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  • Writer's pictureMartijn

Social distancing taken to the extreme: the "Asado" under attack!

And the lock-down continues here, slowing down the epidemic.... In fact, it's a sort of semi lock down in the sense that there are people working but activity and movement is probably less than 50% of normal, and more importantly: we can't travel, neither inside the country or outside.

For some reason, the President felt it was necessary to issue a special Nationwide Urgency Decree last week to explicitly prohibit any meeting of more than 10 people and, more importantly, any meetings indoors with family members (who you do not live with). So basically, a family member is more dangerous than a friend or stranger..... And you can get up to 2 years in prison if you don't comply.

My initial reaction was that such a decree could never be enforced (i.e. just another example of the typically exaggerated/ridiculous measures taken by incompetent governments). Indeed, are there really going to be police visits in every house to check if an uncle is hiding under the bed??? Then, I wondered why it was necessary to issue a Decree for something that was already clear: most places where people gather are closed anyway and social distancing measures have been in place since the beginning, i.e. wear a mask, maintain distance, wash hands and DON'T SHARE YOUR MATE! And finally, it occurred to me that the family prohibition would probably depress Argentines more than any other measure taken so far, and maybe even lead to social unrest. Indeed, family is SUPER important here, surely you can not remove that also!

The 5th theory from my book about Argentines, included hereunder, illustrates this, but let me explain first what an "Asado" is: in the strictest sense, Asado refers to a traditional way of preparing grilled meat in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, i.e. the local equivalent of barbecue. But it also designates the social event that surrounds it: Asados are the pretext for gathering extended family and/or friends around the table (or rather around the grill) once a week, generally on Sunday.

My guess is that social unrest will not occur because many people -including the police and members of the government- will simply continue doing what they have been doing until now, with social distancing of course and with special care for the elderly family members.

Just like "bad money drives out good", "bad laws drive out observance", making it harder and harder to control and plan anything. That's why Argentines are so flexible and creative.

I believe I have made good progress in the area of resilience during my 7.5 years here, and am now actively looking for ways to get out and start our trip. Next step: Chicago in September to stock up on airplane equipment...fingers crossed.... In the mean time, I hope you'll enjoy my "little theory about Argentines" below.

Theory #5: Argentines are faithful

I can already imagine the face of some of my interviewees when they read the title of this chapter. They’ll probably be thinking it’s the exact opposite of what they said!

“Faithfulness doesn’t exist here. The normal thing is to have a wife and a mistress, or a husband and a lover.” (man from Spain, 15 months in Argentina)

“I hear about many situations of infidelity. It’s a little strange that in a country as Catholic as Argentina, people are so unfaithful and they actually admit it!” (man, Holland, 2 years)

“In this culture there is a lot of cheating…” (woman, United Kingdom, 3 years)

“They are very family oriented, but I also heard they cheat a lot – which is a paradox.” (woman, Brazil, 2 years)

Actually, my theory has nothing to do with faithfulness in romantic relationships (I’m afraid no country is perfect in this area). The faithfulness I want to address here is the loyalty toward family and friends, a typically Argentine devotion.

It doesn’t really matter whether it is because of their Italian roots or the hardships they encountered as a society, the truth is: relations between Argentines and their family and friends are amazing, and almost all of the people I interviewed have mentioned this.

“Family values are very important. In my opinion the Sunday “asado" is something very positive.” (man, Holland, 2 years)

“We could learn to make more time for family, to treat family as something more important. In Holland elderly people are placed in a nursing home and get visits from their relatives once a month.” (woman, Holland, 4 years)

“Family here is fundamental. Friendship ties are stronger than in Spain.” (woman, Spain, 2 years)

“Argentines are very family–oriented, it must be their Italian roots. They spend the weekends and holidays with their family, even New Year’s Eve. Family always comes first, and I am talking about the WHOLE family, not only the direct family.” (woman, United Kingdom, 3 years)

“Here you see warm, big families, much more than in Hungary. Family is very important to them, the woman is the strong person in the family...” (woman, Hungary, 3 months)

