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Everyday Differences Between the United States & Buenos Aires

by Ilona Nakshun
Hands interlocked with USA and Argentina flags

It’s been a month being in Argentina and I’ve noticed certain differences that are interesting and worth noting. Some of these things you can read and anticipate before embarking, and others you just need to experience for yourself.

1. The Water

Bottle of water in Argentina

On the first day, I learned that Buenos Aires really loves carbonated water. How did I find out? I went to a Starbucks and grabbed a water that was sitting there. Then, when I opened it, it started bubbling. After looking at the bottle extensively, I found where it said “con gas” which means “with gas.” If you don’t want carbonated water, you need to make sure it says “sin gas” on the bottle. If you’re at a restaurant, specify by telling your waiter “agua sin gas,” which means “water without gas.”

2. Pedestrian Signals

Sidewalk in Buenos Aires

In some areas of Buenos Aires, the pedestrian signals also have lights built into the sidewalk that flash green or red. I think it’s really useful, especially at night.

3. The Sidewalks and Shoes

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Buenos Aires, but the sidewalks are an obstacle course sometimes. My point is, I usually wear sneakers or some sort of comfortable shoes around town, but women in Buenos Aires wear a lot of open platform shoes. They’re definitely popular because they’re sold in every shoe store. Even though they seem dangerous to wear, my theory is that girls probably wear platforms shoes as a replacement for high heels. Since there is a lot of walking involved in Buenos Aires and the sidewalks are unforgiving, platform shoes at least have an even bottom and still give you that tall look. They are sold everywhere!

4. Cash and Change

Needing cash in Buenos Aires is not a question. While some places do take credit or debit cards, it would be too difficult to navigate through the city using only that payment option. Establishments that accept any kind of card will usually specify on the front window of the store or on the door.

But having cash doesn’t always solve all your problems either. For example, if you have something that costs 54 pesos and try to use a 500 peso bill, the place might not have the exact change for you and the they’ll ask if you have 4 more pesos. If you don’t, it could be a problem. I saw this firsthand: a cashier didn’t have 2 pesos to give in change, so to make up for it, he gave the patron a candy. I’m  this may have to do with the crisis in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

5. Tallying

Tallying system in Argentina

This is very small, but something I learned in my intensive Spanish class is that Argentinians tally points differently. Instead of drawing lines and putting one line through it, they draw a square and then a diagonal inside of it.

6. Nightlife

If you want to go out at night with local Argentinian friends, usually you’ll meet up no earlier than 10 PM (if everyone is on time). Going to a club (or boliche) is even later — most places open at 12 or 1 AM and it only starts getting crowded after 1 AM. The people keep going until 6 AM or until the sun rises. In the United States, people start going to clubs earlier — maybe around 11 — and establishments typically close around 2 or 3 AM. I still wonder how people here still have energy to wake up the next day and go about their daily lives! Whether that’s your style or not, it’s worth a try! Just make sure you’re in good company.

Well, there you go! Even after reading so much about Argentina and Buenos Aires before arriving, I still was not prepared for half of everyday cultural differences that I was going to experience, but that’s part of the adventure! ¡Hasta pronto!

This post was contributed by Ilona Nakshun, who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Buenos Aires, Argentina

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