• Martijn

(Re-post) Argentines LOVE to talk

Re-posting this text from a few weeks ago because I accidentally deleted it. You have most likely already read it....but I didn't want to lose it:)

A longish post again, but it's Sunday. This is another one of the theories from my book about Argentines and I can't help thinking about it every time I go out because nowadays, everyone is wearing a facemask. This is a new obligation, on the street and of course in all public places, and almost everyone complies which is fantastic. Of course, it's really difficult to speak and be understood with a facemask, so many are probably frustrated. Although a few have found the solution: they just pull their mask down to speak!

Theroy # 3: Argentines talk a lot

The monetary inflation in Latin America is a serious problem, but the inflation of words is as bad as the inflation of currency, if not worse; there is a terrible excess of supply.

(Eduardo Galeano).

“This is a nation that loves to talk and will do so loudly at every available opportunity.” (Fiona Adams in Cultureshock Argentina: A Survival Guide to Customs & Etiquette)

Reading the above sentences encouraged me to write this little theory. I too believe that Argentines talk a lot and, what is even worse (for foreigners), they use a lot of words and say everything so fast! According to a study from the University of Lyon (France), a Spanish speaker pronounces in average 7.83 syllables per second, compared to 7.18 for a French speaker and 6.19 for an English speaker.

“They are quite direct people (I enjoy this) who like to talk.” (man from Holland, 2 years in Argentina)

“They are happy to talk to you, despite the language barrier. Once you start talking they talk forever.” (woman, China, 4 months)

“Good oratory skills, they have extensive vocabulary, know how to speak in public.” (man, Spain, 2 years)

Their pronunciation is beautiful (especially when they make a lot of rolled “r “sounds), and listening to Argentines speak enthusiastically can be astounding (God, when do they breathe?). I also admire the use of the past-perfect-subjunctive tense, so elegant and distinguished. But, for foreigners, the combination of a long speech, with so many words pronounced so fast can become a deadly cocktail. I would guess that quite a few foreigners (that’s my case at least) only understand about 33% of what they hear. Whenever an Argentine speaks to me in this fast rhythm, I feel as if I were inside a wave that is dragging me without anything to hold onto. The person starts, I begin to feel lost, more and more lost, and suddenly I wonder whether the other person has noticed that I am drowning. The feeling only goes away when the person stops talking. And only then do I gather the courage to ask them to start all over again, but slower please this time.

Something similar happens with written language: sentences are long and extremely abundant in words. Sometimes I feel that reading in Spanish is like a treasure hunt: you have to find the hidden meaning between so many words.

In my former workplace, I used to pour myself a cup of coffee each time I got an email from an Argentine colleague, because I knew it would be lo-o-o-ng. Not to mention the official documents (legal, contractual or administrative), which seem to be written in a separate language, a secret code only comprehensible to people who have passed some inaccessible initiation rite.

For instance, this is what I find on the welcome (!) page of my bank:

Por disposición del BCRA (Com. "A" 4895) las Entidades Financieras deberán identificar a los clientes que se encuentran incluidos dentro de la categoría de "Personas Expuestas Políticamente" (Peps) y solicitarles de considerarlo necesario información adicional. Revisten la calidad de Peps las personas incluidas en el punto de la citada comunicación. El texto de la referida norma se encuentra disponible en pudiendo ser consultado en Normativa / Comunicaciones. Aquellos clientes que, por alguna de las circunstancias que se exponen en la normativa descripta precedentemente, cumplan con esta condición deberán notificarlo en la sucursal correspondiente.

According to the BCRA (Communication "A" 4895), financial entities should identify clients that are included in the category of "Politically Exposed Persons" (Peps) and ask them for additional information if deemed necessary. Are considered responding to the quality of Peps people included in point of the abovementioned communication. The text of the referred norm is available at and can be consulted in Normative / Communications. Those customers who, due to any of the circumstances described in the regulation described above, comply with this condition must notify it in the corresponding branch.

At the same time, the social aspect of Argentines’ verbal inflation has something very charming. Expressions like “¿viste?”[1], “¿entendés?”[2] or “mirá vos”[3], which are typically Argentine, are friendly manners of addressing the other, of including him or her in the conversation.

