Making friends with locals

Porteño (n); used to describe a person who was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Many travel bloggers write about the challenges of not just meeting locals, but of making true friends with locals. In my experience, it just takes a little bit of confidence, liquid or otherwise, and commitment. A week into my year abroad, after a new friend (we’ll call her A) and I had quickly become besties after spilling our guts over a few glasses of wine in an incredibly touristy restaurant in the Microcentro (downtown), we found ourselves taking tequila shots with a group of local boys at an expat/traveler Dutch bar,  Van Koning, in the young, ritzy but tiny neighborhood of Las Cañitas. What were these Buenos Aires-born and bred boys doing at an expat bar? Not too hard to guess.

van koning

Van Koning, Las Canitas, Buenos Aires. Photocredit:

We excitedly follow our new “local friends” to the next joint. As we wander down the street, excited that we’re going with locals, I find myself chatting with the tall, lanky one with the big personality.

“You’re Jewish!?!?!,” I squeal. “Score,” I think to myself.

We then do the obvious: celebrate our shared Jewish heritage by drunkenly shouting Hebrew prayers and Hatikva, the national anthem of Israel, throughout the streets. As we enter Roxie, a massive, red-lighted club with your favorite American 90’s music blaring throughout the building, I decide that I’ve found my new, Jewish, Argentine boyfriend (NJAB).

The next morning, A and I take a coffee in the neighborhood of Palermo, gossiping out the night before and, though it was two meals away, deciding what we would do for dinner. Sick of the tourist trap restaurants, we wanted something local and delicious. Just in time, my phone vibrates and it’s my NJAB. He’s coming to meet us so we must stay put.

“We want to go somewhere local for dinner tonight. Where should we go?” I ask him when he arrives.

He replies, “I’ll be right back”. My bestie and I look at each other withe eyebrows raised.

He returns and declares “I’ll pick you both up at 8:00p. We’re going to my friend’s house.” Scared that we’re going to come home chopped up in body bags, we immediately tell him that we absolutely can’t wait.

Example of a traditional "country house" photocredit:

Example of a traditional “country house”.  Photocredit:

On our drive, NJAB begins to tell us that we’re going to an asado, or Argentine barbecue, at his best friend G’s country house. Porteño families are known for having their city apartments as well as their country houses that are passed down through generations. These country houses, pronounced “cantry” with a rolled “r”, are vacation homes anywhere between 45 minutes to 2 hours away and are meant as escapes from city life. We couldn’t get much more local than this

With a bottle of Fernet (what?) in our hands, we arrive and meet the larger-than-life personality of his best girl friend.  I’d never met someone who spoke so quickly – and it was in Spanish. Our bottle (and hers) was gone in an hour. We spent the evening eating an endless amount of incredible meats, sausages and sweetbreads while drinking traditional Fernet and Coke, laughing uncontrollably for hours. We stumbled upon a miracle: an Argentine girl that wanted to be our friend.

A, E, G, and F (new friends - two American girls and two Argentine girls)!

A, E, G, and F (new friends – two American girls and two Argentine girls)!

The following Friday night, G called me speaking in her typical rapid-fire Spanish, so thrilled for the weekend to have come, when I finally just asked her to please, speak in English. For most of our time together, we spoke Spanglish together – both switching between English and Spanish constantly depending on who we were with. That night, I took her to my favorite restaurant, La Cabrera, where I wooed her with my love for, and good taste in, food. La Cabrera led to too many glasses of champagne at the hot spot to dance, Asia de Cuba, and as we piled into a cab at 6:00a, I realized that we had actually become real friends.

The evening at G’s country house was a night to be remembered, mostly because, months later she revealed that she actually hadn’t wanted A and I to come. While on the phone with NJAB on the drive over, she yelled at him for ten straight minutes for bringing us, “stupid American girls”. I made her retell that story anytime anyone asked us how we became friends.

Over the next few months, our friendship deepened. We exhausted the subjects of boys, careers, and why buying clothes in America is so much better. And after experiencing a myriad of asados, new bars and trendy shops together, we took a trip to the south of Argentina to see some glaciers and do some hiking.

That year, I witnessed G’s brother get married, threw flour on NJAB when he graduated, and spent many Saturdays at both G and NJAB’s city apartments and country homes with their friends and families. Getting a local boyfriend definitely helped, but the friendship with G lasted much longer (and was much less dramatic). G came to visit me after I moved back home and we met in the middle (in Miami) yearly for the few years after I left.The past couple years have gotten past us, but writing this post has prompted me to make sure I’m keeping in touch with her just as much as ever. She was such an integral component of an extraordinarily transformative year for me. I hope I’ll be able to write a post in the next year about our meet up in South America.

Taking risks, building relationships and spending enough time in a country is all important to understanding and becoming a part of authentic local culture. I’m hoping that with this next adventure, I’ll use that year to help me cultivate and maintain real relationships that will ultimately reveal the realities of each country I’m in.

What have your experiences been with becoming friends with locals?

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I'm Emily - a twenty-something female travel-enthusiast - here to serve and inspire you. Need help planning your next trip? Email me at emily [at] letsroamwild [dot] com and tag your own travel pics to share with the world @letsroamwild.
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