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“Latins are tenderly enthusiastic. In Brazil, they throw flowers at you. In Argentina, they throw themselves." -- Marlene Dietrich

La viveza portena outsmarts the Bush twins

When Barbara Bush’s purse was snatched last month in a Buenos Aires restaurant while being guarded by a Secret Service detail, it became news and ridiculed by commenters.

When a Wonkette operative last week revealed that Jenna Bush was dating an unemployed porteno who makes $400 a month and was impressed that Jenna “has a salary from her own job and her own credit card,” it was ridiculed by commenters.

Looks like the Presidential twin Argentiphiles are falling for my country’s oldest story in the book: la viveza portena.

La viveza portena is the use of street smarts, cunning, and guile to get what you want. It is, as my Papi told me, the ability to sell a pedestrian a public phone. Using la viveza is a badge of pride for many portenos (people born in Buenos Aires). It is an act which, at its most innocuous, is used to fool your friends but, at its most dangerous, can be used to rob the naïve.

And being American, or even a powerful American, apparently is not a deterrent.

Jenna Bush seems to have fallen for some 25-year-old “marketing agency owner”, AKA, unemployed, who has been bragging to friends and the media about scoring with W’s daughter. (He’s also a fan of Boca Juniors, which sickens my River Plate allegiance.)

Barbara has also been prey to la viveza portena. Her purse was taken at a Buenos Aires restaurant right under the nose of a Secret Service guard and, perhaps as one commenter said, on a dare.

Now it is very easy to fall under the spell of la viveza portena. We Argentineans are great-looking, charming, and exotic. (Unless your family is also Jewish Eastern European and you lack the ability to tan; thanks a lot, Romanian DNA.) We are arrogant, proud, macho, and usually get what we want. We are, essentially, a nation of Spanish-speaking salesmen.

Buenos Aires is a beautiful city. It is, as Shiftless Badger put so aptly, “Paris, filled with Italians, speaking Spanish.”

But you have to be smart when visiting. Travel in packs, don’t speak to strangers and reveal your American accent, always call for a cab to minimize the risk of micro-kidnappings, and learn as much as you can about your neighborhood before leaving.

Once, when Blue and I were visiting Buenos Aires in 2002, we went to El Centro for some sightseeing and came upon an anti-American protest. Blue asked me what they were chanting and after listening for a few seconds, I translated it for him: “Yankees go home, the blood of Argentinean youth is on your hands.”

Blue wanted to leave the protest but I told him everything was fine and that he should not speak. I also told him zipping up his jacket and hiding his UCLA Bruins T-shirt might also be a good idea. We didn’t have a Secret Service detail and we managed to survive BA for nearly three weeks, including a four-day trip to Patagonia, with our wallets and physical well-being intact.

But not everyone is so lucky. My 85-year-old abuela has continually been mugged by purse snatchers in broad daylight.

Even being home doesn’t guarantee safety. Once, during a game of cards with her friends, thieves barged into her apartment, held all the women at knifepoint, and robbed my widowed abuela of her wedding ring. The ring wasn’t very expensive but it held for her tremendous sentimental value, reminding her everyday of my grandfather, who died in 1983.

Being quick and vivo is a typical porteno quality. Not getting cheated or robbed, outsmarting other people, using la viveza porteno, are all traits one needs to get by in Buenos Aires.

The Bush twins are just learning the hard way. Jenna Bush’s Argentinean boyfriend described her as "sencilla" (simple). If he keeps getting the attention and fame he wants, he’ll see he wasn’t too far off.
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