Friday, June 15, 2007

The Paris of South America?

"People" always say that Buenos Aires is the Paris of South America. It's just one of those things that gets repeated, by foreigners and Argentines alike. I've never been to Paris so I can't attest to the veracity of the comparison, but what I can say is that people here really like scarves, and so do the French. People here also like coffee, wine, and cigarettes. So do the French. [Insert joke about how people here bathe, followed by deafening silence re: the French].

I was considering this Paris-Buenos Aires comparison as I rode the subway this morning and did the only thing that one can do when one is pressed like a sardine in a too-tight can against a bunch of strangers, 90% of whom have already smoked two cigarettes and had a cafe cortado before boarding the subte, which is of course to people-watch. Bonaerenses (residents of Bs As) on the D-line in the morning seem to fall into several categories:

1. Old people who probably don't really have anywhere to be at 9:30 in the morning but are participating in the morning commute anyway
2. Teenagers (both male and female) with mullets and Chuck Taylors
3. Businessmen in suits/ties with mullets and scraggly facial hair - apparently in the Argentinian business world it is okay to look homeless from the neck up as long as you are in a suit
4. Very well-turned-out older ladies with their nails and hair done, usually in long coats and heels
5. Americans like me who pretend to be Argentine by wearing scarves and carrying their backpacks on their stomachs instead of on their backs
6. Americans who don't pretend to be Argentine and talk loudly in English with each other
7. Women who appear to be approximately 14 years old with babies
8. Mexicans - seriously, there are Mexican immigrants in Argentina who apparently come here to work (or else just have a supremely bad sense of direction)

As I pondered all of these groups of people, I realized that Buenos Aires does have a certain air of sophistication in some way (see: the large scarf-wearing population), but it's also, in other ways, distinctly un-Parisian and un-cool, which I like. For example, a huge majority of people here have carefully-executed bad hair - not as bad as the hair in Chile but still pretty bad - and I think that makes Buenos Aires more approachable somehow. What I mean is that this city is not some imposing fashion capital where you have to dress like Carrie Bradshaw (that time she went to Paris, remember?) in order to fit in (i.e. you can leave your Manolos and YSL dresses at home in your Manhattan co-op).

I think it's this slightly skewed uncoolness that makes South American cities like Buenos Aires and Santiago seem more friendly to me. Sao Paulo, although I loved it dearly, was a different story because the women there tended to have more money to spend on fabulous (albeit cheaply-made) clothes, incredible shoes, and huge leather bags. Plus Brazilians aren't known for having bad hair, which was not a good thing for me since I only got one haircut the entire 9 months I lived there, which meant I was usually outshined in the cool hair department. It's true, I sometimes felt a bit frumpy when I went out in SP because most of the women there were so immaculately turned out. The worst part? Not wearing heels 24 hours a day is not an option for a true paulistana - they wear them to work, to the mall, to the disco, everywhere. Here, though, I see women wearing grubby sneakers and scuffed boots, which is refreshing. Women here also have thick eyebrows, don't wear a ton of makeup, and have a penchant for bobby-pins and other hair accessories (which is right up my alley). The point of all of this is that Buenos Aires doesn't need to be the new Paris to be attractive, at least not to me. I prefer a little dash of uncool with my big cities.

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