Buenos Aires is “overhyped” and “annoying”
comment 8 Written by on July 30, 2010 – 6:55 am


Buenos Aires – overhyped and annoying? So says the New York Post in this recent article, What’s the deal with Buenos Aires?

It’s an interesting take. The author, like many residents, has a love-hate relationship with the city, which is not something that often makes it into the travel press.

So, are we ‘over’ Buenos Aires?

Well, nothing could be more ‘annoying’ than that line of thinking, but at the same time I can’t help thinking a BA backlash was inevitable. I have very rarely found anyone who is disappointed with it, but it is true that it has been massively hyped in recent years.

I first visited the city in 2003. This is hardly pioneering, yet at the time I didn’t know anyone in my personal circle of friends who had been. I was shocked by what I found, partially because I had very few preconceptions. I loved it and, like many, I went on to sing its praises to anyone who would listen.

BA has now been the talk of the travel industry for some years and I have lost count of how many people I know from the UK who have spent time there.

The tone of this New York Post article bugs me (as do a few standout lines that I’ll let you discover for yourself), but it’s got me thinking and I do agree with some points.

Let’s face it, when a lot of Europeans and Americans fell in love with BA in the mid 2000s, the currency was a factor. A few years ago tourists could go wild in its restaurants without even looking at the prices. And that includes the backpackers. This is changing.

These days the average European traveller can still consider an occasional ‘blowout’ in the best restaurants in town (whereas in London or New York these places wouldn’t even be on the radar), but overpriced, midrange Palermo Soho is fast catching up with overpriced, midrange London Soho. And as prices continue to rise, BA is not the bargain-basement holiday destination it once was.

Secondly, following all the hype, new visitors to BA expect to be bowled over instantly. But as the writer says, BA is less about the sights, more about the people, the barrios, the vibe and the nightlife. The Time Out BA City Guide has a nice take on this in its intro.

It’s also true that the Palermo scene has indeed become increasingly formulaic over the last few years, with every new bar becoming a stereotypical Wallpaper wannabe. But every city follows this same pattern. As the cool parts of town get increasingly expensive and well-trodden, they get inversely less ‘cool’. Fortunately, like in all cities, there are always up-and-coming places, putting the excitement back in. I think we’re going to see more and more of that in BA. Barracas, Colegiales, Chacarita, Villa Crespo: watch these spaces.

Reading the NY Post piece also reminded me of two things I have come across recently:
1) Firstly, a blog post by The Man who Fell Asleep. Half English and half Argentine, he’s been coming to BA since he was a kid and confesses he can’t help having a bit of resentment for everyone suddenly jumping on the BA bandwagon.
2) Secondly, the  song Puerto Madero by half American, half Argentinian singer Kevin Johansen. It includes some great lines about how “All the people that come to visit want to stay. And all the people who live here want to go away”.

So, is Buenos Aires annoying at times? Of course it is. Especially  if you were to step in dog shit while running for the bus only to find you have no monedas to pay the fare. But London is also annoying, when you slip on a tossed-away, free newspaper and find every bloody Tube line is down for engineering works. What big city isn’t annoying?

I like the idea of more warts and all travel pieces, but the warts are by nature very personal growths and can also be deceiving in their own way.

For the record, I am definitely not ‘over’ Buenos Aires. And neither, it turns out, is the writer from the NY Post.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons by Phillipe Taringo

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8 Responses to “Buenos Aires is “overhyped” and “annoying””

  1. Hi Vicky,

    A colleague sent me this post she found on Twitter, it is strikingly similar to my own Bs As experiences:

    ‘I first visited the city in 2003. This is hardly pioneering, yet at the time I didn’t know anyone in my personal circle of friends who had been… I loved it and, like many, I went on to sing its praises to anyone who would listen… I have lost count of how many people I know from the UK who have spent time there.’

    Really enjoyed reading it, en fin. Thanks!

  2. Well, we got on the train late and spent a month in BA in Dec08/Jan09. While it wasn’t as cheap as a couple year old guidebook made it out to be, we already knew that going in, so we weren’t shocked. We could still get a massive steak dinner with a couple bottles of wine for about $30US, so even on a backpacker budget, we sure as hell weren’t complaining. Try finding that deal anywhere in the US.

    The thing we loved about BA, and all of Argentina for that matter, was the people and the neighborhoods, just as you said. We had an apartment for the month in San Telmo, which was the perfect neighborhood for us, and we took Spanish classes while there as well. We just loved the local people, and we loved going to our corner stores each day to buy our fruits and veggies and food for the day, or going to what became local hangouts for us during our stay.

    The vibe and laid back nature of a city that huge is what we really loved about it. The chaos of cities like NY and London just wasn’t there, imo, and that was nice. ANd the Argentine culture, eating dinner at midnight, taking a few hours to eat and drink and hang out, was so refreshing. Everyone is always in a hurry in the states, and it was so nice to just sit and relax and not worry, and we felt that was the norm there.

