Buenos Aires is an interesting city in that to me contains elements that remind of a lot of other big cities I know. Some streets make you think you're walking Paris. The people and language remind you of Spain. The architecture makes you feel like you're in Lisbon. The coffee shops have an American feel to them. And yet there are more than a few things about this city that are unique. Here are a some fun observations on this huge and quirky city.
A lot of cities have a culture for street performers walking through the metro alongside different sorts of beggars and artists, politely asking fellow passengers for change. But you've never seen it like in Buenos Aires. Guitarists, singers and other musicians in the metro are all well known phenomenons and so is the classical "do you have some spare change for my cup" approach. But in Buenos Aires someone thought of a new method to make money on the metro: Sitting in the metro, people will come up to you and simply put an item ON you. It could be a package of gum, a children's book, a CD, hairbands or breath mints. They continue to put their product ON all of the passengers in the carriage and then leave. A few minutes later they come back, collecting all the items from people's laps, hands and bags where they put them, hoping that some will want to buy one.
We've seen some pretty hilarious scenarios when tourists suddenly find a package of gum in their lap with no idea what to do with it...
Buenos Aires is a dog city. In a lot of places dogs are beloved pets, and there's nothing strange about all the dog walkers and dog parks as such. But for some reason it has become custom to NOT pick up dog poop. As a result the streets are lined with all sizes and colors of poop and walking around the city it is easy to miss out on some great sightseeing because you're too busy looking at your feet, making your way through a labyrinth of stinky poop. Sounds funny? Yea, but it really is a serious problem and the city has no idea what to do about it...
You feel criminal exchanging money
Cambio! Cambio! In certain areas you will hear people whisper (or scream) this from all around you. Cambio means exchange. For the past few year the Argentinean peso has lost a lot of value, and the exchange rate from Euro and American Dollars into Argentinean Pesos is now horrible. At least in the official exchange offices.
The so-called "Blue Marked" popped up, and is at this point a very established underground illegal movement that everyone uses. Basically, Argentineans want to invest in Euro or American dollars, hoping to make a lot of money when the exchange rate goes back up. They therefore line the streets, offering tourists exchange rates up to 100% better than official rates! Approaching them you will be taken to a secret office. Counting money bills and negotiating rates with a guy wearing sunglasses and speaking in a whispering voice can be intimidating, but the Blue Marked is really the best way to exchange USD or EUR to Pesos in Buenos Aires. It is shady, but never the less a win-win for both the locals and the tourists!
This is important to know as a tourist in Buenos Aires; Cars DON'T STOP. Your life is worth NOTHING. So GET OUT OF THE WAY. It is a well known fact that pedestrians are approximately as big of a reason for drivers to stop as cats are in Buenos Aires. It is also a known fact that all taxi drivers are assholes. We can now confirm these statements - talk about a self fulfilling prophecy! If you don't drive like an asshole in this city, honking at everybody and speeding up when approaching a pedestrian walk, you are considered an asshole. Sad but true.
Let it rain
I already complained about how it seems to rain in Granada even when the sky is blue. But Buenos Aires tops it! Huge apartment buildings line the streets, and with every single apartment having their own leaking air condition, the sidewalks turn into a wet experience, even on a sunny day. Trust me, you will never make it more than one block without feeling that subtle drip on your head. But hey, now that you're looking down to detect dog poop anyway it's easy to spot the water puddles and avoid those too...