The other day when I was filling in a report for my university in the Netherlands about my exchange in Argentina, I found myself stumbling on a simple question: “Describe 2 cultural differences you encountered during your stay”. Suddenly, I was stuck, because I honestly did not know what to put in these two small boxes, after 6 quite intense months in this country which is so different from my own. So I stopped.
The truth is: there are too many cultural differences to just and by now I have come to a point where I don’t even keep track of all the Argentine curiosities that I discover on a daily basis. Of course, there are many typical stereotypes about Latino culture, and I would just like to describe the “tranquilidad” that most people would probably consider the most prevailing feature of this culture.
Here, it is common to ask each other how you are doing. I used to make fun of one guy I was dating, who always used to answer “todo tranquilo por suerte” (luckily, everything is calm), instead of a plain “bien”. Why is it good that it is always calm and easy?
Most people work a lot, i.e. long hours. The majority of students in my school were working full-time, as well as studying full-time. Incredible. If they are lucky, employees get up to 14 vacation days per year, compared to (normally) 30 in Germany, for instance. What I experienced in many cases, though, is that a lot of times “work” equals spending time in a work place with many colleagues. Stores the size of 20m², cafés, libraries have up to 5 front-desk employees. One would assume that the service is better and quicker this way, but it is the opposite. Mostly, they are literally doing nothing, but they are working. For a German eye, this is clearly inefficiency, but I am not trying to make this sound negative at all. “Work” is an extremely important part of life here and I think it is honorable that people are so willing and disciplined to go to work, because I have perceived life in Argentina as anything but easy.
However, Argentines are kind of an exception in that sense (although personally I have not had much experience with other Latin American culture to know first hand). Many consider themselves European, and even have European passports. Therefore, although a lot of things are a mess (un quilombo), they claim to be and seem extremely sophisticated. The other day at a party, I had quite an intense conversation with a guy from Rosario about my perception of Argentina. When he asked me whether or not I liked Argentina, and I answered “yes”, he was surprised and started a 30-minute speech about what is wrong with the country. The one thing that stuck to my mind the most (and frankly I wasn’t in a sober state) is that he said Argentina is like a child who needs a mom and a dad who take them by the hand to guide them. When I thought about this again, it seems accurate to some extent, because a lot of times I had found myself even angry because of the way people argue here. Many times the excuse for things that obviously aren’t working well or right (e.g. poverty) is just that it is the responsibility of a higher power, i.e. the government’s, not in any way one’s own.
I have had several encounters like this one where Argentines tried to convince me that it is not a “good” country. For instance, one Sunday when I had just moved to Buenos Aires, I was waiting at the corner of the street waiting for my friend to pick me up, when a guy tried to hit on me by asking me for directions. Of course I could not help him, but we started talking for a minute and he said that Argentina was not a good country in his opinion. He wanted to go on about it, but luckily my friend arrived just in time to prevent it. I had asked myself why you would say that to a foreigner who you had met on the street.
Anyways, some people have to realize that it is not about being a “good” country, because this is impossible to define. Then again, this restlessness and urge of some Argentines to change the system is what I admire the most about this country. Most Argentines love their country, but are just critical of so many things that can be improved. What is most fascinating is that, since Latin America is a region that is developing quickly at the moment, people know the potential and expect a brighter future for their country. I, too, have high hopes for this country. However, considering the “tranquilo” feature of this culture described earlier, it is going to be exciting to see what the future holds for Argentina.