Breaking My Personal Space Bubble In Argentina

November 26, 2013 Kristance Harlow

First off, I need to apologize for the lack of blog posts. A lot has been happening and I simply have not had the time to write anything lately. Here is my return to blogging after a two week hiatus!

Argentina is all about people. Social connections are, without a doubt, one of the most important things to Argentines. As one of my friends here told me, “I don’t think you have this anywhere else. Friends are family here.” When friends or even acquaintances gather for any reason it’s customary to greet each person with a cheek to cheek kiss. The same goes for saying goodbye. For an oft introverted woman from the USA, this ritual can feel draining at times. Besides the literal pain that happens when I clumsily bump cheekbones with someone, it requires a different level of intimacy and interaction than I am used to.

I’m not pulling some emotional baggage on this. It’s not about feeling self-conscious or not wanting to be put in the spotlight, but sometimes I just want to wave “Hey” and be left to my own devices. It is physically draining for me and truly has taken a lot of work on my part to make the adjustment. The practice of individual hellos and goodbyes has certainly helped me learn people’s names and faces much quicker (hard not to when you’re rubbing cheeks with everyone you meet). It has also forced me to burst my “personal space” bubble, which I can assure you does not exist amongst the friendly Argentines. Showing affection is a vital part of Argentine social relations.

I’m having to force myself to stay more open than I normally would be. You learn an awful lot about yourself when you live with your significant other’s family for three months, let alone when you don’t speak the language. On the upside, if you let yourself be open and are willing to take up the challenge of stepping out of your comfort zone, you can have a blast. Having recently moved into an apartment of our own I’ve been able to breathe a spacious sigh of relief. I’ve taken a week to hide away in my personal space. I am beyond excited for this new stage in my life and my relationship, but I’m finding myself missing the funny dinner conversations we would share and the daily Spanish practice that forced me to learn so much so quickly.

A couple weekends ago, Alejandro’s extended family threw a big party for his grandmother’s cousin’s birthday. As most family reunions go, the booze was flowing, babies were being passed around, people were chatting incessantly, and kids were running up and down the hallways. One elderly man in a snazzy shiny shirt came over and insisted on being in a picture with me. He told me that I needed to tell everyone what a handsome man I met in Buenos Aires.

Music was an integral part of the evening. Several people strummed on classical Spanish guitars while others sat nearby ready to lend their voices to whatever tune was playing. No matter the jig that they played, someone with a beautiful voice knew how to sing it.  One person could start picking away deciding on a song and all of them would seamlessly fall in step, harmonizing folksy rhythms with heartfelt vocals.

One moment that I will never forget is when Alejandro’s grandfather got up and stood in front of the musicians. He began speaking and I assumed he was giving some sort of toast. The crowd hushed and slowly the guitarists added a soft and intense background to his speech. His speech continued on and on, his voice projected through the room. He spoke with a purpose, the intonations in his words meshed with the melody of the guitars. After a while I whispered to Alejandro to ask what his grandfather was doing. He was speaking a poem, on the spot, and everyone was treating it as the most normal thing in the world. I watched in awe, unable to take the smile off my face. I am sure I looked dumbfounded, but I was too busy being entranced to care. I was in the presence of true oral history, being enacted for younger generations. Traditional values and entertainment on display. I didn’t even understand most of what he was saying, but I was utterly spellbound by the performance.

There were several dance performances put on that evening by the birthday woman’s grandchildren. Their choreographed steps and precise movements made it seem like we were at a professional venue. The dancing didn’t stop there, although the good dancing may have. Alejandro’s grandmother, who everyone calls Peachy, was up with the musicians dancing away and she put her hand out for me to join her. After first shaking my head no I took a big gulp of Argentine vino and stepped up to the platform. The guitarists asked what I wanted to dance to, I said in my best Spanish, “I’m from the USA. I don’t know how to dance, so anything is great.” I felt the music in my heart and the air of the room was filled with acceptance and love. The joy at that party was vibrating through me and I tried my best to dance in time with the beat. I laughed hysterically as I clumsily shook my groove thang for all to see. I held hands with Peachy and we laughed and danced and laughed and danced some more. Later Peachy said her favorite part of the evening was when we danced together. I couldn’t agree more.

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  1. mplanck on November 26, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    So good to have you back! You have described the social customs of another culture so beautifully that I wished I could have been there with you. Loved the grandfather speaking his poem to music. I didn&#39;t know you&#39;d found an apartment. Maybe you can share some views of same in another blog. Meanwhile, dance to the music!<br />

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