Learning, Adopting the Concept of Buena Onda in Buenos Aires

Life
May 1, 2012 11:19 am

 I drafted this out quickly during one of my first couple months in Buenos Aires. It recently popped into my mind again, so I decided to post it here.

Buena onda: the Buenos Aires skyline (overlooking Parque Las Heras)

One of my first and most intriguing impressions of Buenos Aires was how strongly I could feel people’s overall energy for life here. The love for living runs like a current, and I immediately wanted to be in it.

I might not have known the colloquial expression to describe what I was feeling those first couple of days, but I soon learned I had been picking up on the “buena onda” of the city. “Onda” is something locals frequently employ in their speech, most commonly with the “buena” (good) or “mala” (bad) descriptors in front. The word onda in Spanish directly translates to “wave,” though the closest English equivalent my native English-speaking friends here and I have found is “vibes.” For example, someone who is buena onda can be said to give off good vibes, while someone you get a bad feeling about or sense as a negative presence can be considered mala onda. Still, onda extends beyond people. An idea, event, happening, characteristic — one can describe any of it as buena onda or mala onda. For example, the phrase “que buena onda” is a more potent, charged substitute for how great/cool/interesting/insert-positive-adjective-here something can be. Invert it all with mala and you have the opposite.

The key is that onda is all about sensing how things affect us. It is something we all influence and are influenced by, regardless of whether a phrase for it exists in our native language. We always pick up on other people’s energy, for better or worse, and then interpret our personal reaction to that onda and how it makes us feel. Why do we love spending time with certain people? They bring something to our lives. We have fun, we are comfortable, we like who we are with them. They make us laugh, think, dream, learn. One could describe why he or she enjoys a certain person’s company a million ways, or simply say that person is buena onda and encapsulate it all. The same, of course, goes for the opposite with mala onda.

My friends from the U.S. and I jumped on the concept of onda so quickly that by the end of our first week in Buenos Aires we had stuck at the top of our mental list of Highest Compliments Someone Can Pay You the attribution of buena onda. (Take notes, street whistlers/grunters/catcallers of Buenos Aires.) On the flip side, the ultimate insult we took as being called mala onda, because it would mean not only were you sucking, but you were negatively affecting others, too. I realized just how thoroughly we had latched onto the concept of onda when we were walking toward El Caminato in La Boca during our second week sightseeing. We politely declined to enter a leather goods store despite the insistence of the teenage salesperson, and he yelled, “Que mala onda!” after us. “HEY!” We all whipped around as though on cue with the same offended reaction.

I have established my overarching goal for my time in Buenos Aires thanks to the concept, and it is all about buena onda. I want to generate buena onda, be buena onda, surround myself with buena onda and have experiences I can best describe only as, “Que buena onda!”

Karina

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