Word-A-Day: The Porteño way

Have you always wanted to learn Spanish? Great! Have you taken Spanish classes in high school or at BC? Great! Do you know how to say “bus,” “peanuts” or “club”? Although you may think you know these words in Spanish, the answer really depends on where you are.

While we are generally taught a very proper Spanish in school (one that is mostly used in Spain), Spanish in the real world can be very different! I am here to bring you all useful words you may not learn in class and share with you my experiences from South America! Learn with me as I attempt to become a true Buenos Aires inhabitant, known as a "Porteño."


Today’s word: COLECTIVO (cole-lec-tee-vo)

Photo courtesy of Geena De Rose/Gavel Media

Photo courtesy of Geena De Rose/Gavel Media

The first and perhaps most important word you will learn being a transplant in Buenos Aires is “colectivo.” In Spanish, there are nearly infinite words for “bus.” Autobus, omnibus, bus, camión, guagua – these words all mean bus, but you would get an awkward stare if you used them here. In Buenos Aires the golden ticket is the “colectivo,” the most extensive, cheap, and timely way to get around this bustling city.

To give you a clue as to how to get around via colectivo, we will do a practice exercise using God’s-gift-to-international-students, the “Guia T.” The Guia T provides detailed maps with every street in Buenos Aires, and every bus route and subway station. Let’s get started!

Guide to the “Guia T”

1) Know where you want to go.

2) Open the Guia T and pretend you know where that is.

3) Admit you have no idea what’s going on and complain to the nearest person how hard it is to get around in this city.

4) Look up the street you are on.

5) Look up the street you are going to.

6) Look up which colectivos go near both places.

7) Great! Now you’ve got some vague idea as to what number colectivo you might take…that’s a great start! You are on your way, but…

8) You start to wonder where exactly this magical colectivo will pick you up. It says it goes down Santa Fe, but at which cross street? Which direction do you take it from? Which side of the street are we on?

9) You find a stop that has your collective number on it. In fact, here –the colectivo is coming! Wave your arms at it like a maniac so that it will actually stop for you!

10) Get on and pay something. In Buenos Aires, there is no set price. Instead, the passengers tell the driver their price based on wherever they are going. You, however, don’t even know really where you are going so you say the same thing every time and hope its right.

11) Realize you are not in Boston/home/it’s really dark out and have NO IDEA where to get off of this bus. No stops are announced and you have to signal to get off. You think you see a street name you recognize. You press a button and get off.

12) You have no idea where you are. You are almost as lost as Dorothy.

13) Repeat process infinitely.

14) Take a cab.

Photo courtesy of Geena De Rose/Gavel Media

Photo courtesy of Geena De Rose/Gavel Media

Fortunately, once you are used to the system it gets a little easier. Besides, being lost provides the perfect opportunity to practice the language! With my directional skills, I'll be speaking true Porteño Spanish in no time.

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