We love tourists at Foto Ruta, but we also acknowledge that they have created some pretty hilarious stereotypes. Nobody wants to be one of those stereotypes when they travel, but we know, it’s hard to strike the balance between having fun, blending in, and making the most of your vacation.
Here are some ways you can make the most of your “quest for fun” and avoid becoming the stereotypical gringo in Buenos Aires.
1. Learn to Pronounce “Buenos Aires” Correctly
Nobody here expects your Spanish to be perfect, but we have had many visitors here, and nothing makes us cringe more than hearing the way foreigners say “Buenos Aires.” It sounds something like, “Bwinnis Erris.” That sort of pronunciation digs yourself into a gringo hole where the only people who talk to you will be trying to sell over-priced tango shows or tours that start at the Hard Rock Café. Nobody will treat you the same once you butcher the name of their city. Okay, we are exaggerating a bit, but it really does sound bad.
Buenos Aires should be pronounced “Bwenos Ay Res.” The hardest part tends to be the “Ay” part. Try saying “ay ay ayyyy”. Sing it, like you are in a mariachi band. Don’t even worry if the “r” in “Res” comes out sounding very American – as long as you aren’t saying “Erris” you are good to go.
Even if your Spanish is horrible, Argentines really appreciate you making the effort to speak their language, so even if you haven’t spoken Español since high school, try communicating with people in Spanish first, regardless of how likely it is that you will switch back to English a few minutes into the conversation. You will find that people treat you differently.
2. Try to Accept an Offer to Share a Mate
When one of our moms came to visit in 2008, we were on a group tour of northern Argentina when the usually silent, reserved bus driver offered her some of his mate. She immediately refused, trying to repress her disgust at the idea of sharing a straw with a man she had never met. We are sure this was not the first time that happened to a man who drives gringos around for a living, but mate is an important part of the culture, and it is almost impossible to try it without sharing it.
Mate is a tea-like infusion that is very popular in South America. In any park in Buenos Aires, you are sure to see 75% of those sitting on the grass drinking it with their giant thermos of hot water, chatting with their friends. It is drunk with a straw – a single straw that friends, co-workers or even strangers are pretty comfortable sharing.
While you may not like it, try to open up to the idea, because if someone is sharing their mate with you, it is a kind gesture; the person is trying to make you feel at home and comfortable by showing you are welcome in whatever circle you happen to be in at the moment.
3. Drink Fernet
Fernet is a bittersweet, digestive spirit that is very popular in Buenos Aires. Most people here drink it with coke (regular, not diet), and since it is virtually unknown in the US, anyone who orders a fernet at a bar will be automatically lowered to at least a 6 out of 10 on the “Obnoxious Gringo” scale. The single act of drinking fernet won’t get you down to even a 5 out of 10, because many American exchange students (not surprisingly) embrace fernet with open arms and then make fools of themselves night after night, but limit yourself to a few and you should be good to go.
The important thing is that you will definitely feel a bit more local, and feeling local is the first step to appearing local to others! And there’s nothing like a little liquid courage to help you practice your Spanish while you’re at it.
On top of being a digestive, fernet has ingredients that can treat menstrual cramps, hangovers, and for those of you heading to Buenos Aires after a long trek on the Oregon Trail, cholera!
4. Try a Different Kind of Tour
There are lots of different ways to see this city, and not all of them have to be on big, red tour buses with loud speakers. There are plenty of tours here that make you feel like you have experienced something few others have, and those are the things that make a vacation memorable. Of course, we consider Foto Ruta to be one of those types of experiences, but we have other ideas too.
Jed Rothenberg runs LandingPadBA.com, a website that offers great options for both tourists and those planning to stay in Buenos Aires for months. One our favorites is his new Man Tour, which takes you back to “fading arts” of Buenos Aires through a visits to a VIP cigar bar, fifth generation hat shop, and traditional barber shop, all in a neighborhood few tourists see. Check out the website for other options.
Madi Lang’s BA Cultural Concierge offers trip planning for the type of tourist who wants something customized and unique. The most important thing about Madi is that she knows everything you would want to know about Buenos Aires – whether you love history, tango, politics, or even cats (yes, she has planned a trip for a cat lover before), she will make your Buenos Aires dreams come true. She offers excellent tours of the city that cover the basics while showing you hidden treasures, and if there’s any service she can’t provide personally, she hooks it up for you.
Elvira Museri’s tourist agency, Anda Responsible Travel, conducts responsible and sustainable tourism, leading different tours through Buenos Aires and the rest of Argentina. The idea is to respect and make use of natural resources and celebrate the socio-cultural authenticity of the host country. Tours can be tailored to individuals, groups, corporate trips, or for volunteers. They make stops at local NGO’s and organizations while showing you the important sights (and they also donate a portion of their profits to the organizations visited).
5. Don’t Eat Near the Recoleta Cemetery
Don’t get us wrong, you’ve got to see the cemetery when you go to Buenos Aires. It is a definite must-see, it’s free, and of course, clever Argentines have taken advantage of this by building the biggest tourist-trapping bunch of restaurants and bars around it. We have a friend (who shall not be named) who came here for a month as an exchange student in 2007 and actually left thinking that this part of the city was the “happening spot” for night-life. She never even got to Palermo. That’s how bad this area is for tourists. It’s a nice area, and from the looks of things, you think the parrillas are traditional, that the bars are cool, and that anyone who is anyone hangs around Plaza Francia, the park next to the cemetery, all day. The truth is that this could not be further from the truth. We think all tourists should stay away from those restaurants and bars.
The only way to do this is to steer clear of the men trying to tempt you into their restaurants from the street. Those guys are like hypnotists, they use their charm and persuasions to an extent that you actually end up convinced that it is an excellent idea to choose that restaurant over the other identical parrillas down the street. Just avoid their stare, pretend you don’t hear them, and keep walking.
We don’t think there’s anything horrible about falling into tourist traps once in a while, but if you are looking for somewhere the locals go, go somewhere else. Almost any hole-in-the-wall parrilla in any neighborhood of the city will be good enough. The best restaurants in Buenos Aires can be found in Guia Oleo, a website that allows members to rate their gastronomical experiences, making it very reliable.
Oh, and one last thing — for god’s sake, don’t go into that jungle-themed bar. You’ll know what we’re talking about when you see it.