Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What Exactly is a Porteño?

As the end of our Buenos Aires adventure nears, and the traveling adventure begins, we've been trying to think of a way to describe the overall culture of people in Buenos Aires. People who live in BA are called Porteños, and people often ask us what the people are like here…and it’s become more and more difficult to explain. Porteños are somewhat of an enigma. They are different than people from outside Buenos Aires, and you can only find them IN Buenos Aires. Anyone who has lived here for awhile knows and understands porteño culture, but it’s difficult to explain. I realized in writing this post, that the more I tried to describe porteños in general, the harder that task became. So, instead of a long description by me, I have asked a few non-porteños living in Buenos Aires for their take on porteño culture, and made a compilation of their descriptions plus my own.

“A porteño is a European sold on a South American economy. A glimpse of the past in the uncertain present: always looking back but never looking forward.” – Nano Martello, teaching colleague, from Columbia

“They are friendly and welcoming. In the elevator they always talk with you rather than pretend they are alone. They are also lazy.” – Audrey, room-mate, from France

“They are the embodiment of tango.” – Jack, room-mate, from England
I really like this description, because tango is very beautiful and serious, and passionate and arrogant, but also quite neurotic.

I think at the root of many things Porteño is an underlying current of irony and contradiction. For example, I assume that an overwhelming majority of Porteños, or port people, have never set foot on a boat and have never been to a port. Or that a majority of people strongly believe in monogamous relationships, but admit to cheating. Or that the first city in Latin America to legalize gay marriage, is also the city where no straight couples get married until after decades of being together.” – Brian Athey, teaching colleague, from United States

“Porteño’s are Latin in most ways, but they don’t want to identify with their Latin culture, and instead believe in every way that they are Europeans. Therefore, the porteño culture stems from the rejection of Latin culture and the desire to be European; and the belief that they are the most unique and best population of people in the Southern Hemisphere.”  - Lindsay

In general, our experiences with Porteño's have been very positive. The people here have a tough exterior, as do most big city dwellers, but once you engage someone in conversation, porteño's can be very gregarious and warm. The fact that you kiss someone upon your first meeting with them speaks to their culture and the general passion there is for connecting with other people. In many ways, porteño culture has been infuriating, but we have also embraced just as much. 


  1. Oh, can i give it a shot too:
    Porteno's are struggling to represent something that doesn't really exist, and thus they live a contradition. They cling to their european lineage and strive to be a cosmopolitan city but BA is really a sprawling 3rd world capital under a thin 1st world veneer. They are overwhelingly a kind and friendly people, yet if they have an opportunity to make money off of you they will take it. Ironically, they would be better off if they were more honest with themselves. Admit their enconomy is in trouble and work to improve it, instead of putting up artifical inflation figures. Accept that they have both a great european heritage and a vibrant latin culture. There are a lot of great people in BA, but they haven't quite accepted they can be great just as they are.
    - Reid Ekberg, former teacher, PLS, BA

  2. Reid - GREAT description! You nailed that one.