25 Little Things I’ve Learned About Argentina

October 23, 2013 Kristance Harlow
Evening in Buenos Aires, Argentina

It’s always the little things isn’t it? The little things that make your day like someone holding the elevator door for you, a kind word from the bus driver, or finding a dollar on the sidewalk. It’s also the little things that drive you nuts, the way your coworker won’t stop clicking her pen, when your socks get a hole in the toe but you can’t take them off, getting a paper cut on the skin between your thumb and pointer finger, and how there is never any chocolate in the house when you need it.

The longer I’m in Argentina, the more I notice the little things which are different. At first in a new country, the first things you are aware of are big and grandiose. Like how everyone is speaking Spanish (duh), that’s a big one. Or the food choices, or how different the landscape and architecture is. Those kinds of things, the surface differences, are what you notice first when in a new place. Then there are the little things that remind you that you are not from around here, like the different way to flush the toilet and the way people greet each other.

25 little things I’ve learned since moving to Argentina:

1. Knives are not a given at meals, instead you will probably be given a piece of hard toasted bread, used like a utensil to help guide food to your fork

2. You have to say goodbye to everyone individually, all the time, and it’s with a kiss on the cheek (move to the left to avoid an awkward almost lip kiss).

3. When getting something to drink or eat, offer something to everyone you are with.

4. Friends swear “boludo” or “boluda” at each other in everyday conversation, it’s not a nice term but when used with friends it’s, as my boyfriend puts it, “a common insult but a nice insult between friends.” They also call each other “gordo/a” which means fat, but it’s not taken as the kind of insult that we do in the US.

5. In a restaurant you are being charged for silverware, yes, for silverware. They add the price for each service that comes with the meal.

6. All Argentines are well educated about the state of their economy, and know the best time to sell and buy the blue dollar which is the black market price for US dollars, worth double the amount of the official exchange rate.

7. Everyone drinks out of smaller glasses so they are constantly refilling instead of using one large glass and filling it once.

8. It’s not awkward to ask people to pay you back or to chip in for food, unlike in the States where that can be considered rude or be very uncomfortable, everyone will just ask for money you owe them and it’s no big deal.

9. Physical contact is the norm, everyone is very warm and touchy when conversing, personal space as we know it in the States is a foreign concept.

10. You’re supposed to wear shoes inside, people usually wear slippers when in their own homes.

11. You cannot find sour cream, anywhere. Then again I’m not supposed to eat dairy, but still, don’t look for it because you won’t find it. While on the subject of dairy, you buy milk in bags. Yes, bags.

12. Dinner is always after 9pm, often it’s not until after 10pm, even if you have kids.

13. Don’t use the term “America” to refer to the United States. LatinAmerica considers North and South America to be one continent, so when you say “I’m American” they’re thinking “No shit Sherlock, me too.”

14. The mops are different, instead of using what I would consider a mop they use a textured cloth, wet it, and wrap it over a long pole that has what looks like a squeegee at the end of it. That is what everyone uses to clean floors. You’ll see that everywhere from private houses to janitors in public places.

15. Front doors are always locked with a key, I’ve yet to see a door where you can lock it from the inside without a key and then shut the door and have it locked.

16. The language here is different than the Spanish you’ll hear in most of Latin America. Instead of “tu” for “you” they say “vos” and instead of pronouncing double Ls like “y” such as in “llama” as “ya-ma” they would say “sha-ma.” That’s the tip of the iceberg for strange Argentine-only language nuances. This is the Spanish I’m learning, so when I travel around I’ll be interested to see what kind of reactions I get when speaking Argentine Spanish!

17. When a meal is served, one person serves dinner and everyone else sits while the plates are filled away from the table. Then you must wait to eat until everyone has been served and is sitting.

18. People don’t go out until 2am and the night doesn’t wind down until 7am, so if you want to go out dancing (like I did last Saturday) you better nap during the day (like I neglected to do) so you can keep up with the Argentines.

19. Empanadas are as common to order for delivery as pizza. Every conversation I’ve been around that involved ordering food is whether or not to order empanadas or pizza.

20. Argentine food is the best food I’ve ever tried in all my travels, and most of it is meat and lots of starch, I have no idea how they stay so slim here.

21. Most young people who are educated can speak some English, if they are reluctant to do so it’s because they are embarrassed and think they can’t speak it well enough, so lots of my conversations are in Spanglish, a mix of English and Spanish that most everyone understands.

22. Practically every house has a dog or two or three, and while people are supposed to pick up their dog’s droppings when out for walks they almost never do.

23. Police cars drive around with constantly flashing lights, it’s totally disorienting.

24. You have to ask for the check when dining, even when you are all finished eating the waiter will likely not bring you your check until you request it.

25. The people in Buenos Aires are horrible drivers, it’s terrifying, especially taxis and busses. Stoplights, stop signs, and the lines for driving lanes are taken as suggestions not rules. Few people use blinkers, and they really should since they willy-nilly drift from lane to lane (or just hang out in both lanes) regardless of what other cars on the road are doing. It’s really scary.

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  1. Merr on April 2, 2014 at 11:43 am

    very accurate and nice… but we dont consider us americans…we are.. you divide a whole continent in regions..but is you that are mistaken by thinking north america is a continent,look it up in any bookd that is not so influenced by the US….<br />http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Americas <br />the rest is quite accurate.. we have good and bad things… but your deffect is being so egocentric by

    • Kristance Harlow on April 7, 2014 at 11:16 pm

      Every country has their own understanding of the world in which we live. And every understanding is accurate to a degree. The boundaries of our world are subjective depending on your personal and cultural experience. It isn’t egocentric to think “America” is the “United States of America” it’s cultural. When explained how other countries think, most people will attempt

  2. Rose L on October 25, 2013 at 2:07 am

    LOL It sounds like they drive like the French. There would be 3 cars driving down 2 lanes!

  3. mplanck on October 24, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    Wow! what complexities! Ingrained cultural norms can be difficult for the non-native. You are a brave one, Kristance. I can&#39;t imagine eating dinner at 10 p.m. and going out all night. When do folks work? :D<br />

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