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The cultural observations of an Argentine living with a foreigner

Last week we heard from one of our Expanish colleagues about her experiences as a foreigner living in Buenos Aires, the cultural differences that one experiences on a day to day basis and the different scenarios one encounters. But as we know, there are always two sides to the story. So, this week, Expanish Spanish School blog has been speaking to one of its Argentine colleagues who, living with her British husband in Argentina, gets to see and experience the cultural differences, but from a very different perspective….

I have been lucky to have the opportunity to travel since I was very young. I gained so much from seeing other countries and experiencing other cultures, but the greatest has been meeting my British husband.

Although we met in a country that is neither his nor mine, and even when we had been travelling for long before meeting, thus, not overly attached to our native cultures, cultural differences are a daily topic, in a fun way. There are many things that he has been able to adapt to, but there are still a few oddities….

The Christmas present opening debate

Ahh, Christmas! Lots of nice food, family exhibiting bizarre behavior (which may or may not be influenced by champagne-for those who can afford it-or sidra-the fizzy drink featuring apples), and presents! Nothing could go wrong here…or could it.

In Argentina, we celebrate Christmas Eve. And presents are given exactly at or after midnight. So, imagine my shock and slight disappointment when my dear husband was withholding my much awaited gift until the next morning, not only mine, but all of the gifts for the rest of the attendees to the gathering! When he explained that in his home country gifts are given during Christmas morning, we were quite flabbergasted. With patience and cultural sensitivity, we came to an agreement: we open presents at midnight, and we save one to be opened in the morning (well, more like noon).

 

That first Nochebuena, he learnt about another argentine custom: all the females get pink underwear, and they should be wearing the ones received on the last Christmas Eve. I have no idea where this came from, but my grandma chase us with the little packages, making sure we were in line with the tradition.

Plastic jugs are a car seller best friend

This might be a huge clarifying moment for you. Some time ago, we sold my dad´s car. It was a nice car, in very good condition. So how did we do it? Internet ads, classifieds, normal stuff? No! We did it Argentina´s way! How is that? Well, parking it on the street and putting a plastic bottle on top of the roof, of course!

 

Probably, if you are paying attention and walk around the barrios, you noticed that some cars have bottles on top of them…VW combis, BMWs, pick up trucks, tiny little Fiat 600 cars, this national marketing strategy doesn´t discriminate between nice and shiny or beaten up vehicles. The type of bottle doesn´t matter, it can be a big gallon, a liter, whatever. The important thing is that it has to be full. And, in the best case you put your contact info on the window, or leave it up to the potential buyer to find you.

Football matches days are national holidays

My husband is a hard worker. A power tool guy. He designs furniture, but since he is very picky about craftmanship, he oftentimes builds his own pieces to his own standard of perfection, which differs from the typical argentine standard of perfection. this means that he spends a lot of time in the workshop, working with locals. During the last World Cup, he was in the middle of a project for a boutique Hotel. He went to the workshop early one morning, to find that there was nobody there. Panicking, he started calling the carpenters, none of them would answer their phone. Worrying about a massive carpenter abduction and the effects this would have on the project, he started working, doing everything by himself. At some point, he needed something from the hardware store, but it was closed. What was this? A plot against him? Mysterious forces trying to tell him he should stop working and devote his life to DJing instead? Close to midday, workers started slowly coming back. they had been watching a football game. While apparently, in his home country of England, like here, everything stops when there is a game, his years of living abroad and the fact that he’s not very fond of football, led him to develop strange theories as to why streets were deserted.

 

Argentines kiss and hug everyone!

The first times we went to see my friends and family, I was a witness of an interesting “dance” between males. We would arrive to gatherings an parties, and after hugging and kissing me, my male friends and relatives would attempt to kiss and hug my husband. Even when I had told him about this custom before arriving to Buenos Aires, I think experiencing it right on the spot was a bit funny. Someone would spread arms and say something like “daaameee un abrazoooo” and he would try to extend his hand, making an awkward expression, before sinking with an open mind in the arms of a stranger who already loves him.

 

The times we received visitors from his home country, I diligently hugged and kissed them on the cheeks, opening the season of funny-awkward-sometimes bordering uncomfortable situations between the family from this side of the Atlantic and the family from his side. The highest moment was introducing my uncle (like a father to me) to his dad, a moment full of South American / Anglo love an embarrassment.

Analyze yourself

Buenos Aires is one of the cities with the highest ratio of psychologist per habitant. I think it comes after Geneva, or Paris. We love our therapists. We develop deep bonds with them, love them and in some cases, an unhealthy dependence might occur. For the most part, there is nothing particularly wrong with us, it is something you start to do around adolescence, just to keep everything running ok mentally, to keep your neurosis in good shape. Anyway, in the beginning of my husband’s argentine journey, he had a typical case of culture shock, homesickness and confusion about the future. It didn’t surprise me, since I was going through something similar myself, and I was born and raised here!

 

When I suggested finding a therapist, he looked at me as if I had two heads. What? To pay someone just to whine? No way! I can talk to you! You can help me! He was truly confused about the suggestion, and when those initial hard times were fortunately gone, he would secretly and not-so-secretly chuckle when my friends would talk about their psychologist-dramas. When he started understanding more and more Spanish, and could understand what friends would tell (very intimate and personal things casually over coffee, definitely TMI for his taste) he would wonder why, oh why, if you go to therapy, you also have to participate your friends about the minute details of your family issues, relationship issues and existential issues. He urged me to be more discreet about things involving him, and for the most part, I do. (For the most part)

Being a multicultural family (our son was born in Mexico, a country where we lived for a few years and we have a deep connection with, and is important for us to keep that cultural bond strong for our child) means that we need to approach differences with an open mind and cultural sensitivity. It is also a source of amusing anecdotes we like to tell our friends. It is an eclectic mix of flavors, sounds, customs and traditions. And something we feel very proud about.