By Katie Arango
02 October 2012
Let's imagine that you're a foreigner interning/traveling/volunteering/studying/living in Buenos Aires, and so far you're blending in pretty well. You've got the "sh" sound in words like yo and calle down pat, you how to avoid both dog poop and loose tiles on the street, and you know just how late you can arrive somewhere and be fashionably late without being rude. But somehow, there are still moments when you feel out of the loop. Well, in Argentina, like everywhere else in the world, there are unspoken rules of life, some innate pieces of knowledge that locals are born with and can take visitors a while to put their fingers on. So, based on highly scientific personal experience, here are the top ten things that you just shouldn't do in Argentina, or as they say here, "cosas que no se hace."
1. Slam car doors
In Argentina, you just don’t slam car doors. No one does...that is, except the foreigners, who have likely been yelled at many, many times for this (not to mention the eye rolls or harsh words from local taxi divers). It's unclear if their cars are really more delicate than other places around the world, or maybe they figure there is enough noise out there already (dog walkers, construction, etc.) that they don’t need slamming doors to add to the mess. Either way, abandoning the slam in favor of a delicate tap is a shockingly hard habit to break!
2. Call someone’s cell phone...just to chat
This no se hace rule makes a ton of sense. Unless you have a great cell phone plan, talking on cell phones is way expensive here. So people mainly communicate by text message. And if they need to have a longer conversation? A call from a landline to a landline works great and is totally affordable.
3. Eat or drink in the car
This unspoken rule became apparent as more and more people pointed out how in the US (according to movies and first hand experience) people eat and/or drink in their car all the time. And sure enough, practically no one eats or drinks in their cars in Argentina – except maybe a road trip mate. Because of the number of crazy, crazy Buenos Aires drivers out there, everyone else is wise to keep distractions in the car to a minimum, and just worry about the driving itself. And just in the past couple of years, select Buenos Aires coffee chains have started offering coffee “to go”. (It was such a odd concept, they even advertised it with suggestions about where you could go with coffee in hand!)
4. Leave a party by giving a quick wave to everyone
Nope, no quick “Bye everyone! Thanks so much!” allowed here. In order to leave a party, dinner or any type of gathering really, you should go up to each person there and give them a quick kiss on the cheek. This also counts for when you arrive at a party/gathering/dinner etc. as well. Yes, this is also true for men. Yes, this is also true even if you are meeting someone for the first time. So if you’re at an event with 20 Argentines, be ready, you’ll spend roughly half your night kissing people.
These pigeons totally get it.
5. Stir the mate
Because the practice of drinking mate (a type of tea) is purely South American, there are bound to be lots of mate “don’ts” that foreigners sometimes do. If you need a quick course about what mate is, read this article. But one of the things that you just shouldn’t do when handed the mate, is to take the bombilla (straw) and stir around the yerba (loose tea). It just isn’t done, and you’ll stick out among the more sophisticated mate drinkers in the room... which will be everyone else!
6. Serve mate yourself
As we learned in a previous blog post, there can only be one person that serves the mate. So if you aren’t the one who started the mate circle, it is not your responsibility to fill the gourd with water or pass the mate to the next person. That job is reserved for the cebador.
7. Say “thank you” when someone passes you mate
...unless you want them to think you are finished, in which case, go ahead and shout gracias from the rooftops. But when someone hands you the mate to drink, you just have to keep your mouth shut. Note: it’s harder than you think not to thank someone who hands you something!
8. Wipe the bombilla - straw
Drinking mate with friends, acquaintances and even co-workers is all well and good, even keeping in mind that everyone takes turns drinking from the same straw. But what about when you don’t know everyone in the room, can you grab a napkin or a sleeve and quickly wipe their germs off the straw? No, eso no se hace! Just keep in mind that mate water is practically boiling and perhaps that kills all the potential germs…? Maybe?
9. Eat dinner at 6:30pm
All the Europeans out there probably know this one, but this can be a hard habit for an Estadounidense to break. You can’t eat dinner before 8 pm or so – it just isn’t done. And if you are meeting Argentines for dinner, 10pm is more of an appropriate time to suggest. How do you make it from lunch to that late dinner? Simple: merienda. Have a café con leche and three croissants at around 6pm to get you through until dinner.
10. Miss a birthday party
Argentines take birthdays seriously. People frequently have parties, and even if it’s not a huge bash, at least they have a get-together at their house. If your Argentine friend has a birthday, you are totally allowed to just stop by his/her house that evening, with no warning, and guaranteed you’ll be met with food, drinks and other friends. And missing a birthday party for no good reason could be grounds for some seriously hurt feelings!
Anyone else have any other advice on things to avoid doing in Argentina? Are any of the points mentioned here true where you come from as well?