The Mole Diaries: Buenos Aires (Volume 3)
Accommodation and living
Websites such as inbairesapartments.com or craigslist Buenos Aires are often very helpful. If you book yourself onto a language course to help ease you in (see Expanish, or others) then they’ll sort out initial accommodation for you. If your Spanish is already up to scratch, there are loads of ‘inmobiliarias’ (estate agents) around the city so just pop into one of them when you can.
I often get asked whether it’s worth looking to live with Spanish speaking roommates – the truth is I’m not sure because I chose to live alone (as it was less hassle to organise from the start) and my friends who tried finding single rooms in larger apartments/houses found it hard. If all went well and you were lucky, then it probably would improve your Spanish – but as I’ll detail in later parts there are many other ways to do that.
Personally, I lived in Palermo and I (heavily) recommend you look into that area (or the surrounding areas of Palermo Soho/Recoleta). It was safe, scenic, social and easily accessible by public transport. I should probably emphasise the ‘safety’ aspect – Buenos Aires is an enormous city but it would take someone brave to live in many of the parts other than those mentioned above. If you are careful then you should be fine, but if you are a girl I wouldn’t generally recommend walking alone at night in Buenos Aires, whichever place you live.
Work and Economy
Before I arrived in BA I had sorted out a 6-month contract with Deloitte which would serve as the foundation and bedrock of my year away. It was made easier by my previous work for them in London to secure this ‘pasantia’ (internship) – normally it is rare to find any company that will tell you more than a few months in advance that they’ll take you on, much to the dismay of all my friends who were there with me or those who have just started for the ‘13/14 year. For those who want to look for a more high profile job akin to mine, check out websites like zonajobs or bumeran (or craigslist) to see what's around. I wrote a few posts (here, here and here) about the current state of the economy which may be worth reading, especially the first one which concerns the dollar and the black market for currency – if you bring dollars in cash to Argentina, you will save about 50% on everything you buy. A pretty sad fact; but a fact nonetheless.
The actual work I was doing wasn’t really what I’d call the most exciting (I was in audit), but it was great for my Spanish as all office/client correspondence was in Spanish, as was the work itself apart from the occasional translation piece. The wage was good for Argentina but would be pretty terrible for any first world country, especially considering living costs in Argentina aren’t that much cheaper than other comparable countries. Either way, these jobs can be hard to find, so you’ll probably be glad to hear that I think my Spanish would have improved to the same level anyway if I had have gone to do a course at the UBA (University of Buenos Aires) or something similar instead.
Things you need to bring and do when you arrive
If you have organised an official job and they require you to get a visa, this could take a while. Make sure you bring with you your birth certificate and a CRB (Criminal Records Bureau, or your country's equivalent) - both of these documents MUST be both translated and notarised (look up exactly what this means) otherwise they’ll do to you what they did to me and make you go away and sort it out, leaving you in the dark for ages before you give them what they want.
In terms of sorting out a current account, my company did this for me (so they could pay in my monthly salary). I'm not exactly sure how its done, but if you go into a bank (Argentina has branches of HSBC, Standard Bank, Santander, etc) then a card should be available to a foreigner – I say that only because they knew I was foreign and gave me one anyway.
You’ll also need to get a SUBTE card – you can register in one of many locations with the purple subte sign.
Little places to look out for
Make sure you:
