A Chamuyero talks about Three Months in Buenos Aires, boludo

19 Dec

_DSC1040Part two in this series. Last time I detailed what intrigued, surprised and agitated after three weeks in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This time it’s after three months.

Alcohol and parties As we are in South America, it’s no surprise that things are, well, a little bit more Socialist here. Go to a house party or a gathering with friends and expect to have to share whatever you brought. Most beers come in litre glass bottles, rather than 500ml cans or bottles more popular in Europe. Hence, once you pour yourself a glass, you are expected to offer around to everyone else there too.

This may be sacrilegious to an Irish person taught that the alcohol you bring to a party is yours as bound by the ancient laws of parties private. Hence, you do tend to spend the first half of Argentinian parties cursing the bastard who accepted your grit-teethed offering of beer, but by the end of the night, when there’s an abundance left over and all is legitimately fair game, you find yourself weeping with joy. Especially helpful is that Argentinians tend to nurse their beers quite a bit. The drink-as-fast-as-you-can and must-always-have-a-drink-in-my-hand mentality of Ireland doesn’t exist here.

Incidentally, the binge drinker’s choice in Argentina isn’t wine or beer, but rather a bitter spirit called fernet, which is mixed with cola and ice. It’s best described as what licourice listerine would taste like. But it’s rather addictive and you’ll be climbing up lampposts in no time if you drink enough of it.

Fernet – A firm favourite with Argentinians

Fernet – A firm favourite with Argentinians

Kissing men Latin Americans like to kiss as part of a greeting. I was aware of this. I was not aware that Argentinian men kiss each other when meeting. Coming from traditional Catholic Ireland, where any non-drunk-out-of-your-mind kiss means marriage is on the cards, my first Argentinian male “greeting” made me want to pursue criminal proceedings for attempted rape. But you warm to it. And, anyway, overall, a kiss by a male or female is a lot more endearing than the Irish “quick nod and awkward smile” tradition.

Purchasing A good piece of advice in Argentina is to never go to a supermarket hungry, because if you do, there’s a good chance you may starve to death by the time you reach the top of the queue. They are extremely long and the most relaxed people in the whole country are those working at the tills. The checkouts for 10 items or less are called “rapid lines” (presumably Argentina’s idea of irony) and the queues tend to stretch up the majority of the aisle. And if the person in front of you is paying by card, take out your book because it’s going to be a long wait.

In most supermarkets too, as well as pharmacies and many other places, they are very paranoid about robbers. As a result, if you carry a backpack, you’ll likely have to put it in a locker until after you finish at the till.

Also, an inconveniently high amount of purchases involve “taking a ticket”. A trip to the post office involves “taking a ticket” and waiting for your number to be called, as does most trips to electronic stores. Even purchasing a pastry can involve “taking a bloody ticket”. If it sounds illogical, it’s because it damn well is.

Proud The Argentinians are an extremely proud race of people. In few countries have I experienced the level of bunting seen here. Enormous national flags adorn several Government buildings, while their meat is the best in the world, as well as their wine, their footballers, even their men or so they say. The recent announcement of an Argentinian Pope had locals beaming with joy. “It’s proof we Argentinians must be doing something right”, said one woman from Buenos Aires.

Related to this, it seems to hurt Argentinian pride quite significantly with the continued presence of the British in Las Malvinas (the Falklands Islands). Local maps name the islands Argentine territory – as well as a large chunk of Antarctica which is in dispute with Chile – while graffiti adorns many street corners with “Las Malvinas son Argentinas” (The Malvinas are Argentina’s). Make no mistake, this is more to Argentinians than a piece of land. It’s entangled in a belief in their strength of character as a nation.

Empanadas, a part of the Argentinian diet

Empanadas, a part of the Argentinian diet

Food Heavily influenced by Italian and Spanish immigrants who arrived, in the main, about 100 years ago, the Argentine diet consists of pizza, empanadas and asado. Empanadas are baked pastries with meat, chicken or whatever you fancy inside. Extremely cheap, they are great on-the-go food. The pizza consists of two varieties. One is 99% cheese, the other is 99% onion. Argentinies could do with easing up on the cheese and onion concentration, but it is what it is.

An asado though is where Argentinians shine. It’s essentially a barbeque with a range of the best meats in the world and the Argentinians can legitimately claim their meat is the best. Why? Well, for example, Argentina has a land mass a third of the size of the United States, has an eighth of the population but double the arable land (19% to America’s 9%). It’s animals have room to graze, while in the United States, they have to be pumped up with chemicals to make up for the shortage of land. Juicier, healthier, better.

Protesting A protest in Argentina is quite an experience. It involves an incredible amount of flags, deafening amount of drumming and people generally jumping up and down like lunatics. It has more of a party atmosphere than anything else. But there is an extremely serious side to this. Over 800 shantytowns exist in Buenos Aires alone housing over half a million in dire poverty. Inflation continues to spiral, while the black market price on the exchange to the dollar is getting ominously high. How close things are to the brink we don’t know, but people have a right to be at least a little bit concerned.

Ethnic Groups  Argentina is essentially a nation of immigrants, most heavily influenced by those of Spanish and Italian descent, while the Irish, Germans, Polish and most European races have made some mark over its history. Unlike in countries like Brazil or Colombia, Argentina has few descendants of African slaves, while also its people aren’t as distinctly indigenous as those in Bolivia or Peru.

New poorer immigrant groups from Bolivia and Paraguay are unfortunately looked down upon by some in Argentina, who accuse them of sponging off the social benefits. Many ethnic groups have carved out their own niches or are of a particular breed. The Bolivians own most of the vegetable shops in Buenos Aires, the Colombians tend to study creative courses like photography or media arts, the Chinese own small-scale supermarkets and Africans are street vendors selling small ornaments.

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Posted by on December 19, 2013 in Uncategorized


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