Friday, December 29, 2006

Taking Cultural Stock

I've been here for almost three weeks now, and I am at the point where I can begin to assess some aspects of Argentinian culture - some qualities I like, some I don't.

What I like:

Argentinians have the true joie de vivre that the French only think they possess. They love to eat, they love to party, they love spending time with large groups of friends. It is truly a culture that holds community in high esteem. Because most people grow up, go to high school, college, and then work in the same town, many people have large groups of friends that they have had their entire lives. Every weekend, they assemble in large groups, and everyone in the group always knows what everyone else is up to. I like this. Perhaps I like it because I'm an only child of divorced parents, and I have always longed to be part of a group, a large, close family. Perhaps I like it because I'm a very social person, and enjoy assembling friends. Argentinians make a lot of noise, they have a lot of parties, and they have a lot of fun.

I also love the schedule. Of course it's not like this only in Argentina, but I love that they have a long dinner at 10 pm, linger until 1 or 2, and then go out for drinks or to a party. You can't meet someone for a quick drink or dinner here - there's no such thing as the American two hour meeting (which I can't stand, incidentally). Nights will very often end at 6 or 7 in the morning.

They also, like in practically every country but the U.S., live with their parents well into their 20s. It's expensive to live on your own, but even among the wealthy Argentinians, I haven't really seen it. The only people I've seen who don't live with their parents either have very, very bad relationships with them, or have parents who live outside of the city of Buenos Aires. To be clear, this particular aspect for me is neutral, it's just an observation.

What I don't like:

They're kind of flakey. I guess when you're really carefree, and you're also trying to coordinate plans with 50 people, some plans fall through the cracks. They are also notoriously late. Several times I've been lost and running 30 minutes late to meet someone, walking frantically around, asking for directions, only to arrive at the meeting place, usually a streetcorner, and see the person just walking up.

Argentinians, because they're so friendly and so communal, have a weird tendency of inviting you to do a million things and then not following through. It's strange to begin with - you wonder why someone you just met is inviting you to their family's weekend house, or to spend Christmas with them. I met a guy for the first time, and in the course of the evening, he made plans with me for practically every night that week - we'll go for an asado (barbeque) this night, we'll go water-skiing this night, you'll come to my family's place the next night, we'll go to the theater on this night, we'll hang out with Maradona on Friday (yes, he said this)....and then I never heard from him again. This is actually pretty typical.

They also have sort of strange dating rituals. The men are quite aggressive, as you may have already guessed. It is normal for a women to reject a man 4 or 5 times before accepting a date. In fact, it's sort of required. In the U.S., if a guy asks you for your number and you say no, unless he's sort of strange, you'll probably never hear from him again. Maaaaaaybe he'll ask a second time - but FIVE times??!?!?! Then, on the fifth time, if she's interested she'll say yes, and they either go out, or else it's quite typical that the guy will then back off, and not call again, regardless of whether they've slept together or not. If the woman doesn't reject the guy at least a couple of times, she seems desperate, and the guy usually backs off.


You talk to Argentinian women and they all say the men are "histericos," which obviously literally means hysterical, but has the connotation of "tease". If you talk to the Argentinian men, they swear up and down that the women are very "histerica", and they're much worse than the men. In any case, who has the time?

One last thing: like most countries outside the U.S., political correctness hasn't really made it down here. As Americans, we take it too far, in my opinion, but all in all, I'm glad that most people feel uncomfortable using, for example, the word "nigger." Here, it's quite common, and they use it to talk about the "native" population of Argentina, the non-Europeans. Of course, at this point, there has been so much mixing going on, that I doubt there is a pure "native" population. However, the people you see begging on the subways, the children who come up to you and ask for money, the people who do the manual labor, all have darker skin. Many "white" Argentinians feel very comfortable joking about the "negras", and I've heard three guys tell me that as a rule, the negra girls aren't pretty. At a dinner, one guy I was with was talking about his friend Jose who was about to join us, and he said: "I love Jose. He's one of my best friends. And he's one of the only Jewish people I know who isn't obsessed with money." Awesome. Of course it's not like no one thinks or says these things in the U.S., it's just that in many circles, people don't feel comfortable being so explicit with their prejudices. I pointed out to this guy that what he was saying was a bit of an ethnic stereotype, and he started backpeddling, realizing he was in the company of an American who probably had a lower tolerance for off-the-cuff racism. "No, they're just so GOOD with money, don't you think? I mean, that's probably what was so threatening to Hitler, no?"

Nice try.


S said...

hey, i just read all of your posts in one sitting. i loved them. you should keep blogging when you get back to la. you're very interesting.

when are you coming back?


bkny said...

joi de vivre and off the cuff racism. nice combo... i love your insights though, they're penetrating.

Mozhan said...

thank you, my friends! it's nice to know that people are actually reading my blog! i don't know about blogging when i get back to l.a., not as many interesting things happen to me there! i will be back on january 9th. big kiss.