Culture Shock in Argentina
Expats are will experience a range 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. It is a place where men are men, (or gauchos) and women are expected to have babies, which they usually do from a very early age. It is an intensely Catholic country, meaning that there is no abortion and girls ‘come of age’ at 15.Argentina is a huge country, so the degree of culture shock expats will experience varies considerably from province to province. That said, if expats keep the words ‘manana’, ‘siesta’, and ‘gringoed’ firmly in the back of their mind, they should be fine.
Culture shock in Buenos Aires
In Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital city, the severity of culture shock expats may to feel is considerably 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 Argentineans - expats will find themselves surrounded by blondes, red-heads and everything in between.
There are 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
Expats interested in living outside of this cosmopolitan metropolis and the other big cities will find their culture shock in Argentina considerably more pronounced.
The siesta is one thing a foreigner never really gets used to, 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; 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 around 10.30pm. Clubs usually only start filling up after 1am.
Shopping in rural Argentina is a trial exercise 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 Argentineans enjoy their queuing). The person that serves customers don’t wrap goods or take money; those tasks are done by two other people.
After several lifetimes of socialist government, employees are not trained to think laterally. If a request cannot be ticked in a box, it cannot be provided.
Expats should 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.
This means that the car an expat may want to buy will miraculously cost double to what an Argentinean may have been quoted. This applies to a variety of products and services throughout Argentina.
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
Expats should not expect to find the English language spoken anywhere in Argentina outside of its big cities. Expats 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 up-sides that come with the country’s culture package, such as long, languid barbecues, plenty of very good wine, superlative steak, not to mention that foreign currency can go incredibly far.