Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Gringo Treatment: BsAs

I’m laying in bed at the El Sol hostel I hear the “happy birthday” song (in English) being sang by drunk, loud Americans and I’m not surprised. For years, Buenos Aires has been the jumping off point for many U.S. and European tourists wishing to explore South America. But each holiday season and summer more are coming; and more are staying. I hear English everywhere and when I attempt to converse in native toungue, I am rebuked by an Argentine who is staying in Buenos Aires “to learn English man!” Not to say this city doesn’t have a great deal of charm and amazing things to do, but I feel they are changing.

Tuesday night, we went to Peña de Colorado, a cozy alcove where Argentine Folk legends like the late Mercedes Sosa got started. My brother had been two times before, in ’05 and in ’08 and had gushed to me about the quality of food, live music and jam sessions that happened nightly. I first started to suspect something when our waiter informed us that they were out of the “cheap bottles of wine under 30 pesos. Our parilladada (assortment of grilled meats) looked impressive when we received it but upon further inspection it appeared that we had gotten the “gringo treatment.”

If you ever find yourself in a tourist spot in South America NEVER order the assortment, this same thing happened to me in Uruguay(see Anthony Bourdain is a Liar). When we told the waiter that this was a subpar assortment of fat, he shrugged and said he would tell the chef. Gringo treatment was confirmed when we got our bill, we were charged for an extra bottle of wine and extra empanadas, a difference of about $20 dollars. My brother, whose previous experiences at the Peña had put him in a deep funk, called the waiter out for trying to short us which was met with another “not my problem” shrug before changing the bill. The gringo treament continued, both with hassles from our hostel owner and the owner of a bar who “jokingly” said he would spit in our faces if we were American (Brent said we were Canadian).

This was only one experience, but both my brother and I have found gringo treatments occurring in far more places (hostels, restaurants, bars)in Buenos Aires than in the rest of the country. I fear that BsAs is getting “tapped out” by the increasing number of tourists visiting and increasing number of locals that try to take advantage of them. It’s endemic in both Peru and Costa Rica and it’s why I could never live in either of those countries: 50+ years of tourism + persistent poverty and inflow of rich tourists = the gringo treatment. The only difference in Argentina is that they may not know you’re a tourist until you order a choripan in broken Spanish.

Part of my reasoning in going to Colombia is to check out something that hasn’t been tamped down by the tourist Teva just yet. To my delight, the biggest tourist critique on Colombia hasn’t been safety issues rather, but the lack of people that speak English. Now I’m going to go throw some earplugs to try and drown out the cries for “Jaegerbombs” and Kanye West blasting in the background.

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