Here are some of my other initial impressions of Buenos Aires—two are sort of personal, two are sort of general. If you missed it, my first impression was “What A Shitty City.”
1. It would be really easy to gain a lot of weight here. There are bakeries on almost every block in the areas where I spend most of my time with incredibly tempting window displays. And, from my experience so far, the tastes live up to the advertising.
Add to this the fact that there are ice cream shops every four blocks selling creamy, intensely flavored deliciousness. Most places offer an amazing range of 30-40 flavors. Most shops offer a “cuarto,” which is a size that allows for three flavors. It is a little large, but I have managed it. Last week, I may have had ice cream four days in a row at four different places. They all were so good that I would not be able to pick a favorite without further testing.
2. I am too old for this. I heard a lot about how late everything happens in Buenos Aires before I got here. Experiencing it is a whole different thing. On my first night in town, I met friends from DC who now live in Bs As. We went to dinner. At 9.00 pm. And the restaurant was only 25% full. When we left about two hours later, every table was full, and more than one included children under the age of 10. Most restaurants do not even open for dinner until 8.00 or 9.00 pm, and they do not really want you to arrive that early.
This week, I left my house after 10.00 pm to meet someone for dinner and drinks. When I arrived, we had the whole lounge area to ourselves (there were diners and people at the bar). It got busy around midnight. I arrived home at 1:30 am. Me! The early bird! (P.S. I had a very hard time in class the next day.)
Although I have not experienced it yet, this is how typical Saturday nights work. People meet for dinner around 10 pm. When they finish, they go to someone’s apartment for “la previa,” which is drinks, talking, and maybe a card game or something. No one leaves for a club before 2.00 am, and it is normal to get home at sunrise. If I ever manage to pull this off, I will let you know.
From what I can tell, businesses do not open that much later here to accommodate for the fact that people stay up so much later. Basically, I think people here are just exhausted all of the time.
3. Crossing the street is dangerous. In Bogotá, crossing the street was dangerous because I could not see the traffic light to know what color it was. Buenos Aires takes this to a whole different level. I
do not have to cannot worry about seeing the traffic lights because often there are not any. As in, there are numerous intersections that have no traffic guidance. At all. No traffic lights. No stop signs.
This means that cars and people both are risking bodily harm when they venture into the intersection. I honestly do not understand how cars are supposed to know who has the right of way. I have stood on some corners watching the traffic, and while cars slow down as they approach, they do not come close to a complete stop before looking to see if it safe to proceed. Somehow it seems to work most of the time, but I don’t trust it.
4. People love their locks. In a way that is dangerous.
The situation: You are always locked in or out. People here lock their apartment doors from the inside. With keys. After they locked themselves inside their buildings. With locks that require the use of a key to get out. I believe that in the US, most states require that exit doors open without a key.
In Colombia, my three-week homestay also had us locked into the house and into the property with a padlocked gate. I moved to an apartment where the deadbolt operated with a thumb turn on the inside (phew).
However, we were locked into the building. The only keys were held by the three “porteros” (doormen), who were on duty 24 hours. We could get in or out at any time (unless the portero was opening the garage gates or in the bathroom). None of us had keys to the front door, so if there had been an emergency, I sure hope he would have unlocked the door before running. Porteros do not seem to be as common in Bs As so I have a key to the front door of my building. I am not sure which is safer.
The reasoning(?): It was explained to me that people do this for security. I also have been told that since most buildings in both countries are made of concrete, fires are rare and I should not worry. Oh, ok.
Inconvenience: There is a huge inconvenience factor. When a visitor comes, you cannot buzz them in. You physically have to go downstairs to let them in, and physically go downstairs to let them out. If you are meeting up with someone at their apartment before heading out, they would rather not do this up-and-down game so you are left standing on the street while they finish getting ready and come down to meet you. This also means you cannot dash inside to use their bathroom before heading out. (Not that I know this from personal experience or anything.)
Awkward and dangerous situations: What about going on a date? The idea of going to someone’s apartment and relying on them to let me out is uncomfortable. Even more so, this set up is dangerous for anyone who is suffering physical abuse in the home. Through working with domestic violence survivors I have learned how difficult it can be to walk away from an abusive relationship. Here, there is an extra physical barrier to leaving. I think of clients who escaped a violent episode by leaving their apartments or homes and seeking at a neighbor’s who now would be trapped. I also think about other physical abuse that happens in homes towards children and the elderly and their physical inability to get to safety.
Small bright side: In Bs As, at least the keys are interesting.