Time. In the United States, we never seem to have enough of it. In Argentina, there is always more of it. This was one of the first things I noticed when coming to Buenos Aires, and, at first, it was one of the hardest things for me to adjust to.
I will admit that after a month and a half, I am fully adjusted to “porteño time,” or at least as much as I should let myself adjust, considering that I will be headed back to the States in just a few more months. Let me explain.
Argentines from Buenos Aires are called porteños. It is a running joke among expats and locals alike that the people of this city run on “porteño time.” This means that starting and meeting times are typically loose – in some cases up to a half hour later than planned. This usually isn’t too much of a bother and is easy to adjust to, except when you’re trying to get somewhere and the bus is late. At first, when the bus times would be off I would get very nervous about getting to class on time. I then realized that there was about a 10-minute cushion at the start of our schedule because our professors know that everyone has to deal with this public transit predicament. Traffic gets bad, trains break down, buses don’t come — it happens all the time and people are used to it and know to plan for it. It is part of daily life here.
Aside from starting times, “porteño time” is also used to refer to the amount of time spent doing things. Argentines never seem to be in any rush and once you understand this and get used to it, it becomes a beautiful thing. For example, when you go to a restaurant or cafe, whether it is for a full meal or just a coffee, you should probably plan on being there at least an hour. Sometimes, meals last up to three hours or more if you are at someone’s home. Though it seems like a lot of time, it opens up a great opportunity to spend quality time with friends and family and never feel like you are being rushed along to your next commitment.
Along these lines, very much unlike those in the U.S., restaurants will never bring you your check unless you ask for it. It is seen as rude to give someone the bill as if you are rushing them to leave. So next time you are in Argentina and ready to leave, make sure you ask “la cuenta por favor” or you will be there all night.
Now you might be wondering, how do they have hours and hours to spend on coffee breaks and meal times? I personally believe it is the time shift. Argentine meal times are quite different than the U.S. and I think for this reason they have seemingly more hours in the day.
The work day starts similarly, 8 or 9 a.m., but Argentine’s don’t eat breakfast and if they do, its typically a coffee and maybe a small pastry — “medialunas,” small sweet croissants, are popular. Lunch is typically between 1 and 3 p.m. and then in the afternoon, anytime between 5 to 7 p.m., they have their “merienda” or snack at a cafe.
Dinner is very late by U.S. standards, typically 10 p.m. to midnight. It can also start earlier and end later depending on the group. Then, if you are going out afterwards, your Argentine friends will insist on not getting to where you are going (club, party, etc.) before 2:30 a.m. because “nothing really gets fun until 3 or 4.”
This, on top of school or work, can definitely get tiring, but Argentines are used to getting about four to five hours of sleep a night. I find that they compensate for this lack of sleep with mate.
What is “mate” you ask? It is the traditional drink of Argentina and a huge part of their culture. There is a mate herb that is packed into a special gourd-shaped cup with a straw that is called a “bombilla.” Water is then poured over it and when the herbs and water mix it makes a sort of tea that tastes much stronger and has a lot of caffeine similar to coffee. It is enjoyed at all times of the day usually between friends, however it is not atypical for a complete stranger to pass you mate. When I was checking into my hostel in Iguazu a few weekends ago, I struck up a conversation with the man at the front desk and he offered me mate. We talked casually and passed the mate back and forth all the while waiting for my room to be ready. As a coffee and tea drinker, I personally enjoy the strong bitter taste of mate but not everyone does. Sometimes people mix it with sugar or juice to cut down the bite.
Now that I am aware of how “porteño time” works, I have completely embraced the lifestyle and I feel that I can accomplish even more in a day while rushing less.