Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What are Argentine people like?

After returning home from travels I always get asked the same question. "What are the people like?" It always comes across as amusing. I know exactly what people want to know, but in a world of political correctness it just sounds so wrong.
Anyway, after more than a year here and many discussions with many Argentine students, some foreign students, Argentine friends and other ex-pats I’ve come to some conclusions about the classic Argentine (more specifically B.A.) M.O. These are stereotypes, thus are being over-applied to describe all Argentine people. Nevertheless, I think foreigners here and Argentines alike would agree they are accurate.

Argentines have a loose sense of time and space.
Being late is the de rigueur in Argentina. It doesn't take long to notice that in a class starting on the hour, everyone will be there by 25 past, or that you’re friend who is twenty minutes away will probably be an hour more. No one thinks twice about spending an hour in line at the bank, supermarket, Rapipago … just about everywhere.  Train schedules are completely irrelevant. It can make you crazy at first if your a stickler for punctuality, but when you show up 20 minutes late for an interview and no one bats an eye, you’ll appreciate it.
Likewise, if you’re looking for something that is within 5 blocks of where you, you'll be told that it's “just around the corner.” Anything from 5-25 blocks away is “8, maybe 10 blocks more.”  

Argentines equate friendship with honesty and closeness.
Service with a smile isn't a rule here. If your waiter/cashier/teller/etc. is pissed off you can bet he’s going to share it with you. He’s not trying to ruin your day (maybe), he’s just being honest. And as one Argentine once told me, if you ask him what his problem is, you will probably form yourself a lifelong friendship.
Nicknames like gordita, negro, viejo and boludo; which literally translate to little fatty, black guy, old man and big ball respectively, are nothing but affectionate. I was shocked as a teacher (and someone appreciates boundaries and hates awkward) when students regularly commented negatively on my appearance (ouch). Everything they think comes out, from clothes they thought were weird (bought here) to agreeing that I looked crappy when I mentioned I didn't feel well.
Another funny story on this topic comes from my boyfriend. He works in an office of difficult people. Taking a passive aggressive stand, he decided he would only greet people he actually liked with the customary kiss on the cheek; troublemakers and bad attitudes would only get a handshake. Several office mates actually complained about this behavior. (Imagine in the states someone complaining that coworkers only said hello, but didn’t touch them!) Having been corrupted by a yanqui who does not support false displays of affection, he responded with a crass “ok, I’ll kiss you on the mouth next time.” Haha. I'm still laughing about this one.  

Argentines are curious, or maybe meddlesome...
When I first moved to my current apartment it was bare-bones living. We didn't have a fridge for the first few days and the curtains had to be custom made so they took a few weeks. Nevertheless, after a five month stint in the campo nothing could bring me down. Well, until one night when we eating dinner, enjoying the view. The glass double doors function as a huge window overlooking an interior courtyard surrounded by a dozen or so other buildings. We were enjoying dinner at the table next to the doors when we noticed our neighbor directly across the courtyard watching us eat... through a pair of binoculars! The building he lives in can't be more than 30 yards from ours, so the binoculars were fully unnecessary to see who lives in the apartment. This guy wanted details.
Likewise, when I say that I'm moving back to the States at the end of the year no one hesitates to ask what about your boyfriend. I don't mean my friends, anyone who knows that I have a boyfriend asks. Some even propose we get married!
Lastly, a friend of mine also once had an old lady tell her that wearing her shorts in public was inappropriate. People are always watching other people, and definitely don't hesitate to share their opinions.

Argentines are passionate.
Whatever an Argentine thinks or feels, he thinks or feels it passionately. They love their teams and hate the rest; soccer team tattoos are none too rare. Whether they support or oppose the government, they will shout it on a mountaintop -- or to be more accurate, in the street with a frying pan. Even regarding daily mundane topics, Argentines have an opinion.
I had a student who always asked me questions like "what do you think of the British accent?" He took my answer of something like "uh, I don't think about it. I guess it sounds more polite..." as dismissive. Really though, I just don't think about it and don't have any opinion on it. But, it's rare in Argie life to get "I don't know" or "I don't care" like answers. 


  1. Hi I'm an Argentinian living in Florida for a year now and still miss my roots (Buenos Aires) you made me laugh so hard! Muy buena onda!

  2. Thanks for your insight. Agreed to host a 17 yr old from Argentina for the next 3 months and actually don't know much about the country or people! But we will soon find out!. It will be great for my boys I'm sure.