Little Italy + NYC = Buenos Aires? Who Knew?!

I’m human, therefore I make assumptions. I assumed I knew what I was getting myself into when I decided to spend 6 months in Argentina. I assumed I knew enough Spanish to ask basic questions and make polite chit-chat. I assumed I’d be eating some version of rice and beans and tortillas quite a lot. But, considering I’m human, I also make mistakes. I was slightly mistaken regarding my language abilities. I was quite mistaken regarding the culture and culinary traditions of Buenos Aires, and I was by no means prepared for the intensity of the new life I was about to walk into.

Mendoza, Argentina

Mendoza, Argentina

The first big shock I got in Buenos Aires was how heavy the porteño accent was! I had never heard Spanish with such a distinct accent; the porteños practically sang when they spoke, and every other world was punctuated with a hand gesture. The vocab was all new to me as well- and the verb conjugations?! What had happened to the Spanish I’d learned back in the US? Everything sounded so…Italian…

The first three days in the city were definitely rough. All the porteños thought I was leaving letters out of words and I thought they were adding them in! The accent started to make sense quite quickly though, considering I was totally immersed in the language and I had to learn to get around. All of my classes were in Spanish, I talked in Spanish for hours with my host mom and sister, and, if I wanted to get anywhere on the bus, I even had to speak in Spanish to the driver. So, whether it was a conscious change or not, I grew accustomed to the new accent and started using it myself.

Palermo—please note: the tree has a sweater?!

Palermo—please note: the tree has a sweater?!

At first the strong “sh” sounds seemed odd to me and the extra vowels rolled around in my mouth, but two weeks in and I was actively trying to pronounce everything like a born-and-bred porteña. I threw myself headfirst into the culture and the accent and embraced them fully. Six months later, I was chattering away like any other college girl about movies and shoes, but now with a full-blown porteño accent! Mission accomplished! Though I don’t have a porteño accent anymore (thanks to spending the following 5 months in Chile), the porteño accent will forever hold a place in my heart. I absolutely love hearing it and I grin like a kid in a candy shop every time I hear someone say “¡Che!”

As an avid Tex-Mex lover I was also surprised to find no burritos in Argentina. My host family had no idea what a burrito was either! I had done a bit of research on museums to visit and places to workout but it had never occurred to me to look into the typical foods! I quickly learned that due to a huge percentage of Italians during the first wave of immigration, Argentina, and especially Buenos Aires, has a huge Italian influence (which also explains the crazy sing-song accents!). Though Italy is half a world away from Argentina and the first Italian immigrants arrived over a hundred years ago, the Italian presence is still alive and well. At almost any restaurant in the city you can get pizza or pasta, and tiny cappuccinos and fancy coffee are everywhere too! Who knew that Buenos Aires would be the Little Italy of South America?!

Plaza de Mayo in BA

Plaza de Mayo in BA

The last shock I had was the type of realization that continually hits you; that Buenos Aires really is full of endless opportunities.  I had no idea just how alive Buenos Aires would be. People always say that New York City is “the city that never sleeps” but I beg to differ: Buenos Aires is the real deal! People had told me it was a large city, the nightlife was bumpin’, shows and performances would always be coming through town. But people say those things about ALL cities, so how was I to know what was true and what was an exaggeration? As ridiculous as it may sound, I don’t think anyone exaggerated to me about how crazy, amazing, beautiful the city would be. Every weekend I spent exploring a different part of Buenos Aires, whether it was the market in San Telmo, the restaurants in Palermo Soho or cafes in Recoleta. Every day was new and exciting and even though I did different things every chance I got there was so much I didn’t have time to do! I honestly think a year spent in Buenos Aires wouldn’t have been enough time to fully explore everything the city had to offer.

La Boca, a borough in Buenos Aires

When it comes down to it, Buenos Aires was nothing like I expected; it was a million times better. I learned so much about Argentina simply by being immersed in the culture and I loved every second of it. All the initial assumptions I had made about Argentina were based on things I’d heard or read, but reading about another nation is by no means a replacement for actually going to that nation and experiencing everything first-hand. All the little quirks of Argentina are what makes it such an interesting place and living in Buenos Aires is the best way to discover what all the hype is about. So what are you waiting for? Book that plane ticket and challenge what you thought you knew! You never know what you’ll find when you land in Buenos Aires.

Syd Ulrich-Dogonniuck studied abroad with API in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Valparaiso, Chile. She is currently servings as an API Peer Mentor at Virginia Tech University. 

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