Argentines are extremely friendly and welcoming
I apologize: this post is a little too long but I would like to continue on the thought I ended with last time: I will miss the people of Argentina. When we arrived in Buenos Aires 7 years ago, I interviewed over 50 foreigners from all over the world to ask them about the people here. I then compiled the answers into a short book, in Spanish, called "10 little theories about Argentines, as seen from outside" that was published in 2016. I promise my next post will be super-short, but in the mean time, if you have a few minutes, you can read on to enjoy the friendly Argentines!
Theory #2: Argentines are particularly friendly and welcoming (and good looking!)
The answers provided by my interviewees give me the impression that the people they are describing are the nicest in the world… Argentina is a country full of human warmth: Argentines are “kind”, “warm”, “welcoming”… they say.
I myself can testify: when my husband and I came to live here, his family and friends welcomed me as if they had known me forever. They included me at once. I never felt anything like what-do-we-do-with-this-stranger-who-talks-funny. My sisters-in-law gave me the keys to daily life (from bookstores to grocery stores), helped me find ballet lessons, activities for the kids and, on top of that, called often to see how I was adapting! My husband’s friends patiently explained how things worked here. Maybe they sometimes laugh about my accent when my back is turned, but I really feel that they care about me.
And it looks like I am not alone:
“This is a friendly helpful nation” shared a British woman who had been in Argentina for 9 months.
“I am living a very good experience here, especially after living in England and Australia. People are warm, they try to understand you and help you.” (woman from Brazil, 4 months in Buenos Aires)
“Everyone has Italian relatives and they make you feel comfortable. In Italy people treat foreigners as aliens.” (woman, Italy, 3 years)
“Argentines make a difference at the human level. They welcome you, even when they’ve never seen you before, and make you feel like they’ve known you your entire life.” (man, Spain, 4 years)
“Great people, much more social than us.” (man, Paraguay, 2 years)
“They smile immediately.” (man, Netherlands, 5 months)
“More open to non-native speakers than in my past experiences, friendlier, more tolerant.” (man, United States, 6 months)
“Very welcoming, very social, there’s always time to drink some mate, have some facturas…” (man, United States, 6 years)
“They help others with their emotional needs. They offer you sympathy, a shoulder to cry on.” (woman, Japan, 14 years)
“I had heard so many horrible stories about Argentines, I came with very low expectations. But Argentines are really friendly people.” (woman, France, 2 months)
“While I was still living in Madrid, I did not have a favorable impression of Argentines. I saw them as excessively selfish, proud and calculating people. But when I came here I had no problems at all.” (woman, Spain, 2 years)
“When I first got here, my first reaction was one of surprise. I had a business partner in Brazil who never wanted to travel to Argentina or even hear about Argentines… I had this image of arrogant people. But I was surprised, because the first Argentines we met took SUCH good care of us, they really worried about us. (man, Brazil, 7 months)
This last quote reminds me of something a cab driver in Mexico told me not so long ago. He confessed that he didn’t like Argentines because they were too self-important and that, when he saw potential clients from Argentina, he tried to direct them to another cab!
What is it that happens to Argentines when they travel? Why do they turn into other people? They themselves even say they feel ashamed when they come across fellow countrymen outside of Argentina… I find this Argentine habit very strange: acting worse than they actually are, self-reinforcing their poor image.
But let’s get back to the pleasant Argentine, the Argentine who isn’t traveling :)
The kissing habit is one of the most obvious expressions of my theory #2. Argentines kiss a lot and it keeps surprising me: kissing, to me, is a rather intimate act which you save for the people you know well. Nevertheless, I try to get used to it and remind myself to greet everyone, every day, in every situation, with a kiss. Each time I forget to do so, I feel as if I have unintentionally provoked a major diplomatic incident, that usually only dissolves once the other person notices or remembers I am a foreigner. The most challenging are events with lots of people: I kiss, kiss and kiss without knowing who I am kissing, while wondering why so much intimacy is needed with people whom I will likely never see again. (Although I must admit that giving everybody a kiss is easier than having to think for each person, “this one deserves a handshake”, “this one I have to kiss on the cheek”, “nothing for this one”…).
“They kiss much more than we do, men kiss each other – that’s weird.” (woman, Brazil, 2 years)
“Doctors kiss you on the cheek here! And my doctor patted my back. I blushed because he was really handsome!” (woman, France, 1 year)
“I used to work with 30 people. I had to kiss each of these 30 people each morning, I had no choice. There was a Russian girl who didn’t do it. She was not well liked at all.” (woman, Spain, 4 years)
“Everyone kisses everyone and men kiss too! It’s awkward. I read that they started the kiss thing 20 years ago as a way to make the country more friendly” (woman, US, 17 months)
“They kiss everybody. Coming from a bowing country, it is quite a culture shock.” (woman, India, 2 years)
Annabel from Holland recalls The day I landed on Argentinean soil, I was holding my three-week old, first-born baby in my arms. The pediatrician in Holland had assured me that, since the baby had already regained his birth weight, it was OK to take the 15-hour long trip to Argentina with him, so we could reunite with his dad. That appointment probably took less than five minutes. The Dutch pediatrician seemed efficient, but somewhat distant: exactly what one expects from Dutch doctors toward their patients. During my first weeks in Buenos Aires, what surprised me the most was the number of smiles and kind words on the street, in the supermarket, at the park: “How old is your baby? He’s so cute, look at those eyes, he’s huge”, Argentines of all ages would say, spontaneously and without knowing me. Even a group of teenage boys once leaned over the baby carriage, a gesture which would be unthinkable among their peers in Northern Europe. The genuine attention made me feel good. As a new mom, I felt lonely and worried about the baby, whom I found adorable but very whiny. On top of that, he didn’t seem to be growing, in spite of the innumerable breast feedings day and night. Then, one afternoon I arrived at a recommended pediatrician’s office. There were lots of people in the waiting-room, with their kids. Less than five minutes had passed when they called my name. Not one parent complained: they all looked at me patiently because my baby was a newborn. I stepped inside the examination room and put the baby seat on the floor. I was about to extend my hand when, unexpectedly, the pediatrician greeted me with a kiss, invited me to sit down and we started to talk. He asked me about Holland and expressed his admiration for Dutch painters, the beauty of tulip fields, the skills displayed by Holland’s female hockey players in their last game against the national Leonas, and for a very nice Dutch person with whom he sailed every week-end … Meanwhile, I felt guiltier every minute towards all the people waiting outside the door, losing their valuable time because of me. But the friendly conversation and human connection were actually distracting me from my problems for the first time since the baby’s birth. I told the pediatrician about the baby’s crying and his weight, and the scale confirmed my suspicions: he had only put on a few grams in the last two weeks. I started to feel down again. Slowly and carefully, the pediatrician completed the check-up. “Don’t worry”, he said and smiled in a reassuring way, “your baby is growing, both his height and his head, he is alert and completely healthy. The weight problem has a solution: you should rest more and worry less. Here is my house number: call me anytime you want.” He sent me off with a kiss and a last pat on the back. I exited his office completely renewed, fully endorsing my role as a confident mother. And this is only the first of a long sequence of situations that caught my attention during my years in Argentina and which demonstrate the extraordinary human warmth of these people, which I consider to be the possible solution to many problems, big and small.