“I love that family is really important – I like that they enjoy living with each other. I am always the first one to get up to clean, but the family says ‘sit down, let’s talk’.” (woman, United States, 2 years)

“At restaurants you see three generations, large groups of extended family, lots of children, they value children, celebrate their children.” (man, United States, 6 months)

“On Sundays, for asados, they spend 4 hours eating together!!” (man, United States, 8 years)

“Brazilians could learn to value family and social relations more. We Brazilians are happy all-day long but we don’t invite you to our home.” (woman, Brazil, 4 years)

“Sunday is the (extended) family day. They meet with their family to argue, have discussions. Sunday asado is never skipped. In Colombia it’s not such a strong institution as it is here.” (man, Colombia, 4 years)

“The value of friendship. You never treat a friend with disrespect. Friends are always there to help you.” (woman, Italy, 3 years)

“They are very loyal to their family and their childhood friends.” (woman, Holland, 5 years)

“I like Argentine traditions like asados and meeting up with friends.” (woman, Mexico, 4 years)

“In Europe, in Paris for example, most groups of friends will split after high school. Buenos Aires is a huge city too, but Argentines still hang out with their groups from high school.” (woman, France, 2 months)

“What most surprised me is the quality of the relationship, the capacity to actively form part of a group (not just occasionally). The group is intense, it is present in your life, and it gives you a sense of belonging.” (woman, Spain, 3 years)

As for me, I don’t have many friends here yet, but I notice that in the groups to which I do belong (the parents at my children’s school, the students from ballet class) people take much more care of me than they used to in other places. It seems as though they are truly interested. Thank you for including me!

This character trait may surprise people from some countries, in a positive manner, but it can also be acquired (and taught):

“Whenever I can, I tell other Chinese parents [living in Argentina] about the importance of socializing. Because for Chinese people, the most important thing is the academic level.” (woman, Taiwan, 30 years, interviewed in La Nación Revista, 07/28/13, on the topic “Argenchinos”)

With all these comments in mind I asked myself about the difference between Argentines and other cultures in this particular area. Because family and friends exist in every country, sometimes even going a long way back (my parents, for instance, are over 75 and still meet once a year, in Holland, with their college friends).

What strikes me as peculiar in this country are the strong ties maintained through time with entire groups of friends that sometimes go all the way back to childhood. An Argentine woman in her forties once told me that she goes out once a month with her high school friends. I know this must seem very normal to the Argentine reading this, but it isn’t. The value attributed to friendship and its associated traditions (big and frequent get-togethers) in this country is not that common in other latitudes.

“Family and friends are like a social pact” (woman, India, 2 years)

Aneko from Japan recalls “Ever since my first days in Argentina, I was surprised by how much support Argentines gave me, like for instance the real-estate lady who assisted me with the most tedious tasks – which weren’t even part of her job – only so that I would feel more comfortable in my new destination.

In the following years, Argentines kept being very nice to me, but I had a hard time deepening that friendship. Until one day, while I was drinking tea with some friends, one of them realized I was feeling sad. She literally lent me her shoulder to cry on, took my hand and said the precise words I needed to comfort and soothe me.

This has happened to me lots of times since then: Argentines have extraordinary compassion and empathy. It’s like an extra sense, they are the best friends. When they open their door to you, they are opening the door to their soul and you will never leave it.”

For some foreigners who are not used to this (or who perhaps are jealous), always being with the same people can seem asphyxiating. Others believe that Argentines tend to stagnate with the same group and that this would explain why they don’t open up to new and different ideas. Staying in their comfort zone would prevent them from experimenting the “spark of creativity” that stems from encounters with others. Other people simply think it’s a strategy to have an excuse ready to miss work: because “my sister-in-law is sick”, for instance.

Maybe there’s a bit of truth in all of this, but none of these interpretations will stop me from saying to the Argentines, loud and clear: YOU PEOPLE SURE HAVE YOUR PRIORITIES IN ORDER!

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