Culture Shock in Argentina

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Argentina is in Latin America and although the impression is that it is the most ‘European’ of South American countries, it is still Latin by nature - lively, emotional and family oriented. It is a place where men are men, (or gauchos) and women are made to have babies - and they do, from a very early age. It is an intensely Catholic country, which means there is no abortion and girls ‘come of age’ at 15.
Culture shock in argentina
Overall, Argentina is a very big nation so the degree of culture shock expats will experience varies bit by bit from province to province. That being said, if you keep the words ‘manana’, ‘siesta’, and ‘gringoed’ firmly in the back of your mind, you should be fine!

Culture shock in Buenos Aires

In Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital city, the severity of the culture shock you may expect to feel upon entering the nation is considerably mild. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking you might be 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 Argentineans - you will see blondes, red-heads and everything in between.

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

Culture shock in rural Argentina

However, if you're an expat interested in living outside of this cosmopolitan metropolis and the other big cities, culture shock in Argentina becomes much more pronounced.

The siesta is one thing a foreigner never really gets used to; this is the four to five hour shutdown in the middle of the day - after a big family midday meal - when everyone sleeps. The towns become empty and ghost-like; even the flies are stunned into submission! The shops start shutting at 12pm and rarely open 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; most people go out to eat at 10.30pm or so - don’t even think of going clubbing before 1am in the morning!

culture shock in Argentina, horse drawn cart in the cityOutside of the main towns, you really go back to the ‘corner shop’ mentality. Shopping is a trial exercise and often a test of patience if you are used to ‘one stop’ shopping malls. You never help yourself in a store as there is a numbered ticket and queuing system (the Argentineans are good at that). The person that serves you won’t wrap your goods or take your money; those tasks are done by two other people.

After several lifetimes of socialist government, employees are not trained to think laterally. If what you want cannot be ticked in a box or have its ‘t’s crossed and its ‘i’s dotted, you cannot have it.

Expats should also understand the process of being ‘gringoed’, 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.

That means that the car you want to buy from that garage on the corner will miraculously cost double what your Argentinean friend was quoted, and this goes for any job you want done as well. Argentineans have a constant struggle to deal with the ups and downs of their erratic economy, and any foreigner is deemed a millionaire in comparison. Short-term financial gain will always win out over long-term after-sales service.

Speaking English in Argentina

Do not expect to find the English language spoken anywhere outside of the big cities - you do need to speak and understand some Spanish, and anything more complicated than asking for a coffee and a sandwich will require a translator.

Assimilating into Argentina can often result in a much larger shock than expected upon arrival, and after some time in the country, it will begin to eat away at your sense of humour!

Having said that, there are many up-sides that come with the country’s culture package - long, languid barbecues, plenty of very good wine, superlative steak - and the fact that foreign currency can traverse great distances.

Our Argentina Expert

GillyRich's picture
Gilly Rich
the United Kingdom
Gilly Rich is a writer and editor who has travelled and lived abroad for most of her life. Currently living in Argentina...

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