1. Go to Bomba del Tiempo (an impromptu al fresco drumming night).
2. Head along to San Telmo market (and go on a Sunday to see a tango ‘milonga’).
3. Do the bike tour of Palermo forests (any maybe play a round of golf at the Palermo Lakes course!)
4. Go to Terrazas del Este on a Saturday night.
5. Take a salsa or Tango class at La Viruta.
6. Play casual football with FC BAFA (Buenos Aires Futbol Amigos).
7. Go to El Caminito in Boca.
8. Take the yellow tour bus round the city (trust me!)
9. Celebrate the New Year in Puerto Madero.
10. Have a big, fat, delicious Argentinian steak at any number of great restaurants!
11. Go to plaza Serrano either during the day to find a bizzare marketplace or at night for a unique vibe and one too many stag/hen parties…
12. See a match at the Bombanera (boca juniors) or Monumental (river plate) stadiums.
13. Buy your own mate set!
14. Taste some of Freddo’s amazing dulce de leche ice cream on a hot December day.
The type of Spanish you’ll find in Buenos Aires is different to that of mainland Spain or indeed the rest of South America – the ll’s are pronounced sh’s, the j’s are said as throaty ch’s, the accent in general is fast and they have a whole slang called the lunfardo which is unique to BA. Furthermore, they neglect the use of the tú form in favour of the ‘voseo’ – before going out I heavily recommend reading up a bit, especially the ‘usage’ section of this Wikipedia article. Finally, below is a copy of an article I wrote earlier this year with some tips to maximise your time abroad in terms of learning the language to the best of your ability:
1. Try not to find English speakers.
What I mean by that is do not deliberately be on the look out for that sort of home comfort. What I do not mean is ignore Brits/Americans when you chance across them. You need to find a balance but more importantly you need to...
2. Surround yourself with Spanish-speaking friends.
It might seem trivial, and sometimes you might not even say anything - but ALL the time your brain is getting used to Spanish sounds and words, ebbs and flows to the sentences and most importantly random pieces of vocab. Girlfriend/boyfriend? Even better. I am of the opinion (just like most things), that you could study and study for many years and be able to write the perfect essay or letter, but without interaction and practice you will struggle. At the end of the day, you don't want to end up like this… …
3. Do something during the day.
It could be work, it could be study, it could even be volunteering. As long as you have a routine you have one less thing to worry about, your mind can relax and focus on what you are here to do - learn a foreign language, surely one of the top things on any given person's 'life list'.
4. Put yourself out there.
What you should not do is when you get home spend all evening on Skype to friends and family back home (although obviously don't neglect that either). If it's home comforts you're looking for, try and translate whatever you did back home to where you are now, whether that's sports, art, music, dance - whatever it is, they have it here too! That's the best way to get to grips with a new culture - do things your way, then do things their way, notice the difference and get used to it. All the while you'll be meeting new people and the language will be slowly but surely making its way into everything you do.
5. If you're working, get a teacher.
In the last month or so I recruited a teacher to come and help me out with ironing out some grammar points during my lunch break. The thing is, unless you're going to spend more than, say, 18 months wherever you are (and having started with good knowledge), you're never going to be perfect. The sooner you realise that, the sooner you can try and be as best as you can. Personally, my teacher is excellent and has helped a lot - and I'll now go back to the UK in a better position than I would have been.
6. Do not despair!
It's last but by no means least. At the beginning, things are tough. I'd studied Spanish for about 4 or 5 years before coming, and naively thought it would be easy - it's not. You have to plug away, keep your head up, and believe that even if it doesn't look like things are getting any easier that they will in the end. Languages are a natural human resource and your brain knows what its doing even if you do not realise, so let it take it's course and remember that everyone has been where you have before.
As I'm not naturally a big shopper, my advice here is limited. However, I can say that for a clothes-related bargain you can look along Santa Fe street leading into Once, and for more upper market goods you’re better off in Alto Palermo or Abasto shopping malls. Personally, any clothes I bought during the year either came from Roland Cotton (shirts/trousers for work), Zara (smart-casual stuff – white is HUGE in Argentina) or Bross (cheap but very cool T-shirts and jeans).
In terms of food shopping, while there are many ‘chinos’ (convenience stores) you’re probably better off in the long term heading to Carrefour or Disco – just don’t expect any multibuy discounts!
Probably the biggest regret of my year is not taking full advantage of my weekends by going out the city. There are so many places to go – Rosario, Jujuy, Iguazu (!), Bariloche, Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego etc – or even Las Malvinas (the Falkland Islands) if you’re prepared to go out the way!
In terms of travelling round South America, a very popular route (and the one I took with a friend) is Brazil – Argentina – Bolivia – Peru. For us, the journey started here… and got totally crazy here!
Not much to say here I’m afraid – BA is just not a big discount city! However, be sure to constantly check Groupon.com.ar for the best current deals.