If you’re wondering what to do upon arriving in Argentina, we’re here to help. Not with travel information, though–with information on Argentine customs and culture, which can be just as important. Here are the things to do and things to avoid when visiting Argentina.
Beautiful landscapes with high mountains and the famous “La Pampa”, a long and massive coastline, big cities like Buenos Aires and a healthy mixture of cultures – these are just a few things that make Argentina a country worth visiting. But, as we personally know, it is always hard to understand and follow the different customs of a foreign country without committing a faux pas. So we’ve decided to give you some helpful tips which will help you to avoid disapproving stares.
Communication in Argentina
In Argentina, and particularly in Buenos Aires, people tend to use a more direct, open and to-the-point communication style. Porteños are well known for their slang (does “che, boludo” sound familiar?), which is so widely used that people who’ve never been to Argentina before can take it as a sign of rudeness. If an Argentine talks to you very matter-of-factly, or seems to have too much self-confidence, it’s not a bad sign: they’ve actually taken a liking to you.
Sensitive topics include international politics (with the US or the UK, but usually the US) and Argentine history. These topics could cause people to react negatively and who knows where that might lead? With passionate Argentines, you never know. If you do want to discuss these topics, be well prepared and know your stuff. Likewise, opinions on Argentine politics are not very welcome in the country, unless your knowledge on culture, society and economy is up to date.
Argentines often use nicknames that recall physical traits. Don’t be surprised or offended if you have dark features (skin, hair, or eyes, etc.) and people call you ‘negro’ (black). They often use nicknames like ‘gordo/a’ (fat); ‘flaco/a’ (skinny) in an endearing manner. Note: they have other serious derogatory words.
Lastly, try not to be offended by the Argentine sense of humor. It also tends to be quite witty, sarcastic, and not for the faint of heart! Jokes, gags and “cargadas” are very common here. In fact, jokes can go back and forth so quickly you’re bound to get lost as soon as you hear the first one hit. Hey, it’s nothing personal.
Food and Manners
Do not drink alcohol in public places (you will see younger people do this, but they’re usually seen as uneducated), or on public transportation. Technically, drinking in public areas in the City of Buenos Aires is illegal, but police rarely enforce that law.
You’re not a party pooper if you’re late. In fact, it might be weird if you’re early or, even worse, on time. Most people arrive from twenty to forty minutes late…absolutely everywhere. This is the case for house parties, gatherings, even some cultural events. Fashionably late in Argentina takes on a whole new meaning. Some cultural events do start on time, though, like the Teatro Colón shows or most theater performances.
Similarly, do not head to a bar until 11:30 PM. The nightlife in Buenos Aires is among the best in the world and, crazy as it sounds, the bests nightclubs will open their doors after 1 AM.
Repeat after me: Mate is not the same as tea, and dulce de leche is not the same as caramel. Comparing Buenos Aires’ local food to international recipes and ingredients is a big no-no. It shows a lack of understanding of local culture, and us Argentines are proud of our dulce! If you don’t know the differences, just ask. As for manners, avoid putting your feet up on the furniture as a general rule.
Food and Drink
Expect a late dinner in Argentina. People will usually have dinner at 9 PM or 10 PM, and even later on weekends. After dinner, people stay for the sobremesa (literally, “over the table”) and keep catching up till (very) late, a cup of coffee in hand.
Manners and Style
Do expect one kiss on the cheek for greeting since is the typical and normal greeting way in Argentina. Even to a total stranger, no matter their gender. The meeting starts and ends with a kiss and a “chau”. People here are huggers and very used to showing physical affection, so if you’re protective of your personal space, beware.
Dress nicely and be presentable, because Argentina is a very fashion-conscious country. Especially in Buenos Aires, people are very fashionable and tend to dress in branded clothing, no matter style or season. If you’re invited to a party and you’re not sure what to wear ask for the dress code. It’ll usually be along the lines of an “elegant, but casual” deal if it’s a birthday party or dinner. If not, plain casual is fine. If you’re invited to a party, don’t forget to bring a gift, such as a good Malbec, some masitas finas or a nice candle.
When standing in a line for something, be patient and respect the queue. Many day-to-day chores are done in person in Argentina, as opposed to online, so you’ll see a lot of people standing in line everywhere, at supermarkets, banks, post offices, etc. While we’re at it, go to the post office to mail letters or postcards, not the mailbox. And do not send important things by mail, since the Argentine postal service is not very reliable.
Carry enough small change with you. Only a few stores have change for bills over 1000, and taxis never have change for large notes. Use cash whenever you can for any transaction. In Argentina, people don’t use their debit or credit too much, and efectivo (cash) is more reliable as a payment method because it’s guaranteed to be an option in any store.
When at a restaurant, tip the waiter or waitress the right amount by calculating 10% or more of the check’s total.
Learn to dance tango or, at least, watch others dance it. Dress nicely: no jeans, sneakers, or other too-casual attire. Tango is a pretty fancy event, especially because milongas take place late in the evening. Get used to listening to loud music, loud voices, loud everything. Argentines tend to be shouty and quite literally vocal. It’s almost customary to speak loudly in almost any setting–yes, even a public library.
Just as politics is not a welcome topic of conversation, fútbol (Argentine football) is. Argentines really know their stuff: who won what championship each year, the best goals in the history of the country, and how to get in for free at their favorite stadiums (no, really).
You are now ready to go visit this wonderful country! You can impress all the Argentines by showing how much proper etiquette you know; but even if you fail once or twice, don’t worry. In fact, Argentines are very helpful and chill people.
Also read: The Guide to Argentine Hand Gestures
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