Buenos Aires is commonly depicted by guidebooks, study abroad manuals, and programs offices as a vibrant city just ready to burst with sunshine and energy. Although this classification may be true in part, it is not necessarily the purest of definitions. It’s the classic Rectangle, Square debacle really. One of the unfortunate consequences Buenos Aires endures from being a cultural hub of nightlife and excitingly buzzed around the clock is that this environment houses quite the number of shady individuals.
To be clear, most people in this city are the most welcoming you will meet anywhere; with community cultures such as maté and kisses as greetings it is almost impossible not to feel at home. But, a big city breeds the inevitable scandal towards a naïve incoming traveler. To help you avoid losing your pesos or your purse, here are the top five people to look out for while studying abroad in Buenos Aires.
1. The Subte Crawler
The Subte crawler, while the most common, is also the most illusive of our characters. The Subte system is Buenos Aires’ version of a metro, and commonly used by a vast variety of people. Subte crawlers, while deft in their own individual right, often work in packs. These groups take on a single gringo at a time with a preconceived plan in place. Signs of a coup d'état include intentional crowding, obvious distractions, awkward grouping or loud unnecessary conversations. If you witness any of these, do not pass go or collect two hundred dollars; remove yourself from the situation. If physical removal is impossible, simply cover your money and be aware of your individual surroundings as opposed to what distractions are attempting to sway you. Prevention techniques include avoiding speaking anything but Spanish whilst on the underground rails, always keeping a literal hand and eye on your money, and pulling down the skin below your eyeball, which is a common Porteño way of saying “I see you, don’t even think about it.”
2. The Political Acti-fist
Nueve de Julio and Veinticinco de Mayo are two of the most historical days in Argentina’s history; they mark the independence and revolution of Argentina from Spain. Although the streets are always lively in Buenos Aires, these two days alone put the rest to shame. If you are planning on sleeping on those nights, don’t. The loudspeaker resounds throughout the entire city, which holds a certain Hunger Games quality for the unsuspecting traveler. If you do plan to go out on these nights, keep a close out for those activists who seem particularly rowdy. Where as most Porteños are simply enjoying music, drinks, and occasional spontaneous street acrobats, there are always people who take it too far. Violence, although not common, definitely exists on the average day in Buenos Aires. The simple magnitude of the crowds, signs, and drums makes this a prime advantage for outsiders to be taken advantage of. So, do yourself a favor, find some friends to join in the festivities with and don’t travel alone especially on these nights.
3. The Graveyard Taxi Driver
The following statement should not be taken as a suggestion, but as law; do not take any taxi that is not marked “Radio Taxi.” This Travel Pro tip is so simple, yet overlooked so easily by the everyday traveler in a hurry. Why does it really matter? Here’s the difference- The Radio Taxis are regulated by the government, have full bios and descriptions of your drivers, and overall have more pleasant workers. In contrast, many a horror story has gone around about the non-radio taxi driver. Whether it be waking up in Taxi driver’s house or being robbed at screwdriver-point, these stories circulate with travelers like wildfire. While probably over exaggerated, there is definitely some truth in the statements. Taxis are very affordable in Argentina, and an excellent source or transportation to those parts of the city where the Subte doesn’t run. Don’t let your experience studying abroad in Buenos Aires be ruined by a fraud though; always look for the Radio.
4. The Gringo Stalker
The Gringo Stalker is a particularly smart hooligan, and loves to hang out in just the right places. Online money withdrawal systems, such as www.xoom.com, have the convenience of city pickup and generous conversion rates from the U.S. Dollar to the Argentine Peso. An efficient gringo stalker has prime access to travelers because of the set locations that are known to be giving out a lot of money. When doing a money transfer, always avoid carrying it on your person for a long time, carrying it in all one spot on your person, and of course making it obvious that you have it. Additionally, don’t take a taxi immediately when you leave the pickup location; walk several blocks away towards a main street and take a taxi which likely hasn’t witnessed you walking out of such a money hot spot. Although it may seem exaggerated or like common sense, it would certainly be worth it not to lose your month’s worth of Pesos.
5. The Street Whisperer
Men admiring women on the street is far from a country specific trait. Quite in contrast, it seems to be a global phenomenon of similarity. However, the Porteño men have a particular habit that will send shivers down the unsuspecting receiver’s spine. Ladies, this particular Travel Pro tip is specifically for you. Rather than those who shout, bark, hoot, or holler from afar, the street whisperer will wait till the prey is close and whisper his thoughts into her ear. This is especially disturbing before six a.m. before you are fully coherent or have had a cup of coffee. “Que linda chica,” “mi bonita” or “mi cama es tu cama” are not something particularly pleasant to hear about an inch from your ear from a complete stranger who may or may not accompany his lovely words with physical touch. Avoiding the street whisperer can be very difficult, mostly because it is difficult to spot him as a threat until it is too late. The best defense is to always keep completely alert to your surroundings. If you hold a straight face while walking with friends instead of chatting and laughing, it is much more likely for you to arrive at your destination emotionally unscathed.
Well, folks, there you have it. Now you are completely ready to take on the beautiful and vibrant city that is Buenos Aires. There are so many snazzy events to attend and opportunities to take that it can be so easy to forget basic safety precautions. Just remember to follow these tips and avoid the characters described above and you will be golden during your study abroad program in Buenos Aires.