Argentina, named after the precious metal silver, is a beautiful, diverse country and part of the charm is the warm and wonderful people. Of European descent, but with a Latin American spirit they have a sophisticated exterior with an explosive core that is easily detonated if you touch one or more of a few raw nerves. By observing the golden rule Do´s and Don´ts you will find your time in Argentina a rich and rewarding experience and get along just fine.
Greet women with a light kiss on the right cheek – Men you are meeting for the first time a handshake will do fine. Argentine men who are good friends will normally kiss cheeks. Argentines know many foreign men are not comfortable with kissing other men. Even if you have a good Argentine friend they will understand if you don’t kiss them and let the handshake do for the ritual greeting.
Go to Asados – An Asado is the same as a barbeque. It is a good place to meet new people and have some great food. Always bring something to cook and share. It helps to bring lots of beverage also. Your host will probably be impressed if you bring your own plate, glass and flatware. Beware of eating hamburgers that are not cooked all the way through. Argentines will find this revolting and will be sure you will die of e coli or salmonella poisoning the next day. Brick ovens are common in Argentina and will render some of the best meat you will ever have.
Share – If you are in a group and you have candy or cigarettes it is common courtesy to offer some to the whole group. If you don’t they will consider you stingy. Sharing is a big part of this society and to be a part of it you need to participate.
Pay genuine compliments – Any time you get a chance. It doesn’t matter if it’s the weather, the scenery, food or anything else it’s a good idea to pass a positive comment. If you compliment Argentines they will swell with pride and respect you for your intelligent insight. Make sure it is genuine though. They will especially be proud of something you comment on that is better than in the US.
Dote over children – Argentina, as well as most of Latin America, is very family oriented. Any gathering will have children running around for sure. It’s best to give the little ones a lot of attention. The proud parents will take in the glory readily. If you see photos of children in their house be sure to ask about them and say how beautiful they are. It is perfectly acceptable to compliment a stranger´s child and open up a dialogue with the parent and take an interest in the child´s name, age and so on.
Be patient. – Be prepared to wait in lines for almost everything. Things move a lot slower in Argentina than elsewhere except traffic where everyone seems to think it’s a race. It can be frustrating at times to be waiting in line and the clerk or checkout girl seems to be in deep personal conversation with the person he/she is attending to. This is likely to be the case and is perfectly acceptable. Family and friends take priority over work duties. That’s the way it is and who is to say that is wrong?
Try the wine – Compare it favorably to anything you have tried elsewhere in the world, you won’t be far off the mark by doing this. Argentina is the 5th largest producer in the world and until recently was virtually unknown to the international wine scene. Malbec is Argentina’s signature grape and this red is full bodied and tasty. If you like wine you can get very nice table wines for less than a dollar a liter. With the unusually high alcohol content of Argentine wine you won’t need much of it to get your party started.
Don’t bring up the Falklands War – Never call the islands the Falklands. Argentines still call them The Malvinas. They are the Malvinas on all Argentine maps. Argentines believe the islands still belong to their country, even though the British have occupied them for over a hundred years. Many Argentines died during their invasion of the islands in their attempt to reclaim them. They will surely take offense if they hear the word Falklands especially if you are defending the British. In some schools they even have posters on the wall about British pirates that stole their land.
Avoid saying anything bad about soccer player Diego Maradona – Argentines consider him a national icon and the best soccer player ever. If you do talk about him, don’t compare him to any other player, especially Pelé. If you call him a coke snorting communist there may be a fight. You probably don’t want to snicker about the incident at the Rome airport where Italian tax authorities confiscated his 2 Rolex watches and diamond ear-rings to pay back taxes he owed while playing in Italy. It’s best if you don’t talk favorably about arch rival Brazil either. If there is one thing Argentines are passionate about its football.
Never talk about ex-presidents Carlos Menem (1989-99) or Fernando De la Rúa (1999-2001) – They stole money and land from the people and brought the country to collapse. It is considered bad luck to talk about them and people might spit in your face if they hear it. The current President Christina Kirchner is not popular but staying away from commenting either positive or negative is the way to stay safe. Argentine politics are a quagmire of disagreement and corruption. The vast majority of people know this and know there is nothing they can do change it. Chiming in with ‘if only they did this, things would be better’ kind of comments don’t help.
Never say no to a Yerba Mate – If someone invites you to partake of the customary Yerba Mate (pronounced ma-teh) they are extending the hand of friendship. Never say no unless you truly cannot drink it due to stomach problems. Mate is an important group ritual in Argentina. There is a very distinct process to share it. Every one in the group drinks from the same cup or gourd. The first person fills it with hot water. They let it cool for a second and then suck it through a metal straw called a bomba until they hear that sucking sound your mother always told you was rude. They then fill it with hot water and pass it to the next person. This is done 3 or 4 times until the mate has lost its flavor. Mate is somewhat bitter but full of caffeine. Even if you don’t like the flavor smile a lot and go along with the ritual and you will have new Argentine friends.
Don’t brag about your own country – Argentines are very proud of their country, customs, and life. If they hear you bragging about how great the US is, they will surely turn their shoulder to you. They will probably say if its so great why are you here? Many Argentines have misconceptions about the US that have been perpetrated by a biased media. You will hear things like the Apollo moon landing never happened or its better to live in Cuba than the US. It really doesn’t help to argue these points with them. Most likely you won’t change their mind. Even though many things in Argentina are 30 years behind the US pointing them out will only bring scorn.
Never talk about the former military government of Argentina – Those years were horribly tragic for people here, and most people that were alive then are ashamed of those times. Also, never talk about your own military service, no matter how brave or courageous you thought you were. This is especially true for US Marines. The US Marines took part in the killing and invasion of many Latin American countries, and Argentines see those people as brothers and compatriots.
Don’t compare Argentina with other Latin American countries – Again, the people here are very proud of their country and individuality. They have created their own Argentinean version of Spanish with distinct pronunciation, words, and grammar. In most areas of life, the Argentines stand apart from other Spanish-speaking countries in South and Central America and even Spain.