Our cultures may vary, but our values tie us together
“No puede ser. Hay una mujer con un bebé y hay muchos asientos. Porque el abuelo necesita levantarse cuando hay mucha gente joven acá…… Falta cultura…”
These are the words I heard from a group of aroused subte passengers yesterday on my way home. During rush hour, the subte is crowded. Think- sardines in a can, but with humans and much less wiggle room in a moving subway train. A woman with a baby was looking for a seat, and while holding her baby and her bag, had to push through the crowd to get to where the seats were. I immediately knew something was off when she had to ask someone to offer her a seat. Here in Buenos Aires, it is customary to offer your seat to those with limited mobility, older age, pregnant ladies, or women with children, especially when there are not open seats left. Even the supermarkets have lines dedicated to this group out of solidarity and respect. Besides some parking spots being dedicated to veterans and expecting mothers in the United States, this was a new part of Argentine culture that I appreciate fully and will continue to embrace.
It is almost an instinct reaction to offer your seat, so it was alarming to hear her ask for a seat during such a crowded, uncomfortable subte ride. An uncomfortable 20 seconds passed by, as everyone in the subte looked for the “victim” of the request. I say this because it is obviously not comfortable to ride home standing, but the 20 seconds was enough for people to make the decision that their comfort overrode a woman with a baby sitting down. 20 seconds was enough for an older couple to realize that no one was going to offer her a seat, so an older man got up and offered her a seat. 20 seconds was enough for a shared feeling of frustration amongst those standing to grow. As the woman sat down with her baby, an uproar broke within the subte, with a younger guy (maybe 23) breaking the silence with the above quote. The voices of other angry passengers created a mumbled background, but the young boy finished his rant by saying “falta cultura.” These two words stuck with me for the rest of my ride home, and more, because it was so strong for me to hear someone from this culture speak out on a moment that lacked it. I continue to feel a loss of culture as the United States becomes more uniform, especially within the younger generations, so it was a welcomed surprise to see a younger adult hold onto to cultural values. It made me realize that the culture of offering your seat is a norm for them, but for me, it is an addition to my cultural palette. Whether someone offers or doesn’t offer their seat is still a decision that did not exist in my culture in the United States previously. My trip to the Argentina was a journey to expand my language capabilities and add to my cultural palette. Moments like this make me rethink what is culture, what am I giving up or gaining, what have I adapted, and what do Argentines identify as their culture (can you identify culture in the absence of other cultures)?