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Snapshots of Buenos Aires: Some Brief Observations on Argentine Culutre

Hey all.  I hope that life is treating you so well.  Congrats to everyone who has finished school for the year, and to those of you that are still mired in exams, good luck!  It’s a little bizarre to see all of these “end of the year” updates roll across my Facebook page, because I am still completely tucked into the warm underbelly of school over here.  People are busy taking finals and I just finished my first round of parcials (midterms).  That’s the result of not starting class here until the end of March (haha suckahs), but while I was jubilant whilst on my long winter break, it’s gonna feel less stellar knowing that all of my friends are on break and having fun adventures while I’m still in school.

Oh wait.

Who am I kidding?  I’m in Buenos Aires!  Classes here are so cool and interesting!  I’m going to have a lunch meeting with one of my favorite new Argentine directors! Everyone day is an adventure!  I’m going to Patagonia next weekend, and Mendoza soon after!  Life is grand!  Exclamation points!

Anyway, sorry for that outpouring of overwhelming exuberance.  Things have been really awesome here in the last few weeks.  The weather is getting cooler (thank GOD), which makes it prime for running.  I’ve been running a lot here lately; it’s not only a cool way to explore the parts of the city closer to me, but I’m also training for my first half marathon (WHAT!?) in June.  But as well as providing me a break from homework and a good physical workout, running gives me the mental space to reflect on the uniquely Argentine things that I continue to notice everywhere I go.  

I haven’t really talked much about the plethora of things–big and small–that differentiate Argentina from anywhere else that I’ve been, but I figured now would be a good time to bring it up, as this subject has occupied my mind on many a run.  Basically, I’ve been thinking a ton about what it means to be an exchange student in a foreign land (much more cogitation on this subject will be in my next post), and I’ve come to the (albeit not 100% certain) conclusion that the biggest thing that I want to focus on during my remaining few months here is to consciously engage with my environment as much as a possibly can.  

It’s so easy to check out and get into a routine of not being mentally engaged.  On the bus, the subte, or the short walk home from a bus stop, it’s very easy for my mind to blearily wander when it should be consciously focused on where I am.  The best way that I’ve found to fully absorb a new culture is not to throw yourself willy-nilly into what the locals do, but instead to actively observe and think about what differentiates the Argentine culture from mine.  

So, that said, I’ve compiled a lil’ list of things that the Argentines do.  Some are certainly similar to behaviors that I notice within other cultures, but every one has a unique porteño flair.  

  • Fathers and sons have a very special relationship.  On the street, it is typically the fathers walking with their kids, and it is common to see Dad’s showering their sons with physical and verbal affections (or physical and verbal punishment, given the situation). Young boys are always very excited to see their fathers, and during dinners at my house it is a common scene for my host brothers and Dad to loudly debate soccer while my host mom and I sit idly by.  I don’t know if it extends from the inherent culture of patriarchal masculinity here, or from some other source, but there is a strong bond between fathers and sons that exists here.
  • The streets have lane lines, but they aren’t really used.  It’s a free-for-all out there in the streets of Buenos Aires, and I’ve certainly had some seemingly close shaves while hurtling around the crowded and chaotic calles in a taxi.  Motorcyclists rub shoulders with massive collectivos, backfiring engines are a common sound, and horns are used so regularly they start to lose their punch.
  • Café culture.  There are cafés everywhere here, and despite providing customers with caffeine and other stimulants, they exude a very mellow vibe on the patrons.  People don’t rush here, especially when coffee is involved.  In Buenos Aires, if you’re 15 minutes late to a meeting, you are on time.  The excuse, “I’m sorry, I was enjoying my cup of coffee and I didn’t want to hurry through it” is not only valid, but expected.  People here give coffee breaks an almost holy level of respect, and the options for fueling up are definitely abundant.  My favorite is City Market, in San Telmo, which is about 3 blocks from my university.
  • Slow-moving, fast-talking people.  Yes, as slowly as the people here may move (on foot, mind you.  The cars all just haul ass everywhere), they speak as though they were reciting the terms and conditions of a product on a radio advertisement.  Now, my castellano is improving at a solid clip, but there are times when a local speaks to me and I have no idea what they just tried to say.  The accent and the speed of their words turns Spanish into an alien tongue.  It’s pretty wacky.  Also, speaking of aliens, that brings me to my last point for this post.  
  • Subtle racism racism.  This is a slightly uncomfortable topic, but it is one that I have run into a fair bit and I’ve spent a lot of time discussing.  Argentina, and especially Buenos Aires by extension, is a pretty racially homogenous country.  Almost everyone is white, with western European ancestry, so we all kinda look alike.  What this leads to, though, is racism towards any sort of difference.  There is a solid portion of people here who have Chinese and other East Asian blood, and for some reason a massive proportion of them work in grocery stores.  So, the Argentines just call the grocery stores “Chinos”, which is the same name they use for any person of East Asian descent, Chinese or not.  

Gosh, here I go again with a massive text-heavy post.  And I haven’t even talked about Lollapalooza yet (which I did promise).  So, I’ll briefly summarize Lolla here, and then just post a bunch of pictures.  

Lolla was incredible.  I saw some of my favorite bands (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ellie Goulding, Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire, Phoenix, Lorde, and much more), and the energy was so amazing, I could’ve sworn I could physically feel the emotion from the crowd.  Argentine people go kinda crazy at concerts, and while I almost got trampled at the Chili Peppers mosh pit, I have also never felt anything as energizing as singing along with a crowd of almost 60,000 people who were all just out of their minds with excitement.  Plus, the venue was gorgeous and I met a bunch of new friends from all over the place: the States, Venezuela, Spain, France, and Argentina.  Even though getting home was a bit of a struggle (imagine these 60,000 people cramming into busses after the show and that might give you an idea of how hectic it was) I am so so glad that I went.  Pics are here.

Well, thanks for sticking with me again, and I’ll talk to y’all again next week.  Now, time for a run!




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