A hint as to the origins of the inhabitants of Buenos Aires lies in the collective name they have chosen to call themselves, Porteños, orPeople of the Port. The population is largely comprised of immigrants from Europe, primarily Italy and Spain who arrived by boat in the late 19th century and early 20th century when the Argentine government went so far as to subsidise boat journeys in order to populate the growing city in The New World. The difficult economic climate at the time in Europe fed the exodus. The dominant culture today remains distinctly European.
¡Dale! punctuates sentences between the rapid-fire exchange between 2 Porteños lamenting the price of bread or the inconsiderate neighbours with their noisy asado party the night before. Much like ‘OK’ in English, it is unique to Argentines, part of a rather large repertoire of lunfardo that characterises the Argentine version of Spanish, Castellano.
Nearly 2 months living in the city gave me a small peek into the lives of Porteños, living today in a climate of high inflation and questionable governance meant that Porteños are by necessity, resilient and adaptable. I personally found them more introverted than their Brazilian neighbours up north, but possess the same kindness and hospitality below the sometimes indifferent outer façade. I’ve been stopped by old ladies on the street for a chat and struck up conversations with random people genuinely curious about what a couple of foreign looking visitors with a smattering of Spanish might be doing in their city, what we think of Argentines in general, and everyone seemed to have an opinion on la presidente Christina Kirchner, mostly unpublishable. Almost without exception, everyone loves a good maté (a ubiquitous tea like drink that is an institution unto itself), a good Argentine steak and a glass of Malbec from Mendoza.
Dinner for Porteños is a fantastically late affair, we were often the first ones at our local Parilla at 8.45pm, when the chef was still having his mate before the dinner crowd and the waiters were still milling around and setting up tables. 9.30-10pm on a weekday would be typical Argentine and 11-11.30pm on weekends de rigueur. Our untrained bellies could not keep up and we often capitulated by 8pm or so, racked with pangs of hunger, although towards the end of our time in Buenos Aires, we had sufficiently adapted to the Porteño way of doing things and managed a semi-respectable 9pm, which no longer elicited a ‘Muy temprano!’ (Very early!) from the waiters when we sat down.
Strangely, I found them, in that sense, quite similar to the Chinese, who might not be the most friendly people outwardly but if you manage to peel back a couple of the outer layers, you might just be surprised by how hospitable they really are.
Mate, Vino, Bife, Dale.