“I love the fact that anyone in the street just talks to you.” (woman, Chile, 6 years)

“In France you could be at a café for 4 hours without talking to anyone; here there will necessarily be an interaction… Encounters are more fluid, spontaneous.” (woman, France, 6 months)

"They LOVE to talk – the dinners can last very long and they don’t drink that much alcohol. Still, the conversation is fun”. (man, United States, 17 months)

“They are naturally fun without alcohol. They don’t need to get drunk to have a good time – Americans drink a lot”. (woman, United States, 17 months)

“Chinese people could learn [from the Argentines] to open themselves a bit more, to speak to others. Asians are very reserved, they don’t speak easily”. (man, Taiwan, 20 years +)

“In my family in Taiwan, when we’re finished eating everyone goes to their room. Here, we stay at the table and talk for an hour and a half.” (woman, Taiwan, 15 years +)

“Paraguayans could learn [from the Argentines] to talk more in order to exteriorize their feelings and not always put up with everything.” (man, Paraguay, 2 years)

“In my country they say ‘hello’, here they say ‘hi, how are you?’ and they truly want to know how you are doing! In Russia you only ask this to intimate people, friends.” (man, Russia, 11 years)

And then there is their particular version of Spanish, with the yeísmo[4] and voseo[5], the lunfardo[6] and some terms that only Argentines know precisely how to use. When I visited Argentina in 2001, for instance, I was 6-months pregnant. Every person I met, acquaintances as well as strangers, said “¡estás bárbara!” (literally, ‘you are barbarous!’). And I always felt offended because I thought it was a negative thing to say, describing me as a sort of inhumane creature, a barbarian (which, at the same time, is exactly how you feel when you’re pregnant). It took me a while to realize that it was actually something positive, a compliment, and that the same word was commonly used in many other situations to mean “great”.

“I learned Spanish in Spain. Here, in the beginning it was hard to understand people and nobody understood me either. I asked for a street called Lavalle (without pronouncing it “Lavasshe”) and no one knew what I was talking about.” (woman, France, 6 months)

“I love how Argentine girls speak” (man, Spain, 15 months)

“They have typical words: ‘espectacular’, ‘bárbaro’, ‘no te puedo creer', ‘¡ah mirá!’, ‘¡mirá vos!’” (woman, Spain, 18 months)

Personally, I love the Argentines' histrionics, that habit of exaggerating and intensifying each statement. “It’s tremendously cold”, for instance, when it is only 10°C. Or the idea of the “sensación térmica” (windchill factor), making the real temperature seem even colder. I find some expressions absolutely genius, like for instance “se traspapeló” (when a document has been “mislaid”), or “se me complicó el día” (“my day got complicated”, a very polite excuse), or “tengo que hacer un trámite” (I have a formality to take care of, in other words, something-important-to-do-that-will-take-an indefinite-amount-of-time-and-requires-your-fullest-patience-because-I'll-be-late).

In a country with such a high level of verbosity, there still remains one area of speech however where less seems to be more. And that is the question of names. I find it strange that no one here uses their full name, and that instead they call each other with short versions of their names or nicknames. They love nicknames: Sandy, Ale, Nacho, Lu, Pancho, Andre… One day, in ballet class, my teacher asked me my name. “Martina”, I said. She immediately asked me: “And how do they call you?” Somewhat hesitant and shy, I said: “Mmmm…. Martina”. (She never spoke to me again). I believe that Sandra, Alejandro, Ignacio, Lucía, Francisco, Andrea are prettier, more important and even more Argentine-sounding names than the corresponding nicknames. As for me, please never call me “Martu”!

Of course, everything has its flip side, and among the interviewees many believe that Argentine verbosity is unnecessary. This reminds me of a Swedish joke. One friend asks the other: “Want to go for a drink?” “Let’s go”, says the other, and they go to a bar. They order aquavit. Before they drink, the first one inquires: “How are you?” “Fine”, replies the other. And they both empty their glass in a single shot. They order a second one. Before they drink, the first man asks his friend: “How about your wife?” “Fine”, says the other and they empty their glass in one shot again. They get a third one. Before they drink, the first one asks: “And your family?” And the other replies dryly: “Listen, friend, did we come here to drink or to talk?”

