One of the most surprising things I realized after getting to Buenos Aires was that it isn’t very easy to make local friends, or even immerse yourself in Spanish, even though you’re in the middle of a huge Spanish-speaking city, teeming with people.
At the same time, it was very easy to get caught-up with the huge group of partying, English-speaking expats who have flooded the city.
Por suerte, my wife and I managed to get in with some locals, get a strong taste of the culture and immerse ourselves in Spanish during our 2 years in Buenos Aires. We made a couple key choices at the beginning that really helped.
1. Stay with locals
When we first arrived, we found getting an apartment complicated. So we started searching Craigslist and found a local family to stay with. Right away, this immersed us in a Spanish-speaking household, and gave us a quick doorway into the culture.
2. Stay away from the expats… I repeat. Stay away from the expats.
I know, it’s tempting. There’s a bunch of other people in Buenos Aires (and I’m sure this is true of most big cities) that speak your language, and are looking to make friends and have their own version of A Moveable Feast. Resist the temptation, it’s a trap! From what I saw in Buenos Aires the people that got in with the expat crowd ended up staying there for years and barely meeting any locals or learning to speak Spanish. Find ways to meet people.
3. Go to Spanglish events.
This was one of the best choices my wife and I made. We went to Spanglish, where local Spanish speakers and English-speaking travelers get together in bars for a sort of language speed-dating, where you talk for 5 minutes in Spanish, 5 in English, then move to a new table. This is how we met two of our best friends in Buenos Aires, who ultimately introduced us to a lot of other friends. I started playing guitar in their band, and it brought about some of the best times I had in Buenos Aires.
4. Study Spanish 1-on-1 with a local teacher.
Yep, we promote Spanish classes via Skype, and we’re still recommending that you study with a Spanish teacher based in Buenos Aires. My experience taking face to face classes with a local teacher was great. I learned not just the language, but the culture, and I made a good friend. If you’re there, in the country, you should really set aside the money to take classes with a local teacher. Here’s the one we studied with.
5. Choose your neighborhood wisely.
We got lucky. Most expats gravitate toward Palermo, Recoleta and San Telmo when they live in Buenos Aires. But the family we stayed with lived in Caballito, a neighborhood where you’ll have a hard time finding anyone who speaks English. After that, we purposely stayed in neighborhoods that aren’t known to expats. I would recommend Almagro, Caballito, Villa Crespo and Boedo.
6. Prepare your Spanish!
Take a Spanish class via Skype before you go! If you’ve got some Spanish before you arrive, your chances of being able to communicate and make connections are much better.