Buenos Aires has many idiosyncrasies that have often left me scratching my head. Rather than delve into some obscure search for a central theme or explanation, I’ll get right to some of the more subtle Buenos Aires customs.
Taxi Jamás and a Bottle of Fuel
Whenever someone decides to sell their car in Buenos Aires it’s important to make a sign advising the potential buyer with the total miles, the price and the fact that the car has never been used as a taxi: taxi jamás. Why does whether the car has been used as a taxi or not matter? Well, consider that the back of the car might have been used as a bed, smoking lounge, toilet, moving truck and a lust nest all in the same night. Perhaps this meager detail might have something to do with it. Another indicator that a car is for sale is if there’s a bottle of fuel on the roof of the car. Sometimes the bottle will have the for sale sign listed, but most of the time the bottle itself is enough to get the message across. Why people have chosen the bottle atop the roof to indicate that the car is for sale is beyond my comprehension. Any takers?
Water Bottles around Trees
Green spaces are scarce in large urban environments. When some Porteños want to conserve their small patch of grass, they resort to a peculiar tactic: they tie plastic bottles full of water around a tree or fence. Local custom has it that if you want to stop dogs and cats from defecating or urinating around a tree or in your small grassy area you should tie water bottles around a tree. There is no scientific evidence to support this theory and explanations are as varied as can be: dogs hate the smell, if there’s no space they won’t pee, etc. Interestingly, in 2012 the Luis Pasteur zoonosis institute issued a statement to Porteños against the practice of placing water bottles around trees. The stagnant water in the bottles is an ideal breeding ground for Aedes aegypti “yellow fever” mosquitos that also carry the break bone fever, aka dengue.
The Rain of Potato Chips
Known locally as “la lluvia de papas”, the potato chip rain is a standard condiment for the Porteño hot dog and is one of the Buenos Aires customs that is most noticable. Anytime you order a hot dog you’ll be asked if you want ketchup, mustard and ‘papas’. Give it a shot! When it’s five in the morning and you need something to soak up the fernet and Quilmes in your paunch, the extra crunch of the potato chip sticks make it all the more satisfying.
Often in sports, religion, and politics there are certain people that supposedly attract bad luck. There are three names for these unfortunate souls in Spanish: “yeta” in Mexico, “gafe” in Spain and “mufa” in Argentina. One of the ways that people protect themselves from these doomed creatures is to touch your left testicle with your right hand if you’re a man and your left breast with your right hand if you’re a woman. Similarly to ‘knocking on wood’ in other cultures, Buenos Aires custom teaches that the best way to avoid these mufas is to touch your given body part as soon as possible.
One of the most recent “mufas” was The Rolling Stone’s Mick Jagger. In the 2010 World Cup every team that he supported lost terribly: England 1 – Germany 4, Argentina 0 – Germany 4, Brazil 1 – Holland 2. Lightning struck twice and in the 2014 World Cup every team he supported lost again! He used his twitter account to support Italy, who lost against Uruguay 1-0. Again he showed support for his motherland who didn’t even get past the first round. The straw that broke the camels back was when he traveled to Belo Horizonte and sat with the Brazilians who then suffered an embarrassing 7 to 1 loss to Germany. So the next time The Stones play, take note of the stadium that’s hosting the show and put all your money on the visitor come next football match.
Written by Brian Athey