“They make a lot of fuss over nothing.” (woman, Holland, 5 years)

“They are raucous, boisterous.” (man, United States, 6 years)

“I acquired my work culture in the US. When I had a business meeting there it was 1, 2, 3 problems and a solution. Dealing with Argentines is very different. You need to become friends first. Then, you exchange small-talk and anecdotes for three hours and before you know it the meeting is over, and you haven’t talked business at all.” (man, Spain, 4 years)

“They don’t let people speak. They speak over each other’s voice in a louder tone, that’s their way of taking the floor. In a business meeting with 15 people, it is shouting over shouting over shouting. They should listen to each other more, respect and learn from other opinions.” (woman, Venezuela, 20 months)

“Charlatans. You ask one question about anything and it turns out they have a PhD on the topic…” (man, France, 15 years)

“They are charlatans, they talk incessantly, and sometimes they talk a lot without saying anything.” (man, Taiwan, 20 years +)

Li-Mei from China recalls When I went to the first mothers’ meeting at my son’s school it felt like being at the epicenter of pandemonium. The mothers were supposed to address three topics but ended up discussing the same one for two hours. They gesticulated, shouted, and continuously interrupted each other. The words I heard most during the meeting were “hey! wait a minute” with the hand signal that went along with it, while the mother who was speaking had to stand up and shout to repeat her opinion again and again. I might be wrong, but I think they enjoyed it. They never reached an agreement. How terribly inefficient, I unintentionally thought, feeling dazed. I used to take a walk with my dog every day in my neighborhood. Unknown passersby always greeted me. In the supermarket, the grocery store or the bakery, people treated me so well that each time I stayed inside a while longer. The day my mom came to visit me from China, I took her on my usual walk around the neighborhood: supermarket, grocery store and bakery. The baker asked me about my vacation. While I was answering, I suddenly heard my mother sigh impatiently. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “We aren’t getting anywhere! You keep stopping and speaking to everyone. Hurry up!” she replied. She was right. But it was only then that I realized how much I enjoyed these inefficient but oh-how-lovely encounters that you only get in Argentina. Another fact about Argentines is they are quite foul-mouthed. And for foreigners, it can be confusing to realize that the same words used to insult each other are also used in situations of camaraderie. An Argentine friend explains this very well: “Bad words have multiple interpretations here whereas in other countries, they only have one meaning.”

Many foreigners luckily don’t understand the bad words, but native Spanish-speakers are more sensitive to them.

“They speak badly to each other but that’s part of the way they are: they are very expressive and vulgar: “pelotudo, que hacés, hijo de puta” [asshole, what’s up son of a bitch]. When I first arrived I found it very rude.” (man, Colombia, 4 years)

“How rude they can be – their vocabulary, the bad words – with strangers and in front of their kids. I am happy my kids don’t understand Spanish, sometimes it’s embarrassing.” (woman, Aruba, 9 months)

“Rudeness is typically Argentine. Bad words are a natural part of their language… That’s what two bosses told me, one from Uruguay and one from Spain: they say a lot of bad words, but that’s part of the way they are. If you say the same thing in Paraguay you make a really bad impression…” (man, Paraguay, 2 years)

“You can see it in the way they drive… They don’t care whether you’re a woman, they call you “pelotuda”[7]. They called me all kinds of things. Mexican drivers, when they see you’re a woman, they control themselves.” (woman, Mexico, 4 years)

The other day, in front of my house, a 5-year-old boy was riding his bike with training wheels alongside his mother. “Boludo, boludo, boludo” (jerk, jerk, jerk), he kept on shouting. And the mother didn’t say anything.

[1] Literally “you see?” Argentines frequently use this rhetorical question after a sentence or statement to seek acknowledgement from the listener, thus creating an implicit bond with that person (similar to “you know” in English). [2] Literally “you understand?” Argentines use it in a rhetorical way at the end of a sentence or statement to make sure the other person fully grasps what is being said and to seek their approval or acknowledgement. [3] Literally “look at you”. Argentines use it to reply to something the other has said, either to express awe (“wow, look at you!”) or surprise/interest (“really? Is that right?”). [4] In most parts of Argentina and Uruguay, letters <ll> and <y> are pronounced /ʒ/ (like the sound of “si” in “delusion”), instead of the classical /ʎ/ (like the “y” in “yellow”). In Buenos Aires, especially among younger generations, the /ʒ/ sound has evolved into /ʃ/ (“shh”). [5] In Argentina and Uruguay, when referring to somebody in 2nd person, people use the pronoun “vos” instead of “tú”. [6] Originally a slang used by the lower and lower-middle classes of Buenos Aires and Montevideo in the late 19th and early 20th century, many of the Lunfardo vocabulary and phrases have become part of common language in Argentina and Uruguay. [7] This common adjective in Argentina can mean all sorts of things: “stupid”, “jerk”, “asshole”, “useless”…

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