In Buenos Aires, nights out start with pre-drinks or "previa" at 1am

Elizabeth Yentumi on nightlife in Argentina, which differs from the UK on more than just the time.

One of the most well known aspects of Buenos Aires is the buzzing nightlife scene. While I’ve never been a club-hopper, something which has always threatened to undermine my student status, I do enjoy the occasional night out and love to dance to anything with a beat. My debut into Buenos Aires clubbing was quite the experience.

Many similarities exist between the standard British night out and its Argentine counterpart. First of all there is the customary pre-drinks or ‘previa’ which serves not only as a fun social prelude to the evening but also provides slight economic relief in the face of increasing nightclub drinks prices. The main difference lay in the fact that the gathering I found myself at began at the horrifying time of 1 am. Three hours later I tried to explain to a group of spirited, stylish portenas (Buenos Aires natives) that by this time in the UK I would have spent a respectable four hours on the dance floor and would be contemplating my journey home and the leftovers I would gorge on before running into the open arms of my bed. This was received with incredulous stares, a few snorts and a ‘Che boluda! Ya no empezó la noche!’ meaning ‘Mate, the night has only just begun.’

It’s now 4.15am. I tried to hide my fatigue and restlessness to get to the boliche, nightclub, while the girls continued to ply me with Argentine mainstay Fernet, an amaro or bitter spirit. Type Fernet into Wikipedia to see a full list of the ingredients to get an idea of this strange, new herb-filled drink. I may like it now but my facial expression after that first sip bore an uncanny resemblance to the look I gave my Grandma after a spoonful of cod liver oil when I was 5 years old. The taste wasn’t far off either. Sadly I couldn’t hide my expression as quickly as I had hoped. We finally arrived at the nightclub by taxi at 4.45am (not that I was aware of this).

Other similarities between UK clubs and Argentine ones include long queues of scantily clad girls teetering on heels, higher entrance fees for men and drinks deals for guests who arrive before a certain time. The real difference, however, can be found on the dance floor. A rhythmic and lively genre of music called Cumbia is played in addition to the popular UK and US chart music we’re used to. Originally enjoyed in the 90s by lower classes and pinched from the Caribbean coast of Columbia about 50 years before, the songs are a fusion of West African beats, Spanish guitars and various Argentine folkloric influences like cuarteto. What this somewhat incomplete definition really means is that people can shake, shimmy and let loose a bit more than when dancing along to the faster, static beats of pop music.

Cumbia also encourages dancing in partners, which is not only good, quasi old-fashioned fun and a bit like a salsa class with tipsy students but also an ‘efficient’ way for a guy to initiate conversation with a girl. Imagine a Latin American Grease. On the practical side, if you don’t dance energetically it doesn’t look as though you aren’t enjoying yourself; just that you are ‘feeling’ the beat. The relaxed vibe allows Argentinians to party until long past dawn. And if staying out until 8am wasn’t enough, why don’t we add a spot of breakfast before we go home? Personally, I was proud of the 6.30am end to my night, although it was slightly undermined when my friends, who I realised were far from quitting the dance floor, made me promise I wouldn’t go home so ‘temprano’ again. A poor show from the British girl who claimed to have a passion for dancing. I made it until 6.55am the next time. I can’t quite hear your applause...

Some things don't change no matter where you are in the world. Photograph: Getty Images.
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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood