Subte: (Metro) Culture in Buenos Aires

April 27, 2011
Subte: (Metro) Culture in Buenos Aires

For those unfamiliar with Buenos Aires, the “subte,” short for “subterraneo” is the metro system in the capital federal. After two months of riding the subte on a daily basis, I have gathered some tips, observations, and explanations for future Buenos Aires visitors.

Subte: (Metro) Culture in Buenos Aires


“Demoros,” or delays, are common on the subte, but rarely announced. If your train does not show up for what seems to be a very long time, don’t be alarmed. Even if the train going in the opposite direction has come by several times while you are still standing on the platform, just be patient. Sooner or later your train will arrive at the station. When it does, be prepared to push your way through the crowd to board. As the train pulls into the station, “pasajeros,” or passengers, crowd around the nearest door hoping to get a spot in the packed cars. The “elevator rule” courtesy to let those on the train get off first is more of a guideline than the golden rule.


Despite the rather rushed, every-pasajero-for-him-or-herself experience that is associated with boarding subte, once in the car, passenger etiquette changes dramatically. There are a limited number of seats and there is a definite social hierarchy of who gets a seat and who has to stand. As the train goes from stop to stop, people get on and off creating a constant game of musical chairs of who gets one of the limited seats. Unlike the public transit in the United States, where commercials have to suggest giving up your seat to a senior, it’s a daily reality here.

  • First and foremost, pregnant women and the elderly tie for first pick at a seat. Most of the time, when a mother-to-be boards the subte, people offer up their seats.
  • After that, seats go to anyone with an obvious injury or disability or someone riding accompanied by small children. Similar to above, seats are offered to this group as well. Only once in my time here, did a mother with a small child even have to ask for a seat.
  • Thirdly, the seats are offered to people who might be the same age as your parents.
  • Finally, anything left is for young adults with girls getting preference over boys.

Often while riding subte to my university classes, sellers roam from car to car offering goods that range from 2 peso gum, stickers, scissors and baked goods to coloring books for little kids and local maps, better known as “Guia T’s.” The variety of products for sale underground seems endless. The vendors drop the item in your lap to let you know that you can look at it or try it out “sin ningun compromiso de compra,” without any obligation to purchase. The vendors then hurry back a second time to either collect cash or the unwanted product before the doors open at the next stop. Shaking your head or a subtler facial signal can indicate that you don’t want the vendor to drop the product-of-the-day in your lap. Once in a while, in spite of your behavioral cues, the vendors do it anyway, but it works most of the time.

Subte: (Metro) Culture in Buenos Aires


When the subte is extremely crowded, you have to start making your way from the thick of the crowd to the doors a stop or two before your own. As you squeeze between people, be sure to ask “bajas,” or are you getting off here? This phrase signals that you are getting off and headed for the doors. The good news is that these helpful hints apply more broadly than to just trip on subte. The same customs and behaviors hold true on commuter rail trains and buses. So the next time you’re about to take a ride on the Buenos Aires subte, remember to: be patient, crowd the doorway and make sure to offer a seat to your fellow riders before taking it.

This is my stop, so ciao until next time!



Subte: (Metro) Culture in Buenos Aires photo by Unsplash. 

About Melanie Kaplan

Melanie Kaplan, a graduate of Wellesley College, has lived in Argentina and Brazil.

One thought on “Subte: (Metro) Culture in Buenos Aires

  1. Joleen guckian
    April 28, 2011

    Love it! Thanks for sharing. (I guess I will be insulted if I go on the subte and someone offers me their seat… )

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