Culture Shock in Argentina

Expats will experience a significant degree of culture shock in Argentina. The country is in Latin America and, despite its reputation as the most ‘European’ of South American countries, it is still very much Latin by nature - lively, emotional and family-oriented.

Argentina is huge and the degree of culture shock expats will experience varies considerably from province to province. That said, if expats keep the words ‘mañana’, ‘siesta’, and ‘gringo’ firmly in the back of their mind, they should be fine.

Culture shock in Buenos Aires

In Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital city, any culture shock expats feel will likely be quite mild. In fact, expats would be forgiven for thinking they’re in Paris, London or Rome. Like every big city, Buenos Aires is a melting pot of nationalities, and its European heritage is prominent. There are no “typical” looking Argentines − expats will find themselves surrounded by blondes, red-heads and everything in between.

The city has a large café culture and there are shopping galleries, tango clubs and schools on every street corner. The city has a vibrant nightlife and locals love to dance.

Culture shock in rural Argentina

Expats interested in living outside of the big cities will probably feel considerably more culture shock in rural Argentina.

One thing a foreigner never really gets used to is the siesta, which involves a four-to-five hour shutdown in the middle of the day − after a big family midday meal − when everyone sleeps. Towns become empty and ghost-like. The shops start shutting at 12pm and rarely reopen before 4.30pm. Nothing seems to be able to interrupt the siesta.

In the evening, people eat late. Restaurants do not open for dinner until 9pm at the earliest, and most people go out to eat at around 10.30pm. Clubs only start filling up after 1am.

Shopping in rural Argentina is a trial and often a test of patience for those who are used to one-stop shopping malls. People never help themselves in a store, as there is a numbered ticket and queuing system. The person that serves customers doesn’t wrap goods or take money; those tasks are done by two other people.

Expats should understand the process of being labelled as ‘gringo’, a term used to refer to all non-Spanish speaking foreigners. This term translates into a mentality that the locals use to shape their interactions with foreigners. Expats should be cautious and should check that they are not being charged more for goods and services than the locals. 

Language barrier in Argentina

Expats should not expect to find the English language spoken anywhere in Argentina outside of its big cities. New arrivals will need to speak and understand some Spanish; anything more complicated than asking for a coffee and a sandwich will require a translator.

Assimilating into Argentina can often result in a considerably larger shock than expected upon arrival. That said, there are many upsides that come with the country’s culture, such as long, languid barbecues, plenty of very good wine and steak, not to mention the fact that foreign currency can go incredibly far.


Gilly Rich is a writer and editor who has travelled and lived abroad for most of her life. Currently living in Argentina with her family, she runs, which is an A to Z guide of how to get by in San Rafael, Mendoza. She has first-hand experience of the expat life and understands the need for support and encouragement when considering a new life abroad. You can contact her at

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