditional outdoor barbecue where numerous cuts of meat are grilled and served as separate courses throughout the day. Traditionally, aside from a few rolls and a small salad, that’s all there would be. In the city, parillas, or steak houses, are also very popular and provide a more urban experience to being a carnivore.
3. Ask the bus driver for directions
Bus drivers in Buenos Aires are famous for being rude and unhelpful. The collectivo (bus) lines themselves are impressively complicated with chaotic routes and a plethora of numbers transferring passengers from all corners of one of the largest cities in the world. There is 100% guarantee that you will get on the wrong bus and end up in an unrecognizable spot, far from your desired destination. Asking the bus driver will not help (especially if your Spanish isn’t up to par) and you will be met with a rough response and an angry hand gesture.
4. Speak like a Spaniard
Argentina (and Uruguay) are famous for their unique interpretation of castellano, or as we know, Spanish. All of your high school Spanish will be thrown out the collectivo doors and you’ll find yourself intensely trying to decipher a language that resembles nothing like what you learned on Rosetta Stone. Due to an enormous influx of European immigrants, porteños have established a different dialect of Spanish, which they proudly assert is the “right” way to speak. When you ask for “Calle Santa Fe,” make sure to pronounce “calle” as “cah-shay.” A strawberry is a “frutilla” (froo-tee-sha) and the informal you is no longer “tu” but “vos,” with its own verb conjugation to accompany it.
4. Have a heated discussion about the Malvinas (Falklands)
Even using the wrong name for these highly debatable islands will furrow the brow of a porteño. The Malvinas lie southeast off the coast of Argentina and are a highly sensitive subject for Argentines and Brits alike. The ownership of the Falklands has been a long-standing dispute for centuries, shifting among various European periods of colonization and ultimately falling under British rule. In 1982, Argentina invaded the Falklands attempting to retake control until the UK responded and drove them out. This is still a touchy topic for most Argentines and it’s important to be respectful to their beliefs.
5. Root for the wrong team
The biggest divide in Buenos Aires is inarguably between the soccer teams Boca Juniors and River Plate. The rivalry between Boca and River has been known to tear apart families, cause people to lose jobs, and generally ruin lives. Boca has traditionally been a team for the working class and River has a more well off following, making this rivalry a social and economic conflict. During the Superclásico, the official soccer match between the two teams, the city becomes divided and stepping into the wrong bar in the wrong colors could be the last decision you ever make.
If you really don’t want to endanger your life, make sure you never say anything remotely negative about Messi. He is a god to porteños.