Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Beauty of Buenos Aires

The metropolis of around 13 million people is commonly nicknamed the “Paris of Latin America”. I guess if one considers the spectacular grand avenues, countless plazas, stunning architecture, fine cuisine, thriving nightlife, and its reputation as the capital of psychoanalysis, Buenos Aires has some commonalities with Paris.

That being said, porteños (as Buenos Aires residents are called) are very hospitable and hot blooded like their Latin American neighbours (even if many refuse to admit it). Family and friendship ties are generally valued more than in North America, where rugged individualism and the “rat race” often strain personal bonds. Indeed, for me personally, the best thing about Buenos Aires is being surrounded by incredible people who I am lucky to call family.

After a year in Costa Rica, and carefully observing Tico friendships, I developed the idea that a very strong commitment to one’s family came at the price of devaluing friendship. My experience in Buenos Aires has proved me wrong. Just about everyone I know has kept many close friends from childhood, whom they consider to be very much a part of their family.

Contrasting what I see as pervasive emotional repression in North America, porteños generally have a strong need to be open about their feelings. I’ve overheard many conversations between close friends that sound much like psychoanalytic sessions. I’ve also found people to be quite open about having a shrink and are comfortable sharing the details of their sessions.

I imagine that this emotional openness has better prepared porteños to deal with the recent economic depression. I often ask myself how is it that despite the crisis, that I see people from all walks of life, smiling more, laughing more, hugging more, and kissing more than I’m used to seeing in Toronto (proudly known as one of the “best places to live in the world”)?

The nightlife in Buenos Aires is another phenomenon that I frequently bask in without fully understanding. BA at night is wilder than any city I’ve ever visited or even heard of second-hand.

A typical Friday or Saturday night for young porteños, usually 16 years old until their mid 30s, involves the following:

10 or 11PM: dinner with friends

1AM: pre-drinking at a bar, house or park

3AM: dancing at a club until daylight (usually between 6AM and 8AM).

Back in Toronto, it’s almost impossible to legally buy a drink past 2AM and most bars and clubs close by 3AM. In Buenos Aires, on any given day of the week, there are bars packed well into the early hours of the morning.

This club and bar scene reflects a wide-ranging porteño passion for leisure and entertainment. I am often shocked by how long the movie lines are for mediocre Hollywood blockbuster movies, by how late enormous bookstores are open, and by the amount of theatres on Corrientes (Buenos Aires’ version of Broadway).

There are too many soccer stadiums in Buenos Aires to count, and virtually every male I know, plays futbol 5 with their friends at least once a week. Interest in basketball and tennis has grown tremendously since the country began to produce some of the world’s best hoops and tennis players.

This evening I will be attending for the first time in my life what is probably considered to be the most pure porteño cultural expression: a tango show. Famous Argentine writer, Jorge Borges once said: We might say that without the evenings and nights of Buenos Aires, a tango cannot be made, and that in heaven there awaits us Argentines the Platonic idea of the tango, its universal form.

Given that I have yet to develop an appreciation for dance in any form that does not involve loud music and alcohol until six in the morning, I am looking forward to the experience.


Blogger Juanson said...


How would you characterize porteños in terms of their vanity, and what does this reflect argentine culture in general? While I did not agree with all of the fashion trends I saw in the city, they certainly were not boring or bland. Do you think that argentines are more vain in general, than say, North Americans, or do you think that concern with appearance (which is something I value, not in a superficial sense) has to do with something else?

9:38 AM  
Blogger Diego said...


Good question. To generalize, yes, I believe porteños are quite vain.

But I don't believe that Buenos Aires surpasses the vanity capitals of the world, namely, parts of Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Manhattan, South Beach, etc.

As you know, my view on the question of Argentine vanity is quite warped given that I spent a month serving drinks to models and millionaires in Punta del Este. That being said, porteños are no where near as outrageous in their fashion statements as people are in the above mentioned places. I am by no means an expert on the subject, but I often find the so-called fashion conscious in BA to be very uniform, at times quite classical, and often a step behind in imitating what are considered to be the latest trends in the north.

This general lack of innovation and individuality in the fashion industry, I believe, reflects a strong tradition of conformism found in most aspects of porteño culture, particularly in the upper class.

I think this overwhelming pressure to conform can be applied to just about everywhere else in Latin America - for example, look at the inexplicable craze young Costa Ricans have for skating gear, despite living in a city with potholed streets that make skating almost impossible.

