Buenos Aires – “ [One is] Not in Kansas Anymore”

28 May

Hola Chicos,

Another week down- unbelievable.   I’m still chugging through midterms. One more week, and then I’ll have a 3 week break until finals. As you could guess, I’m getting a little burned out on school. A couple of my classes are way harder than I think they should be (because of disorganization and the teaching method), but at this point I’m committed – only 5 weeks left!  Aside from that though, all is great. I’m still appreciative of being in this great city and am trying to take advantage of every day and every new experience.

In this blog I wanted to comment on a theme that many people I know (foreigners and portenos) have unfortunately had to face first-hand in this city – theft.  People tell me that 20 years ago or so, security in this city was no more an issue than in any other metropolis of similar size.  You locked your doors, didn’t walk alone at night, and watched your wallet on the metro.  Normal big city precautions.  However, in the last two decades, thefts and violence have skyrocketed here.  Now before  I really get going, I do want to mention that I might not have the best background to compare the situation here with that of big cities in the US – I live in a town of 60,000, over two hours away from the nearest metropolis ( Chicago; I wouldn’t put Indianapolis on the same level), and have never spent more than two weeks at a time visiting big cities like New York and Paris. Therefore, security for me has been a topic I have maybe thought about two or three times a year when I have come across very sketchy neighborhoods at night.  With that, maybe those from larger cities will laugh and call me naïve for my astonishment at the situation here- regardless , it was and has been the biggest shocker for me during my stay.

In my eyes, thefts here can be classified in two categories that I call witty and brawny.  The first, witty, deals with all the cases where you don’t realize you’ve been had until it’s too late.  I know thieves are good everywhere, but here they’ll get you  in about any place- my friends have been had in the metro, restaurants, parks, libraries, etc.  I’m not just talking pick-pockets either.  The schemes they come up with to rob you are ingenious. They’ll spray mustard on your shirt “accidently” and then try to clean it, while also cleaning you out of your wallet; they’ll put on a show in the street and have someone “in the crowd” go around taking any lose items people aren’t holding onto at the moment; they’ll purposely ask you directions in the street so that you turn and focus on something else while they free you of your possessions. EVERYTHING happens.  And it happens fast. A friend of mine was walking home one night when a woman came up to him and started rubbing his face. By the time he had gotten her off him and walked away, she had already managed to swipe his wallet and cell phone from two separate pockets.

While getting robbed stinks, at least when it can be quantified as “witty”, there is no physical harm. “Brawny thefts,” however, are another story.  Here, being robbed with a weapon  is much more common than I believe it should be.  At this point over 15 people in my group have been accosted by someone who “claimed” to have a gun or a knife ( do you really want to find out??).   And finally, last week three girls were robbed with a real gun pointed at their faces.   The stories you hear are crazy.   An American in a different study abroad program told me that her friend was entering her apartment one night  when a guy put a gun to her head, lead her upstairs, and robbed the entire apartment, while she was just sitting on the couch and her host family was sleeping.  Another friend of mine told me that her host family, before moving to the “good part” of Buenos Aires, had had their car stolen 3 times, their house broken into twice, and the Dad taken hostage once.  My only reaction to that story was an open jaw.  I don’t know. Perhaps it is just me, but I hear stories like that and just shiver.

After all that, one does have to put everything into perspective.  I am in one of the biggest cities in the world, and obviously, there are some bad parts to the city- after a given time, you can’t go to certain places (and some of the villas you can never go to…) You learn to always walk in pairs if possible, be extremely attentive, and hide the fact you are a foreigner. Now, nothing big has happened to me  (*knock on wood*), and I attribute a large portion of that to the common sense I use when I go out.  However, even with it, luck sometimes isn’t on your side.  I know a guy that was riding in a taxi when a thief put a gun to the window and forced him out of the car.  But one can’t think like that; I just take everything with a grain of salt and try to remember to never carry a lot of money  with me unless I must.

While I really like living in a big city, I’m finally realizing that maybe I couldn’t do it for the rest of my life. To me, it’s exhausting always having to be 5 times more attentive in the streets than you would be in a small town.  I suppose it’s the trade-off of living in huge metropolis, but it’s definitely something I’ll consider in the future.

I hope all of you are well back home.  It’s hard to believe most of you are starting summer classes and summer jobs. I’m about ready to start wearing a winter coat here 😉

Hasta Pronto!


One Response to “Buenos Aires – “ [One is] Not in Kansas Anymore””

  1. Pete Spoentgen June 12, 2010 at 12:51 am #


    Enjoying your blogs.

    Grandpa Pete

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