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Argentina is a country with a rich cultural heritage, shaped by its history of European colonisation, indigenous traditions and cultural interchange with neighbouring countries, making it a fascinating and complex place to live as an expat. However, adjusting to life in Argentina can also be a challenging process, as newcomers grapple with the differences between their home culture and the norms of their new surroundings.
The degree of culture shock expats experience will vary considerably from province to province, although expats interested in living outside the big cities will probably experience more culture shock.
In the capital, Buenos Aires, any culture shock expats feel will likely be mild. In fact, expats would be forgiven for thinking they’re in Paris, London or Rome.
Political protests in Argentina
Argentina has a lively culture of social protest, and demonstrations are common in Buenos Aires and other cities. While many protests are peaceful, there has been an increase in violent clashes between protesters and police in recent years. As a result, expats need to be aware of their surroundings and avoid getting caught up in protests whenever possible.
For expats who do find themselves in the vicinity of a demonstration, it's generally best to move away from the area quickly and calmly. While protests can be an interesting way to observe Argentine political culture, large crowds can always be unpredictable and potentially dangerous, so it's best to exercise caution.
Women in Argentina
Recently, the Argentinian government has taken steps to address gender inequality through various initiatives, including incorporating gender-related initiatives into the national budget. The government hopes that these efforts will result in greater gender equality in the workplace and better access to public services for women in Argentina. Nonetheless, it's important for expats to be aware of the cultural norms around gender and to be mindful of their own behaviour to ensure that they are respecting local customs while also promoting gender equality.
Like many countries in Latin America, Argentina has a history of machismo, or an exaggerated emphasis on masculinity, which can manifest in various forms of gender inequality. While overt forms of harassment such as catcalling and groping have become less common in recent years due to the rise of feminist movements, expats may still observe that gender inequality is a significant issue in Argentina.
One unique aspect of Argentine machismo, however, is the culture of chivalry that has developed alongside it. Men may offer small acts of courtesy such as holding doors or letting women off elevators first, although some of these actions may also reflect a gendered division of labour in public spaces. Additionally, there are instances where men may be expected to pay for women's expenses, such as in restaurants or on public transport.
Local customs in Argentina
One thing foreigners may never really get used to is the siesta, which involves a four-to-five-hour shutdown in the hottest part of the day − traditionally after a big family midday meal. Although siesta is a part of Argentinian culture, it is more commonly practised in rural areas or small towns rather than big cities. Towns can become ghostlike, with shops closing before midday and rarely opening again before early evening.
The long siesta means that the work day ends late, and people also eat dinner much later. In fact, everything in Argentina is done later. Restaurants often do not open for dinner until 9pm, and most people go out to eat at around 10.30pm. Clubs only start filling up after 1am. On any given day of the week, city streets are still bustling with people at midnight or even in the early hours of the morning. Even children are still up and energetic at these hours.
Local greetings are another custom expats seem to struggle with initially. Kisses on the cheek when greeting hello and goodbye is part of Argentinian culture. When Argentines enter a room, every single person − stranger or family − receives one kiss on the right cheek.
Football (soccer) is a passion in Argentina, and it is often a topic of conversation among locals. The country has produced some of the best football players in the world, and watching a game in a local stadium can be an exciting cultural experience.
Tango is a dance that originated in Argentina, and it is an important part of the country's cultural heritage. Many locals take tango lessons and attend milongas (tango dance parties) regularly.
Language barrier in Argentina
One of the biggest struggles for expats moving to Argentina is not being able to speak the native language. English is not widely spoken outside the big cities, and, to complicate matters further, Argentines are known for having a very specific dialect. This is markedly different to the kind of Spanish spoken in Europe.
This language barrier can make things such as banking and renting an apartment extremely difficult. It would therefore be quite helpful for new arrivals to learn some Spanish. Even having a basic grasp of the language will help with simple tasks like ordering at a restaurant or getting directions.
►Read more about Learning Spanish in Argentina.
Shopping and food in Argentina
Buying food in Argentina differs from what a lot of expats may be accustomed to. Instead of going to larger supermarkets which sell everything under one roof, Argentines prefer shopping at more specialist stores – which often lowers the price of groceries significantly. This means instead of running into one store to get the weekly shopping, Argentines would go to the bakery for bread, the butcher for meat, and the grocer for fresh vegetables and fruit.
Argentina is any meat-lover's dream. Some of the most popular dishes, such as locro, asado, parrillas and empanadas, typically centre on beef. That said, larger cities are seeing a boom in vegetarian and vegan restaurants. Today, Buenos Aires has a growing multitude of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, plus many more that offer plant-based options.
Mate is a traditional South American tea. It is a popular drink in Argentina, and it is often shared among friends and family in a social setting. It is customary to drink mate from a shared gourd using a metal straw called a bombilla.
Dos and don'ts in Argentina
- Do greet people with a kiss on the cheek – this is common, even between people meeting someone for the first time
- Do learn some basic Spanish
- Don't be too direct, as Argentines value politeness and indirect communication
- Do dress neatly and conservatively
- Don't wear a hat indoors
- Do try the local cuisine. Omnivores should be sure to try some of Argentina's famous beef, and the asado (barbecue) is a quintessential Argentine experience and a great way to socialise with locals.
- Don't tip too much. Tipping in Argentina is generally around 10 percent, and tipping too much can be seen as showing off
- Do be punctual. Argentines are known for being a bit lax about punctuality, but it's still important to show up on time for meetings and appointments
- Don't bring up the Falklands. The Falklands (or Malvinas, as they are known in Argentina) are a sensitive topic for many Argentines
►For first-hand accounts of expats living in Argentina browse through our Expat Experiences in Argentina page.
►Learn more about workplace culture in Doing Business in Argentina.
"As a friend just now described it; ‘everything is upside down’ compared to how life is in Canada. It’s a bit backwards; a lot of things that should be easy are very difficult. But you just find a way to adjust and make your life like an adventure. Oh, and find your patience. You need LOTS of patience, creativity, and an open and relaxed mind." Read more about Amelia, a Canadian expat, and her life in Argentina.
Are you an expat living in Argentina?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Argentina. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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