I’m one of those people who, as many of you will already know, like to try and flow the opposite way to the current stream of trend. Whether this be deliberately for dramatic effect or for genuine reasons I will let you decide. However, at the present moment, I find myself painfully in a position of having to adhere to an expected pattern of behaviour: it’s October, I’m back in Exeter, it’s raining, and I’m well and truly suffering from the famous Post-Year-Abroad-Blues.
The frustrating thing is that I can see myself, a year and a half ago now, coming out of a Pre-Year-Abroad-Departure-Lecture (they’re quite into their long titles here), bright eyed and ignorant of what was before me, telling a group of friends that “Reverse Culture Shock” (another one) wasn’t a thing, and that we’d all be just as delighted to be back at University after a year abroad, as we had been before. How wrong I was.
I thought that in light of this, I would try and cheer myself up by writing a few thoughts on what I miss from my time in Argentina. A bit of a paradox but I think it has something to it. I enjoy writing lists, and I hope you enjoy reading them.
So here we are:
Things I Miss From Living in Argentina (Or Things I Grudgingly Had To Get Used To Whether I Liked it or Not):
1. ¿De dónde sos?
No matter how long I’d been living in South America for, and no matter how much I’d practiced rolling my spanish “R”s and yelling “Che boludo” at long lost friends or strangers in the street, I seemed to emanate some sort of aura of Englishness that was inescapable. I’m not going to lie I did enjoy being English and unique in a country full of people who had never been to England, because I felt interesting when talking about inane things like tea and the Queen and dog walks. That is something I’ll miss.
2. Thank you
As much as I find the English way of thanking and pleasing at every possible moment a little overbearing now, I very much did miss it when abroad. Thanking happened much less in Argentina. During my first day working at the school I held the door open for no fewer than 23 people (Teachers and Students) who filed in past my beaming smile without giving me so much as a glance. All I could do was mutter a sarcastic “you’re welcome” to myself before learning to be a bit more pushy at doorways. Oh and they didn’t do queuing either, innocent looking 70 year old women were to be regarded as an archenemy when at the butchers counter.
3.Very tactile people and kissing EVERYBODY
This was an interesting one. From a friend’s grandmother to your boss, from your landlord to the annoying neighbour with the barking dog next door, you kissed everyone you met. Just once on the cheek, not twice like in Spain. I did really appreciate having a uniform way of greeting people, because it avoided all British embarrassment of “are we hugging/hand shaking/waving like an idiot/air kissing/nodding formally at each other like a muppet?” Strange men were acceptable to avoid kissing, but otherwise, that’s just what you did.
4.Everything taking a very long time to be sorted out
I wouldn’t say I ended up loving the Iberian and South American inefficiency whilst I lived abroad, but it definitely made me chill out about getting things sorted out immediately, and it one hundred percent made me realise how lucky we are to live in England where a 5 minute delay is a legitimate excuse for complaint. In Buenos Aires I once spent 6 hours waiting in queues and travelling across the city to try and withdraw my month’s wages. I went to three different branches and all had run out of cash, because they hadn’t thought to stock up for the upcoming bank holiday weekend, nor born in mind that it was pay day across the whole country. Paying bills and sorting out accounts is something that we can easily do online at home, but not something which has stretched in its entirety to South America. So I’ve definitely learnt not to complain as much, though by nature I will always retain a British impatience when having to wait over 2 hours for a bus.
5. No British Stiff Upper Lip – Let it All Out
Argentinians are a lot more emotionally open. If they were angry with you they would say. If they were happy because it was their birthday you’d know about it. If they were upset because a relative had just gone into hospital, you would get the whole story, from the initial moment of crisis to discussions on possible long term effects for the family’s assets along with many tears, cups of tea (or sips of Mate), back rubbing, sympathetic noises and dramatic hand gestures. It didn’t matter if there was work to be marked or things to be handed in, everything stopped until that person was smiling again. I like that people feel able to express their emotions instead of brushing off personal questions with a “fine thanks”, but it doesn’t half slow things up when you’re trying to plan a lesson for 30 children in an hour.
If they thought she/he was fat, strange, or annoying, they had no qualms about saying it out loud. I liked the directness, if someone didn’t like you, they didn’t feel obliged to invite you to things “just to be polite”. When you were invited to a party you knew it was because your company was genuinely wanted. I think I picked up a certain dose of this which may be a good or a bad thing.
7. Food Sharing
“Cuando hay, hay para todos. Cuando no hay, no hay para nadie”, as my landlady told me. If there was food on the table you could take it and didn’t have to ask. My polite and over exaggerated English manners meant I found this difficult to swallow, for when with new friends I find it impossible to take food without asking for it first. Yet neither was I able to interrupt a conversation in order to do so, something which in Spanish you must learn to do unless you want people to believe that you live as a hermit under an eternal vow of silence.If you don’t interrupt, you aren’t allowed to speak. I therefore spent many a meal stuck in limbo, stomach growling with hunger whilst trying to feebly interject into an animated discussion on Cristina Kirchner. I would sit, melting with hunger, waiting for the opportune moment to ask for the last empanada. But alas, I was too late, someone had already grabbed it.I soon learnt to be more Argentinian about the whole thing, which saved me from near starvation. The policy also conversely meant that if you had brought biscuits into the staff room people automatically assumed they could have one too which was NOT the case. Chocolate digestives were impossible to come by in Argentina, and I wasn’t going to share my limited supply.
This music was my guilty pleasure, and I’m sure anyone who has spent any time living in a Spanish speaking country will agree with me. Nothing like a bit of Osmani Garcia to bring back memories of fernet-filled evenings, asados, nights in Ferona, Niceto, Crowbar… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRp3-D3SMwI
9. Argentinian Asado
I should probably have put this at the top of the list. The asado was THE Argentinian social gathering which involved the most delicious and tender red meat I think I will ever eat, cooked on the parilla, washed down with copious amounts of Malbec or Fernet, and burnt off with solid dancing until 7am the next morning. Fantastic.
10. Small talk
It took me a while to realise that England must be the only country in the world where perfect strangers can bond over the topic of the weather. It just didn’t seem to illicit the same enthusiastic response with Argentinians. I tried talking about food instead, it was much more successful.
Hasta la próxima, Argentina.
Published on Immerse app blog, January 2016.