Getting back to Buenos Aires. I’m sure you know about the porteño obsession with physical beauty leading to high rates of eating disorders and plastic surgery. It’s no coincidence that most Argentines and many visitors are convinced that the country produces the best looking women in the world. My simplified explanation for this: porteñas are the best at conforming to the popularized image of beauty, that is, being very European, very thin, very sensual and very feminine.

This conformist vanity, I believe, reflects the middle and upper class porteño contradiction of living in the "Paris of Latin America."

On the one hand, middle and upper class porteños hold a superiority complex that is probably unparalleled in Latin America. Thus, not only will many women openly admit that they are the most beautiful in the world, but the men will brag about this reality as if they deserve an award for it.

On the other hand, middle and upper class porteños, much like in the rest of the region, are confronted with a stark reality of under-development which creates a crippling inferiority complex. Thus, many women, with the avid support of men, go through the self-destructive process of making themselves physically attractive at significant psychological, physical and monetary costs.

All of this being said, I am generalizing and simplifying a complex reality. But let me make one last generalization: plastic women aside, I still consider Argentine women the most beautiful, on the inside and outside, that I’ve ever come across. I will soon be making a trip to Brazil, and my assertion may very well be disproved.

2:05 AM  
Blogger Vikrum said...


Would a woman in Buenos Aires be considered attractive if she were dark skinned? Could a black woman be considered attractive? Why do you think so many Argentines hold such negative views toward African people considering that Argentina does not have many people of African descent?

12:05 PM  
Blogger Diego said...


Although I really don't have much to go by, beyond occasional remarks made about how sexy brazilian women are, I believe that beautiful dark skinned and black women will be considered beautiful by most Argentines.

If this wasn't the case, I don't think someone like Naomi Campbell or many Brazilian women would vacation and party with the almost exclusively white, heavily conservative, elite of Buenos Aires in Punta del Este.

In a sense, Argentina is like most overwhelmingly white regions of the US and Canada in which you will always find a broad cross section of attitudes. Just about every where you go, there will be bigots who are overtly racist, there will be lots of close minded people who might feel uncomfortable around those who are "different" from them (even if they deny being card carrying racists), just as there will be many people who will genuinely treat everyone as equals.

As for you comments: "Why do you think so many Argentines hold such negative views toward African people considering that Argentina does not have many people of African descent?"

Despite not having stated that I believe that "so many Argentines hold such negative views toward Africa people", I'm not going to outright refute this statement.

I don't know of any part of the world, including Africa, that does not hold "negative views toward African people". For instance, I've had friends teaching abroad in Japan, China and Korean, who've overheard racist comments and jokes towards black people, even though the victims of these jokes are practically non-existent in those parts of the world.

To give you a concise answer: I don't think there is anything particularly "Argentinean" about the racism directed towards black people.

Sadly, I believe it's a universal prejudice which reflects the extent of the pillaging, devastation, and neglect the African region has endured.

2:47 AM  
Blogger Jean Paul Vargas said...

Diego F.,

It makes me happy to know that you are doing well in the Argentina. I was wanting to tell you that I think that Costa Rica has very beautiful women, really more beautiful than Argentina woman. I went to Argentina a few months ago and I liked the woman in Buenos Aires but I do not think it compare with women in San Jose or especially Cartago. But good to know your sound and safe there in the Argentina.

Jean Paul

2:23 PM  
Blogger Hoodia said...

Help me Dude, I think I'm lost..... I was searching for Elvis and somehow ended up in your blog, but you know I'm sure I saw him in a car lot yesterday, which is really strange because the last time I saw him was in the supermarket. No honest really, he was right there in front of me, next to the steaks singing "Love me Tender". He said to me (his lip was only slightly curled) "Boy, you need to get yourself a San Diego cosmetic surgery doctor ,to fit into those blue suede shoes of yours. But Elvis said in the Ghetto nobody can afford a San Diego plastic surgery doctor. Dude I'm All Shook Up said Elvis. I think I'll have me another cheeseburger. Then I'm gonna go round and see Michael Jackson and we're gonna watch a waaaay cool make-over show featuring some Tijuana dentists on the TV in the back of my Hummer. And then he just walked out of the supermarket singing. . . "You give me love and consolation,
You give me strength to carry on " Strange day or what? :-)

11:47 PM  
Blogger rome builder said...

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10:16 PM  
Blogger Brooke said...

I know people compare Argenitna with Paris because of its beauty and European style, but the only thing I can say, it is that Argentina is a unique country, you will see things there that you have never thought of seeing. When I did my Buenos Aires travel there was such a magical atmosphere, many many tourists, all so happy to be there that they were willing to explore every single spot. I did that and I can assure that it was inexplicably perfect.

8:05 PM  

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