  3. Hi, Vicky.

    I’ve found your blog through your couchsurfing profile, and enjoyed reading your posts.

    My wife and I are Brazilians, lived in NYC for the last 4 years and recently moved to Buenos Aires. The first time we came here was during Argentina crisis in 2001 and we have to agree that everything looked very different those days. Everything was cheaper and better. We used even buy Argentinean meat and bring back to Brazil in our luggage.

    However, after living here for some months, we’re kind over it and can’t wait to move away (which we shall do as soon as we sell the remaining 22 boxes of books we’ve printed here).

    It was very hard to get used to the Latin American way of doing things and the porteño snobish and indifferent behavior can be nerve-wracking. Sometimes, when we’re in a restaurant, for example, we fell like the waiter is doing us a favor, instead of doing the job he’s being paid to do. Won’t even mention the bureaucracy in public services…

    Anyways, it’s a fact that every city (not only the big ones) can be annoying – even New York was for us after a while. We’ve found out that’s when you have to pack your bag and move out! 😀

  4. Hi Henry, Thanks for sharing your thoughts and good luck in your next home. Back to NYC? Or somewhere new?
    How were things better when it was cheaper? You mean better standard of living for foreigners?
    With some things here, I find that get annoyed by them or come to admire them on some level, depending on my frame of mind at the time. I used to get really annoyed that everything closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays here (“It makes no business sense!), but now I am used to it and I like it. People use the time to spent it with their families/friends and not shopping/working. I actually wish we did more of that in other parts of the world.

  5. We’ll probably be heading to somewhere in Western Europe, but we haven’t decided yet.

    Buenos Aires was definitely a better deal to foreigners, but we also noticed that there was a decrease in quality. The food and clothing were better, taxis were cheaper (we never had to get the Subte those days), and I don’t remember as much scams as there are today. And some porteños complained the same to us.
    Every time a friend come to BsAs, we have to warn them about scams, fake peso bills, temporary rentals problems, and so on.

    And I think they have to spend their weekends in-home with their families because it’s so expensive to a family to lunch out, so this is the only alternative left.
    Actually, this is quite the same reality in Brazil, where people in their thirties have to live in their parents home, since they can’t afford to pay rent.

    I don’t know how is in Britain, but the families relations in US where a shock to us. Almost everybody is on their own. But these are two extremes.

  6. In Britain, young people tend to move out early and get a place to share with friends. Very few can afford to live alone, esp in London. There is a growing trend of kids that then boomeranging back the parental home later in life (in late 20s/30s), because they can’t pay rent and save at the same time. As for how family-orientated people are in the UK, I think that varies widely, but Latin culture generally revolves more closely around the family.
    As for prices here in BA, taxis have gone up a lot, but I always found it amazing that they were so cheap. I’d never dream of hopping in a taxi to cross the city in London.
    Public transport here in BA remains v v cheap and I’m glad of that. I’m quite happy living in a city where I get public transport the majority of the time, but I do like to have the luxury of being able to hop in a cab after a night out or if I am running late.
    I am shocked by how expensive clothes have become here and I’ve had plenty of things fall apart. No shoes have ever lasted more than a season, which is frustrating. Clothes are cheaper in the UK, but then again clothes in the UK can be too cheap and then that leads to stories like this: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/primark-faces-new-claims-that-it-uses-sweatshop-labour-1833843.html.

  7. Well, I understand those concerns about child or slave work manufacturing the goods we’re using every day, in every aspect of our lives.

    However, I don’t think the difference of prices are related only to cheap labor, it’s more about taxes over taxes, I think, specially because the same brands you’re buying in London, in NY or in Buenos Aires are inevitably made in China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Hong Kong and so on. Even if it’s not slave work, it’s very cheap work, just enough money to keep them alive to continue working (something like it was in Britain during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution…).

    Reading the book “Gomorra”, by Roberto Saviano, was an eye-opener to me, since I had no idea that counterfeit products were sold as original in brand stores to increase profit.

    Well, my wife bought an expensive tank at a brand store in a BsAs mall, and, after the first wash, it was ready to be used to mop the floor. However, we’re still wearing shirts we’ve paid 7 dollars, 4 years ago, in NY and that look just like new.

    And even if the taxi fares seem to be cheap to us (in Brazil, a cab ride is not cheap at all also), I think it’s not that cheap to porteños. Actually, I was even more impressed by the cab fares in Cusco and Lima, where you can ride for an hour and pay only 5 bucks (which is probably a lot to peruvians!)…

    It looks like most of the people earning their wages in peso are really struggling to make ends meet.

    Very interesting the way you exposed how is the family dynamic in UK. A similar phenomenon is happening in NY too, where a lot of people in their 30s and 40s are having to share an apartment. 3k a month for rent is not for everyone! 😀

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