THE WARMTH The Argentinian people have a certain way about them. They are warm and friendly, like all Latin-Americans, but there’s more… The people here are confident, friendly people, as a rule. I find them to be intelligent, articulate and ambitious. In some ways they are laid back, as I expected, but in others, they are more hard-working than I had thought. Many business people work long hours, arriving home at 7, 8, 9:00, maybe even later if they live outside of the city. But working late does not stop them from having fun. As I mentioned in an earlier post, you will find people eating dinner in a restaurant at 11 pm and they will get up early the next morning for work. It’s not a big deal here to get 5 or 6 hours of sleep. It’s not for every day of the week, but it’s not unusual to go out dancing, eating, socializing until 12 or 1 am sometimes. That’s during the week. Now on the weekends, it’s a different story. Many dances don’t even start until 1 am – yes, 1 am. If you go to a dance at that time, you don’t leave until 5 or 6, maybe later. I always hear people passing under my window on Saturday or Sunday mornings around that time, laughing as if it were 3 in the afternoon. It used to aggravate me, but – well, what’s the point?
The people here are generally very tolerant, patient and accepting. They are as a whole not overly religious, although there are some very religious people here. In general though, nothing seems to bother them. Delays or cancellations with the subway, waiting in line for and hour or longer at the bank, annoying solicitors on the street and in the subway – they just smile and go about their business. But all that changes when they get behind the wheel of a car! Then they turn into the big-city honkers and aggressive drivers who will seemingly run you over if you don’t get out of their way fast enough! But back to the tolerance, the Argentinians are not prejudiced people. The roots of this generation go back to the indigenous cultures of the Andes and several other Indian cultures. A large part of the population is also of Spanish (from Spain) and Italian heritage. Of course, as with any large city, you will find a mix of various cultures, but it is quite a melting pot here, and the Argentinians are accepting of all of them, without prejudice. They seem to be particularly fond of Brazilians, and many Argentinians vacation in Brazil, not only because it is close and inexpensive to fly there, but because the Brazilians are such a fun-loving people and the Argentinians are drawn to them.
THE STYLE Style is basically the same, with a few trends that I haven’t seen in the US. The Argentinian girls are currently fond of wearing tight spandex leggings with platform shoes. Tan is a popular color for these leggings, and at first, I had to do a double-take because I thought the girl didn’t have pants on! Short leather jackets are also in style with cute scarves tied around the neck and tucked into the jacket. They also wear boots a lot with the leggings or narrow-legged pants tucked in. The guys dress like guys in the US. I haven’t noticed too much difference, except in the shoes. Business shoes are the squared off loafer and tennis shoes are the same, except for a couple of styles. One leather style has a velcro close that goes across the front of the foot. Another style is open and has a strap like a Mary Jane. That was a new look for me in a man’s tennis shoe. Everyone on the subway carries either a backpack, a messenger bag or a purse. Yes, that includes man-purses, LOL.
GREETING WITH A KISS I find the Argentinians, and the South Americans in general to be very open and generous. They greet you with a kiss and share whatever they have with you. It’s a bit different to get used to the “kiss” greeting. Although I have been around Latinos all my life, we only greeted close friends with a kiss, but in Argentina you greet everyone with a kiss! Yes, even boys kiss boys! Okay, it’s not a real kiss – you just touch their cheek with your cheek and make a kiss sound, lol. And it took me awhile to get used to seeing guys “kiss,” but it’s a lovely gesture.
The businesspeople here are told that Americans and other cultures may not want to be kissed, so they should extend their hand instead, but the Argentinians would prefer to kiss you. It’s a wonderful way of “spreading the love,” and you are only a stranger to someone until that first kiss. I made the mistake of trying to run out of a tango class the other night without personally despidiéndome de everyone (saying goodbye, kiss and all) because most of them were on the dance floor still practicing, and each and every one of them, called out a goodbye of some sort and waved, with this kind of incomplete look on their face like, “What? But you didn’t kiss us.” I felt bad and never did that again!
Argentinian children, like probably most Latino children, are taught to saludar and despedirse (greet and say goodbye to) everyone when they visit or when someone else visits them. They must greet everyone in the house, and it is considered rude if a child stays in their room and doesn’t say goodbye to a guest leaving. I think it’s a wonderful custom and we could learn a little from this simple rule!
SHARING MATE Ah, the mate. Such a wonderful custom! It’s not pronounced mayt, but mah-teh. Mate is an herb that’s made into a tea that every Argentinian loves and drinks every day. Ok, there are a few who don’t, but very few! It contains caffeine and is drunk in the morning, in the afternoon or in the evening, whenever one feels like having it. It’s a little pick-me-up for the day after those late night outings, it’s a relaxing moment in the middle of the afternoon, and it’s a way to spend time with a friend. Mate must be shared. There is a special pot to put the mixture in (also called a mate), and they come in all colors and textures, from solid to animal print, from metal to leather to plastic.
Mates are sold on every street corner and in every grocery store, department store and random curio shop. The tea is made by drying the herb, crushing it and steeping it in hot water. Mate is very high in antioxidants, can slow the signs of aging, detoxify the blood and prevent many types of cancer. It also helps reduce stress and insomnia, so it’s no wonder it’s such a popular drink here. You will see people sitting in a park sharing mate, in the office and even on the subway enjoying their daily cup! There is a screen inside the mate (holder) in which you put the herb. Then you pour hot water on top and let the tea soak up the water. You can add sugar or sweetener. You drink it out of a little metal straw from the bottom and the screen keeps the leaves from getting into the water. You keep adding the water to your mate as you drink. People carry thermoses around for this purpose.
The idea is, though that mate is for sharing, so it’s passed around and everyone takes a sip. For this reason (and probably because the pots kind of resemble bongs), some people mistakenly think it’s a drug. I’ve tasted it and don’t really like it. It’s an acquired taste. Kind of bitter, even if it’s sweetened. I’m not much of a tea drinker to begin with, but I do like the idea of the sharing, and my palate is slowly getting used to the taste.
In short, I have fallen in love with the people of this country. They are not only caring and giving, they are a truly sensitive people, who are so thankful for what they have. Their Facebook posts are so different from the ones of my American friends. They post with affection and gratitude for each other and for the wonderful comeraderie that was enjoyed at a particular event. They are truly filled with awe and their hearts swell with pride and gratitude for the gift of friendship that they share with each other. Many of these postings are so eloquently put, they should be published (well, I guess they are). I am so grateful to have met so many wonderful people here, and it makes me contemplate the things, the friendships, the world I didn’t appreciate before or maybe took for granted….