Argentina has a comparatively nocturnal culture – most restaurant bookings are late into the evening. At 8pm, it’s not just takeaways that are open, but ‘proper’ restaurants too. In Buenos Aires, you can leave your house at 10pm to go and eat asado.
Shops too are open longer. Owners might open around 8:30 in the morning, and stay open until 8pm. In general, more shops are run as independent businesses than in the UK. Late night shopping might be until 10pm and it’s not uncommon for the owners to work 12 or even 14 hours a day, with half an hour / 25 minutes for lunch.
In Capital Federal shops are open on Sundays, but generally only until midday – ‘los shoppings‘ (malls) are typically open much later.
Families have started to go out more often on Sundays and as a result, shops are open for longer. This makes me wonder: if shops are open for longer, are people going to spend more money, or will they just spend the same amount of money over a longer period of time?
All this can take some adjusting to, depending on what you are used to, and we discuss this topic in our podcast:
Adjusting to the local rhythm will help you to avoid those frustrated moments when everything’s closing or has already shut. I remember being in Ireland and needing to open a bank account. I’d just started a new job and needed to have an account to get paid. The problem was that the banks were only open all of the times that I couldn’t go. They were closed at weekends, and closed for lunch – all the times I was able to go! In the end I had to take time off to open an account.
It probably doesn’t matter what the local horario is, as long as you are in step with it. Just so that you’re not taken by surprise when you decide to go to a restaurant, bank, shops, whatever it happens to be.
In Argentina, banks are often closed at weekends, and may only attend customers between 10am-3pm. While I considered this slightly vago (lazy), Silvina told me that the employees work very hard behind the scenes, doing all the administrative work etc. – they just don’t have to deal with customers face-to-face. No system is perfect; what’s good for the customers (longer opening hours), might not be so great for the workers who have to put in 12-hour shifts!
This means everyone has to go to the bank at more or less the same time, and it can get really busy. If you’re planning on going to the bank, aim for 10am so you’ll be near the front of the queue and they won’t shut on you!
People may take turnos or have a day off just to complete their trámites (chores). The bureaucracy in Argentina can be quite impressive and is still the only place I have ever had to fill out a form in quintuplet!
Siestas and the Weather
The siesta, famous is Spain, still has an influence in parts of the country, particularly in the hotter regions, although the tradition is dying out. Some shops outside Capital Federal (i.e. not central Buenos Aires) may still open from the morning until midday and then have an extended break, re-opening 2-3 hours later.
Argentina is a big country which stretches from tropical rain forests in the north down to glaciers in the south. The north can get very hot so siestas, or at least a break during the heat of the day make a lot of sense. Even in those provinces however, economics might mean the shops may decide to stay open a little longer. Although in the provinces and smaller towns, they are still more likely to close around lunch time.
I associate the siesta with the heat of Spain, Mexico and Italy (in the podcast I wasn’t sure if the Italians have a siesta, a quick Google search suggests that in the south they do/did). It makes sense to take a break in the middle of the day if the temperature gets too high but with the air conditioning in the ‘shoppings’ of Buenos Aires, there are no excuses!
Daylight is also a big deciding factor for when people do certain things. By 6pm in a New Zealand winter, there is often no-one around at all! People will naturally adapt their behaviours depending on when the sun goes down, and if it’s dark and cold people are less likely to want to be out and about. For comparison, Buenos Aires is on a similar (but opposite) latitude to Los Angeles. You can find a list of cities by latitude, or check out this cool map.
I found that people would have more varied sleep patterns over the weekend, and afternoon naps, particularly at weekends, are not uncommon. If you felt tired, you had a nap and that was it. That may help to explain the nocturnal nature a bit more too.
A Typical Day at the Office
The majority of office workers in Buenos Aires are likely to have a fairly long commute, from 40-60 minutes, to 90 and beyond. A typical office worker will arrive at the office around 8:30. The public transport system doesn’t always help, and at peak times, with so many people it can turn into a bit of a mission.
If you have to be at the office around 8am, you may need to get up at 5:30-6am. Breakfast could consist of facturas and a coffee as you leave the house. Lunch is typically a half-hour break taken between 1-2pm, again not dissimilar to what I am used to, although maybe slightly later. This could be followed by merienda around 4-5pm, which is not too different from afternoon tea, and may involve more facturas! Most people will finish around 5-6pm, which means pretty ‘normal’ office hours.
With the 90-minute commute for the return journey it makes sense that people eat around 8-9pm. So perhaps it is simply the size of Buenos Aires that affects how and when people eat, sleep etc. rather than any significant cultural differences. Finishing dinner after 9pm and needing to get up again for work the next day doesn’t leave anyone much spare time. Something has to give, which may explain why you see so many people sleeping on the bus on the way to/from work – that’s how you can have a nightlife during the week!
On the surface, the late nights at the weekend gives the locals bragging rights on which nationality can party the longest. Although a friend of mine pointed out that weekends will typically involve one night out – lasting most of the weekend. He contrasted it with a British weekend, which may involve going out for after-work drinks on a Friday, another night out on Saturday and maybe a quieter evening on the Sunday. So three for the price of one!
Sundays are different to the rest of the week and lunch is usually the main meal of that day, usually a big asado or pasta dish, with the leftovers for dinner. Again, parallels can be drawn with the traditional English Sunday lunch.
Overall, my impression was that the Argentinian horario was not that different to what I was used to. They are likely to eat a little later and maybe stay out at weekends longer but it isn’t completely different. You just need to be aware of the small differences that can get quite frustrating when trying to do your trámites.
How does the Buenos Aires commute compare with yours? Which shows more stamina over a weekend – one big night out, or three little ones?! Leave a comment and let us know what you think.
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