Culture Shock: Argentina
Argentina by Héctor de Pereda
Sally O'Brian went to Buenos Aires, Argentina, for her year abroad. Here, she gives us an account about her time there, with an insight into Argentinian culture...Famed for their sultry dances, gorgeous food and flirtatious nature, Argentinians are a cut above the Latin American rest (or so they would have us presume). When I landed here, I was swept away by just how European Buenos Aires looked and felt, though I did occasionally run into a colourful building which reminded me I was in South America. Throughout my time here, I’ve really learned to love this place, with its quirks and people but there are a few cultural issues that have stuck out more than most...
You’re so vain...
Argentinians are probably some of the vainest people I know. From billboards to porteños, it seems everyone’s obsessed with their hair/figure/general appearance. Men, women, old and young place prime importance to appearing well-groomed and well-heeled. You’ll find it’s a particularly common trait amongst the Buenos Aires’ middle-class, though there is a strong sense of pride and chutzpah around the country - the Argentinians are proud to be voted as one of the best looking nationalities, and they’re not afraid to show it. During my time here, I have seen it all: from emo teenagers, to fashionistas getting a few looks wrong, to unbuttoned-to-the-navel shirts on sweaty men, to older women with indecent amounts of hairspray on their barnet. Having said that, it is precisely this attention to physical detail that has, somewhat, made me a little more grown-up and slightly less studenty in my dress sense. It’s also worthy to note that, although the food is to die for, many young girls are remarkably thin; so much so, in fact, that I wondered whether they ate any of the asados at all...
Food, or rather, meat and plenty of it!
The Argentinians are not a nation of small-portion eaters - oh no. You’ll have at least a whole cow to deal with, on the parilla, should you be invited to an asado. And it all gets whacked onto the barbie - there’s no squirming at the sight of cow’s intestine or black pudding in these parts; vegetarians beware. If you’re lucky to be in the capital, you will come across vegetarian places, but if you’re in Mendoza, round Patagonia or even in the North of the country, your ethics might be pushed to the limit. Many vegetarians actually resort to eating meat out here, and frankly, once you’ve seen the quality and the quantity, you can easily see why. I love meat, I really do, but even being here has somewhat stretched out my limits, not to mention my waistband...It really is something else, though. Take the bife de lomo - you can actually cut it with a spoon it’s so tender! Argentinians have also had a lot of cooking influence from Andean, European and American cuisines, meaning you can take your pick trying out milanesa, tortas and locro. The thing is, people here give you BIG portions. Whereas Argentinian women seem perfectly content with eating a fraction of what is on their plate, I initially chose to polish off all courses and my little basket of bread next to me. Don’t do that, they’ll think you’re weird. It’s also normal to order a bottle with your meal here, whether it’s during lunch or in the evening - which I found rather odd at first, but heck, I went with it and it turned out ok (I am now a wine connoisseur, which amuses my friends back home). The wine here is phenomenal as is the meat, and although there are plenty of other places in the world who can boast incredible grapes, tender beef and delectable tastings, do not mention this to a local. He or she will only tell you just how great their own produce is, leading you into a whole tirade on bovine meats and viniculture. Unless your planning on setting up a farm or vineyard here, don’t claim you know best.
My grandmother was Italian and my dad was French - Argentinian identity
Argentinians seem a little confused, when it comes to describing their roots and origins. You’ll meet some who are all too keen to tell you that their great-great-great aunt was German or Italian, their mother English, father-in-law French etc etc. Every time I have mentioned the fact I’m English out here, I’ve been met with a look of surprise and joy, only to be followed by an account of your conversation partner’s heritage...It can sometimes be a little overwhelming and just a tad pretentious of them, as I felt like saying to them “But you’re great because you’re ARGENTINIAN”, not hearing about their ancient European lineage. Nonetheless, you’ll soon notice just how patriotic they are when you come across a football match, or better still, an argument amongst Latin Americans. Argentinians are passionate, rash, neurotic and just a little over the top. Most of my friends out there went to see a psychiatrist regularly - it’s just part of the norm. I was lucky enough to live with an Argentinian girl, who quickly taught me the guilty pleasures of watching some telenovelas - I just thought their soap operas were very close to home!
Argentinian men and women
What shocked me most when I got here was how flirty and relentless some of the men can be. Though flirting can be quite fun and you’re bound to come across someone who’ll take your fancy here, be careful as to what signals you’re giving out. They interpret ‘not interested’ as playing hard to get, which will mean you’ll have to deal with a night of serenading or, worse still, weeks of them texting you...The women, from what I’ve seen, can be a little erratic and a little neurotic - everything is dramatized here. Some very lovely friends of mine turned into really needy girlfriends in the blink of an eye, requiring text after text, phone call after phone call and weekly romantic getaways, just like that. You can also spot quite a few couples getting it on in the parks around Buenos Aires, with very open displays of affection and heavy petting indeed. If you get invited to a telo by some chap/lady friend, it means business - of the nocturnal kind. Not for the faint hearted, these kitsch places, complete with heart-shaped beds, charge by the hour, half night or night - quite the novelty for foreigners!
Don’t even think about getting a beer at 7PM, nor 8 nor 9....Argentinians start their evening meal at 11PM, and that’s early, by most standards. For some reason, the later the better here, so clubbing usually only gets going by about 4AM, when it’s starting to pick up! Nights can end at 8AM or later, so just make sure you’re not meeting anyone in the morning, though, as most Argentinians aren’t very punctual, you might still make it to your coffee session anyway!
All in all, I had a fantastic few months out here and definitely recommend it! Though the language can be a bit tricky (use of ‘vos’ instead of ‘tú’) and the accent takes some getting used to, it’s a great place to be on your year abroad! Now, just need to shift some of those extra pounds...Hmm bife de lomo...