Give me some tips for enjoying my vacation in Buenos Aires (specific questions inside)
May 10, 2009 4:20 PM   Subscribe

Give me some tips for enjoying my vacation in Buenos Aires? I've been here three days and it's an awesome city so far, though a bit challenging for someone who doesn't speak much Spanish... I've got a few questions you can help me with if you've been here before, and you can get a warm fuzzy feeling from helping make my only vacation of the year even better!

* What exactly is the menu ejecutivo in many cafes, and how do you order from it? In some places it looks like a good deal for a bite (some sort of fixed-price menu deal?), but ordering those items from the menu comes up to more money than on the sign. How might I be doing it wrong?

* Everyone says I should try the medialunas. Ordering this gets you, apparently, either a small croissant-looking pastry or a flat sandwich-type preparation stuffed with cheese, sort of a cross between a panini and a pita bread. How can I be more specific and order the croissants?

* I've bought a few things from the market. Say I go in and pick up some milk, yogurt and a couple oranges and head for the cashier. She'll scan the milk and yogurt but won't ring up the oranges, and won't attempt to explain why. OK, I've lived in Ontario, Quebec, and the U.S.A., vacationed in Europe a few times, but this is my first time in South America - I know I'm doing *something* wrong here again, but I give up, what is it?

* Walking down av. Florida in the evening, people constantly try and hand you little cards. Some sort of ad for strip clubs? I'm not sure what they're for. What's a polite, inoffensive deflection to use? Along the lines of "thanks, not interested". Is it considered impolite to just keep walking without acknowledging them?

* I've seen lots of clothing boutiques - I'd love to do a bit of clothes shopping before I leave. Is there hope or will this prove impossible without knowing a bit more Spanish?

* I saved the most open-ended "soft" cultural question for last. No one makes eye contact on the street - If I'm walking along and give a friendly smile / slight nod to someone the smile is never returned. Am I committing a huge social faux-pas? Is it just a cultural thing to get used to, or is it something about me? If it matters, I'm white, male, French-Canadian, mid-20s; I don't think I'm dressed "touristy", but then again who knows. I don't expect to make many friends without speaking the local language, that's certainly my fault, but I'm not completely antisocial. What's up with this?

I don't want to give the impression I don't like the city - BA is great, I'm just finding a few little things a bit frustrating.
posted by paperclip to Travel & Transportation around Buenos Aires, Argentina (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The menu ejecutivo is the lunch special. It's the meal, dessert, and something to drink, fixed menu for fixed price, during lunch only. Maybe you are not ordering it during lunch time?

Medialunas are sweet (dulce) or savory. The savory ones are cooked in animal fat (de grasa). If you want them cooked in butter, it's "de manteca". My guess is that you want the medialunas dulce? I think I'd point, if it's an option (like, under a glass case), but you could also say, "sin queso" for "without cheese"?

I am supremely jealous of your trip!
posted by Houstonian at 4:46 PM on May 10, 2009

There is probably a separate weighing station/checkout for the produce. To ask where to pay for produce, hold up the oranges and ask "donde se paga?". She will point to where you weigh/pay.

By "no one makes eye contact" do you perhaps mean women? In Latin America, women will not usually make eye contact with strange men. It is nothing personal. You are expected to look them up and down, by the way.

Just say "no, gracias" to the walking advertisers, and keep walking. They won't be offended.

I would think in a cosmopolitan city like BA there are a few clothing stores in which the sales people speak a little English. Check around the main square, wherever that is.

I love South America, and am looking forward to travelling to BA some day. Toss us a link to some pix if you have a chance!
posted by telstar at 5:06 PM on May 10, 2009

OK, I've lived here almost two years now...
Menu ejecutivo is just like houstonian says, a lunch special. Drink (wine or beer or soda or coffee), a choice of a couple of different plates (usually a meat one - think milanesa or steak, a salad one or a pasta one), plus dessert.
Medialunas are sort of a cheap knock off of a croissant. They're OK, but nothing to get excited about.
In the supermarket, there will be a scale somewhere near the produce section with a person behind it. Hand them your fruit or veggies, they weigh it and stick a price on it for you. But buy your greens at the corner greengrocers, it's much nicer.
Ignore the guys on the street handing our cards. They're for short-time hotels (called telos), mostly.
A lot of the little shops around Plaza Serrano (it's probably called Plaza Cortazar on your map) in Palermo have staff with some english ability.
I don't understand your last point though. I find the women here to be very flirty on the street, lots of stares and what-not going both ways. Where are you hanging out?
Excuse the self-reference, but pop by Sugar and say hi.
posted by conifer at 5:58 PM on May 10, 2009

I could have written this question ten years ago. Such fond memories of the first time in BsAs!

One point of clarification re: medialunas. The options you're usually given are "de manteca" (bigger, softer, sweet ones mentioned above, made with butter) or "de grasa" which are smaller, made with lard, and can be either savory (usually) or ocassionally have a sweet glaze. All you need to know to order them in the cafe is how many you want (1,2, or 3 are all reasonable orders) and whether you want "de manteca" or "de grasa."

The cards from the hawkers on Florida are indeed either for telos as mentioned above or for strip clubs, many of which also function as brothels. There is absolutely no need to be friendly or polite with these folks, they will be incredibly insistent if you are a young and foreign-looking man. A simple "no, gracias" or just walk on by is just fine. The only way to avoid them entirely is to walk with a woman.

(I have a funny story about accidentally wandering into one of these places as an innocent young American midwestern boy, and the next thing I knew it there were three prostitutes who had pushed me into a low velvet booth, were offering the menu of "services" and by the time I got up I had apparently "invited" the three ladies to little shot-glasses of the local equivalent of orange Kool-Aid, to the tune of 120 pesos. I managed to get out with my wallet and my innocence relatively intact, but just barely. Really. Just shove on by. These are not people you need to be polite to)

And you do need to have all produce weighed and bagged and labeled in the produce section before going to the counter. If you don't see the guy by the scale you can ask somebody "donde se pesa?"

One bit of unsolicited advice: best pizza in the world is at el Cuartito, on Talcahuano St. in between Cordoba and Marcelo T. de Alvear (near the Teatro Colón and the Teatro Cervantes). No joke. I still occasionally wake up with a cold sweat jonesin' for their napolitana al roquefort.
posted by dr. boludo at 7:07 PM on May 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

best pizza in the world is at el Cuartito, on Talcahuano St. in between Cordoba and Marcelo T. de Alvear (near the Teatro Colón and the Teatro Cervantes)

+1, though it is the second-best pizza in the world, after The Spot in New Haven.

Also, don't mess with the stupid medialunes. If you're eating pastry in Buenos Aires, you should be eating alfajores.

And go to Olsen. It might seem silly to go to a Scandinavian restaurant in Argentina, but you will be glad you did.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:46 PM on May 10, 2009

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