Beyond the kissing, Argentines are also generally much more effusive than other nationalities.
“Argentines are demonstrative, and Asians aren’t. We Easterners never know whether we are loved [by our parents]: we can’t feel it, can’t see it. One day, a Canadian friend told me “I don’t know what’s with Asian guys, you never know what they are feeling… I want to start dating Western guys again”. (woman, Taiwan, 15 years +)
“There is more physical affection: my husband is into hugging his friends now…!” (woman, United Kingdom, 9 months)
It turns out Argentines are not only pleasant on a social level, but also on a physical one, and they have a unique style. Before moving here, I remember I was always positively impressed by their unique sense of appearance. Children’s clothes for example: I always bought them during our visits to Buenos Aires because they were much more elegant than in the United States, and trendier than European kids apparel.
“Argentine men are very handsome. They are a mix that I like. They are beautiful people.” (woman, France, 1 year)
“Argentine girls take more care of their appearance than Spanish ones.” (man, Spain, 15 months)
“Nice attitude, and they dress well.” (man, Russia, 11 years)
“Women are beautiful…” (man, United States, 8 years)
“I like the fashion here, they look good, they exercise, they are trendy …” (man, United States, 6 months)
“I like the men’s long hair! And the women’s hair is long and straight and always gorgeous.” (woman, United States, 17 months)
“They have a messy, yet trendy look. That is something of their own, not so Americanized”. (woman, Venezuela, 20 months)
“Very well dressed, always wearing perfume, it suits them. I see it as a European thing, to be well-dressed. In Brazil we are less formal” (woman, Brazil, 7 months)
“Argentine girls are pretty. Many of them are.” (man, Taiwan, 20 + years)
And the men are both charming and perfect gentlemen.
“Argentine men open the door for you. In Korea, that would never happen! Korean men are very strict with women: here they demonstrate love, over there they don’t.” (woman, Korea, 14 years)
The man from the poultry shop (true story) A few days after arriving in Buenos Aires I went to buy chicken at a poultry shop (I had never seen a shop entirely dedicated to chicken in all its forms, so that in itself was already an exciting experience). I entered the store and walked towards the counter. After a moment, an employee called out “54”. Only then did I realize I had to take a number from the dispenser at the entrance (the little paper number system is excellent, but it doesn’t exist everywhere and it had been years since I’d last seen it). I walked up to the machine. At that point, a very Argentine-looking elderly gentleman, who seemed to be coming straight out of a milonga, had just entered and pulled a number himself. He saw I was distressed… and handed me his little piece of paper! In many other places, he would have taken pleasure in being helped before me.
From time to time however, the Argentine suffers a true metamorphosis. A Frenchman interviewed for this book expressed it perfectly: “The Argentine in his car isn’t the same person as outside of it. He can stand in line inside a bank for hours, but in his car he always has to go first. The street is his.”
“What I can’t stand is the impatience on the street, I don’t understand it.” (woman, France, 7 years)
“In the automobile they can be pretty rude, very selfish drivers – they don’t stop for pedestrians. You are as good as dead if you don’t look very well. I have never seen drivers as selfish and rude/obnoxious as here!” (man, United States, 6 months)
“Too much disorder compared to Russia: the way they drive, they overtake cars anywhere they can”. (man, Russia, 11 years)
“They have an ego-problem. Look at the way they drive!” (man, Italy, 7 years)
“I’m worried about getting hit by a bus or a car, having an accident because of the crazy driving.” (woman, United States, 17 months)
When I first arrived here, I was afraid to use the car. Then, little by little, I started with short rides, which I progressively extended, like a cat getting used to a new house. Every time I came back home, I felt as if I had just completed an obstacle course and needed a drink (or two). Never in my 33 years as a driver had I seen so much passion for shortcuts, so much turning without signals (how am I supposed to know where the Argentine person in front of me is going?), so much lane changing to gain a fraction of a second, so many violations of yellow lines, so many right turns from left lanes, so many cars pulling out of narrow streets and claiming right-of-way, or so many hazard lights flashing while driving as if to say I-will-be-doing-something-very-strange-at-some-point-not-sure-exactly-when-but-watch-out!
Where did that pleasant, welcoming and friendly Argentine go?