Local Customs in Buenos Aires
Argentines are friendly people and never shy away from a chance to touch one another. It is customary to greet one another with a kiss on the right cheek, even when first meeting someone, for both men and women. However, it is acceptable for men to shake hands when first meeting each other.
As in most of Latin America, aspects of machismo culture still prevail, which can have its charms as well as its frustrations. Men are expected to hold doors and chairs for women, while female visitors can expect more aggressiveness from men in bars and clubs, and occasional catcalls while walking down the street. Age and sex also still play a factor in employment; it isn’t uncommon to read job listings for restaurants where the candidate must be female and under 30 years old.
At the workplace, business casual is the general dress code, although at many banks in the Microcentro a suit and tie are the norm.
The most prevalent tradition that Argentina is known for is mate (pronounced ‘mah-teh’), which is an herb infusion much like tea. The culture surrounding this drink is unique and important to the Argentines. To share a cup of mate is to say to someone that s/he is important to you. It is a form of welcoming and bringing him/her into your life. When the mate cup is passed to you, fight the urge to say “thank you,” as this symbolizes that you are finished and don’t want any more. It is polite to finish the drink, then return it to your host, who will fill more water into the gourd and pass it along to the person next to you. You will see Argentines sitting in the park with their mate cups (and metal straws) and a thermos of scalding hot water tucked under their arm. It is occasionally served in restaurants as well, but for the most part, it is something done between friends and family at home or on a nice walk around the city.
Another tradition in the city is tango — born in the immigrant streets of La Boca and San Telmo. Milongas, or tango dance halls, are spread around the city. There’s also outdoor tango, open to the public, on Sunday evenings in Barrancas de Belgrano (Av. Juramento and Av. Zavalia) and Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo (Defensa and Humberto 1o). If you’re not one for dancing, just listening to the bandoneon-based music and watching the dancers circle around the cement floor of the gazebos is a mesmerizing experience.
Argentina is known for its beef, and parrillas (‘pah-ree-shas’), or steakhouses, serving asado (grilled meat) are everywhere. Some of the best are in Palermo Soho (Miranda, located at Costa Rica 5602, 4771-4255, and La Cabrera, located at Cabrera 5099, 4831-7002; it is recommended to call ahead and make reservations at either of these parrillas), and others are small neighborhood establishments that you won’t find in guide books (Big Mama, in Belgrano, located in the 2100 block of Juramento). The best way to truly enjoy real Argentine asado, though, is to get an invitation from a local to go to their home for a Sunday afternoon dinner.
Mealtimes in Buenos Aires are similar to those in Spain. Breakfast is eaten early, and is usually just a medialuna (small croissant) or alfajor (Argentine cake sandwich) and coffee; lunch is later in the day, around 2pm; and dinner is frequently not eaten until 10pm. Because of this, don’t expect to be able to get a table at a restaurant for dinner before 8pm, and if it’s an early lunch you want expect to only be able to order from a small section of sandwiches on the lunch menu. A common mid-day snack is an empanada (meat pie), and you can find them at any bakery, cafe or restaurant. You can pick a few up to go (say “para llevar”), or sit and enjoy one with an espresso while you’re waiting for dinnertime. Eating is a social activity in Argentina, but because of the vast size of the city and the number of commuters, it is not uncommon to see people dining by themselves. So, grab a book or magazine, and head to a cafe to sit the hours away.