Coming to a new culture made me realize some of the norms that I took for granted. Here is some advice if you’re thinking about touring BA:
When I visited Chile in August with my parents, my Dad mentioned that he would like to rent a car, and drive to our destination of Portillo. My freak-out reaction offended him, but when he visits to Buenos Aires, he will understand why the idea of driving in South America with a non-native terrified me.
As it turned out, Chilean traffic was much more subdued and rule abiding, and my Dad, who is the best driver I know, would have done fine there. Buenos Aires on the other hand has a driving style which I would rank more chaotic than Calcutta or Cairo. Not that I’ve driven in either of those cities….
Buenos Aires traffic is appalling. Lane designations have no meaning. Speed limits are rarely heeded. Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way, EVER, even if the light indicates otherwise. Bus drivers, trying to keep a tight schedule are responsible for the majority of pedestrian deaths in the city, and enormous pile up accidents are not an uncommon news report. Drivers act carelessly, drunk driving restrictions aren’t so tight, and turn signals are never used. Red lights inspire drivers to speed up and honk their horns, not slow to a stop.
Traffic in Buenos Aires is a true manifestation of chaos and anarchy. Please tourists, unless you are completely adapted to this style of driving, do not drive in the city.
4. Opportunity Makes a Thief
When dining out in the good old US of A, I never thought twice about leaving my oversized bag wide open and unnattended in the chair next to me. Nothing has ever happened to it, and I have always felt very secure.
In Buenos Aires, I never let my purse out of my sight, and usually not out of my arms. Maybe nothing would happen, but I’d just as soon not provide any could-be thief with temptation. If you’d like my advice on the safest purse styles, check this out.
3. My What a Lovely Camera You
When I was researching Buenos Aires before I came, I had a hard time finding street-view photos of the city. Now that I’m here I realize that is because no one carries around cameras. Why? They don’t want to get robbed!
My dear friend and amazing photographer, Clare, who studied abroad here often walked around with her very nice camera, taking pictures, and never had any trouble. So don’t feel discouraged photographers, just be extra cautious. Check out some of Clare’s pictures here!
I don’t want to scare timid tourists away with scary stories. Bad things can happen to you no matter how careful you are, but I act cautiously just the same.
2. Eat at American Chains
My first day in Buenos Aires was extremely overwhelming. I was completely alone, in a big city, not knowing anyone or anything, or most importantly, HOW to do things. It is intimidating to walk into a restaurant in a new city without knowing any of the customs and having very minimal knowledge of the language. So what did I do on my first day? I went to Starbucks. The familiar menu and universal decorating scheme were so comfortingly familiar, and I knew that no matter what, I would be ok. I still go to Starbucks, especially when I feel a little homesick. In the words of Howard Schulz himself, ‘Starbucks represents more than a cup of coffee’. To me, it’s the American Embassy.
So that is my excuse. I encourage you, tourists and travelers, to avoid the familiar temptation of your favorite American chains like Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King and Subway, despite their predominant street presence in Buenos Aires. If you are looking for a coffee alternative, try Aroma, or Havanna. You will get your caffeine fix and a cultural experience all in one. And if you need a fast, easy and cheap lunch, check out one of the millions of Panaderias or Pizza shops and try some empanadas.
1. Charge It!
My second week in Buenos Aires I used my debit card at a shoe store. I was buying a pair of sandals and I didn’t have enough cash on me. The store let me pay with my card, and I left happily with my new shoes. That was the first, and unfortunately the last time that I would ever use that card in Buenos Aires.
The very next day I received an email from my bank saying that I had over-withdrawn my account balance. I knew that was impossible, and so I checked my online banking, only to discover that my credit card number had been stolen and used to purchase building supplies here in Buenos Aires.
So…I had to call, cancel my card, explain that it was stolen, petition to repeal the charges, and order a new card. This is all standard procedure, but when you are doing it internationally, it is extra stressful. It is a better idea to use the ATM and pay for smaller purchases in cash. For large expenses, like hotel, etc, your card will be safe, but when in doubt, learn from my lesson and pay with cash.