It was only a two-hour flight from Santiago to Buenos Aires, but the vibe and the people are very different. It’s not surprising. After all, thousands of kilometres, the Andes and a very different history set the two neighbouring countries apart.
People of Buenos Aires look very European. While I can’t remember seeing a single strand of blond hair in Santiago—except for a loud German or Dutch traveller at the airport—fair-haired women are a common sight in Buenos Aires. Spoiler alert—most need to visit the hairstylist every few weeks to stay blond.
Generally speaking, Porteños are taller and bigger than Santiaguinos. Fashion is edgier, makeup a tad more sophisticated, platform shoes are trendy.
Like their European ancestors, Porteños are opinionated, passionate, political and often pessimistic. They are loud, brassy, occasionally curt and rude in the capital, ready to take advantage of tourists, much like French are with visitors in Paris. Santiaguinos were more mellow, more even, curious about travellers. The attitude of Porteños seems to change depending on how wealthy you look and whether you are a man or a woman. Feng was charged a higher price than me when buying a can of Coke at the convenience store—prices are rarely displayed, I can pass for a local and he can’t. On the other hand, I’m completely ignored by male waiters when we are together and I experienced catcalls in the street if I’m alone.
More alarmingly, the gap between rich and poor is huge and very obvious. At night, you can see entire families with young kids sleeping on dirty mattresses in the city’s major streets, like Corrientes or 9 de Julio. People go through garbage and they are not hipsters going dumpster diving—this scream “survival”. Right there, they sort out what can be saved from trash in front of fancy parillas where the average bill is likely in the hundreds. The various classes—because Argentina is a country with social classes—seems to ignore each other. Panhandling is very low key. You’re less likely to be asked for loose change than be pestered to exchange US$ on the black market or attend a pricey tango show.
Unsurprisingly, protests and pickets are common and worries are expressed in the streets. I finally found a way to spot government buildings in Argentina: they are the ones with the walls covered with political graffiti.
“Una pregunta por favour…”
Every day, two or three locals ask me for directions. A couple of times, I was able to confirm it was “dos calles por allá”—and of course, I said “dos caChes por aCha.” I was actually flattered to be mistaken for a local woman. Yes, I do love Porteños even if like French, their attitude sometimes annoys me. But again, I am one of these annoying French, pessimistic and caustic…