A World of Travellers

Trip Start May 01, 2005
Trip End Mar 25, 2006

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Buenos Aires is the hyperactive and slightly fractious illegitimate child of Madrid and Paris, with a genetic throwback to London stuffed in its overflowing pockets.

Wonderfully extravagant old buildings with pillars and columns and buttresses tower over plazas where the cracked pavements are a sort of beige colour because of the disintegrating mass of cigarette butts and endless smears of dog shit. The museums, glamorous shopping centres, green parks and expensive restaurants seem at odds with the political graffiti, the Madres de Plaza de Mayo who still march every Thursday to remind the government of their murdered children, and the daily pot-banging protests over money lost during the economic crash.

But porteņos, as the inhabitants of Buenos Aires are called, never let anything - financial disasters or even calamitous football results - get in the way of a good time. If Buenos Aires was a drink, it would be a glass of decent red wine with an olive in it and possibly some fairy lights strung above the bottle. It`s a serious party town.

So it was a shock, after five months of travelling, to arrive in a city where men wear suits, women wear high-heels and dogs are on leads. Compared to the stylish porteņos, I looked like a bag lady. In desperation to look more normal, I traipsed round the shops to find a pair of jeans, ending up with a pair so low at the front that I may be breaking a number of decency laws. But this was nothing compared to some of the girls in the hostel I was in ... Club 18 - 30 is alive and well and using hair straighteners in Buenos Aires.

I`ve rented an apartment for my three months here and the area I`m living in, Palermo Viejo, is so cool it`s positively icy. It's strange to see my clothes hanging up in a wardrobe instead of stuffed in a bag, but unfortunately they don`t look any better. I`ve started Spanish school and am learning that I still hate grammar.

Being settled in one place and not constantly on the move has given me time to reflect on the people I`ve met on my travels, and the differences between the nationalities. So here`s my guide - a personal view, of course - to the World of Travellers (with apologies to my Mum for the swear words):

Americans - generally speak very loudly in italics with a question mark at the end of every sentence. Even from a completely different room, you can be assured of knowing what an American`s plans are for the next day/week/year.

Germans - will never get lost, even in the most confusing town centre where street names change mid-street. Although not generally known for their humour, I have found most Germans unintentionally funny with the way they speak English: "New Zealand? But vy iz zere two islands? Surely it iz more economical to haf one? I do not understand". Plus they call gloves 'hand shoes'.

Belgians - skills, social, none (see travelogue passim).

Israelis - have a bad reputation amongst other travellers for being loud, overbearing and insensitive to others' personal space. I wondered why and now I know. At 2.30am in one hostel dormitory, three Israelis decided to put the light on and pack their bags, very loudly, waking everyone up. I offered to go and make them a cup of tea. This was declined, so instead I suggested they might prefer a cup of shut the f*ck up. It worked. And an Israeli chap I met on a bus told me off for being crude when I said I needed the toilet rather desperately. This from a man who smelt like an open sewer and seemed to have a tribe of guinea-pigs nesting on his chin.

French - mixed. Some have been utterly charming, others I have had to put in their place by coughing the word 'olympics' rather loudly.

Dutch - the nationality most similar to the British, they love the BBC and are friendly and cheerful with a good sense of humour. Take the mick out of Germans.

Norwegian - I`ve only met one - Monica - and she was lovely. Taught me a new card game.

Irish - the girls are good fun (especially Orla and Louise), but the blokes can be a bit up their own arses, like the charmer I met here in Buenos Aires. The scene : I'm sitting in the hostel bar watching a salsa lesson, talking to the nice girl from my dorm. An Irish bloke is sitting on my left. Hereīs our conversation :

Me: so, are you travelling?
Bloke: yes, for a year, but itīs my last night.
Me: poor you! travelling round the world?
Bloke: yes.
Me: what has been your favourite bit?
Bloke: drinking.
Me: seriously?
Bloke: yes. I donīt do questions like that.
Me: ok (thinking, what a prick)

Later ...

Me: the salsa teacher looks a bit like the lead singer from Hot Chocolate.
Prick: I donīt do famous people.

Swedish - blonde and tall. The women are too beautiful for their own good and should be made to wear my clothes at all times.

British - I have met some lovely Brits - Nick, Ben, Will, Carly and Shazza, that means you - but have been thankfully shunned by certain Brit travellers because I don`t have (a) multiple tattoos (b) multiple piercings (c) a scruffy bag bought in a dodgy market in Thailand (d) a novel in said bag by Jack Kerouac, Hunter S Thompson or JK Rowling, and (e) don`t stick anything up my nose other than a hankie. These travellers are in their late teens and early twenties, travel in packs and wear a minimum of 10 string bracelets that they never take off. They moan about entrance prices, argue with taxi drivers over 10 pence and pretty much do what they do back home - get very drunk every night and annoy everyone over the age of 30. Their conversations are peppered with anecdotes about how they had to bribe a policeman in the favelas while out scoring some charlie, and they say "oh, good for you!" and promptly ignore me after they`ve asked my age. A good slap, that`s what would be good for them.

Australians : annoyingly, the only Aussie I have met so far hated cricket, so I couldn`t rub his nose in the Ashes. Tried, though. Not as nice as Kiwis, who love their Mums and are very sporty.

Spanish : vibrant, fun-loving and the least likely to be embarrassed by anything, hence the actions of the Spaniard who got off a bus I was in, walked not 50 paces away into a field, calmly dropped his trousers and proceeded to have a dump in full view of passengers and passing traffic. Not the sight I had expected to see that day, but I took pictures anyway.

So there you have it. I hope to add to the list whilst I`m here. In the meantime, I`ve got homework to do.
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