Well, it´s been seven weeks since I first landed in Argentina and in those nearly two months, I have come to experience many fascets of Argentine culture (some of which I was expecting, and some I was not.) Whenever I Skype or text my friends from home, they ask me what some of the biggest culture shocks I have experienced so far in Buenos Aires, so I decided to make a list of my Top 5 Argentine Surprises (starting from the least shocking to the ones that throw me for a loop on the regular.)
**The anthropologist in me is weary about making sweeping statements about a general population, so let me just say I am aware my sample size of Argentine friends and acquaintances is no way an accurate representation of the population as a whole. This list is merely intended to highlight some of the more comical confusions I have experienced while abroad thanks to good ole ethnocentrism.
5. Kindness: In all honesty, a lot of the blogs and websites I read about expats´ experiences with porteños were fairly negative and seemed to be focused on Argentine arrogance. My experience? Nothing at all like that. Sure, there will be some waiters who impatiently switch to English when I do not understand their accent, but that´s to be expected anywhere. My friends and I have asked dozens of Argentines of all ages and backgrounds questions on the street, and I have never, never been brushed aside by any of them. I even had an elderly woman who could not understand me enlist the help of her granddaughter (who studies English in college) via cellphone in order to help me find the Subte.
4. Host Families (and returning to familial life in general): I honestly cannot tell you the last time I had to tell my dad in the US what time I would be coming home when I go out, but here, it´s an every day thing. I come from what I previously considered to be a close-knit Italian-American family, but, wow, do these Argentines have us beat. Everyone eats dinner at the same time every night, and familial obligations trump literally everything. Ask me how many times I have had Argentine friends tweak plans due to a niece or third-cousin´s birthday party that ran late. Go ahead, ask me.
3. La Cena: I knew it was going to happen. I knew that once I got one the plane, my days of eating at the grandmotherly 5:00 pm were long gone. But no amount of mental preparation could prepare me for my first cena at 11 pm. I would love to say this part has gotten easier with time, but haha. It has not. (Side note: My Argentine friends tell me that eating at 5 pm is considered a late lunch, which consistently makes me feel a little triste.)
2. Greetings: Specifically in the elevator and in the classroom. I´ll address the former first. In big buildings (such as the IFSA office downtown,) whenever someone enters the elevator, everyone already inside says “hola,” and when somebody gets off, they all say “buenos” or “buenos días.” It took longer than I care to admit to realize that these people don´t actually all know each other; they´re simply being polite. The same type of situation happens in the classroom, except, from what I have gathered, these people are actually friends. But the funny thing here for me is how these people will greet one another. without. fault. A kid walks in class late and the profe is mid-lecture? Let´s all say hola anyway! This was a huge change from my Kenyon´s practice of “enter the room silently and discreetly once class has begun” rule, and I gotta say, I find it refreshing.
1. Rain: Anyone who has chatted with me/heard about me/has a friend of a friend who might know me has probably heard how confused the lluvia makes me. But, oh, I can wrap my head around precipitation just fine, but what I cannot seem to understand is the way some Argentines seem to react to rain. Seriously, I have had friends skip class due to a drizzle, and sometimes the profesor will offer a sympathetic shrug and “yo también” in response. And informal obligations such as meetups and dates? Forget it. My North American friends and I have had to realize that, just because our Argentine friends cancel plans twenty minutes before they are set to begin, it does not mean we are not truly amigos.