Things You Learn When You Live In Argentina

14 October 2016

If, by virtue of charity or the circumstance of desperation, you ever chance to live a little time in Argentina, you will acquire many exotic new facts. You will learn that it is possible, and economically-advantageous, to walk fifteen large dogs simultaneously. You will learn that you were never really eating ice cream before, just frozen, flavoured milkstuff. You will learn that it’s OK for Christmas decorations to stay up until Easter.

You will learn that socio-economic crisis is Argentina’s default setting and that things are never as bad as some people make out. That expectations of public toilets must always be low. That not everyone tangoes, in fact only a small minority do. That every foreign sub-editor will at some time in his or her life use the phrase ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ to title an article about Argentine politics/football/whatever.

That the most enjoyable aspect of going to a polo game is telling people that you’re going to a polo game, and that polo as a spectator sport is up there with golf and squash. That the standard way to show your unrelenting passion for your football team (though probably not your polo team) is by jumping up and down on the spot for an unlimited period of time, and that not jumping is a sure sign of Englishness.

That long-distance coach travel at first seems more luxurious than what you’re used to, and aeroplane-like and kind of kitschy, what with the coach driver’s mate pulling on white gloves to serve you a glass of sherry by way of aperitif, but that after any amount of repetition becomes an intolerable nightmare of cramped legs and bad films. That films on coaches get worse the further north you go, subcontinentally-speaking. That long-distance journeys overland look far more enticing on the map than in their endless fields-of-soy reality. That on long-distance journeys both tedium and time itself can be reduced significantly by the power of mate.

That cold pizza and mate make an acceptable breakfast under certain circumstances.
That the locals will always find it remarkable that any non-Argentine should drink mate, that the drinking of mate automatically makes a non-Argentine Argentine to all effects and purposes, but that no matter how Argentine the non-Argentine is now deemed to be, the Argentine will always be dubious as to the non-Argentine’s expertise re: the making of mate.

That sandwiches de miga are pretty much the same everywhere you go in Argentine territory, as if mass-produced by some huge as yet undiscovered underground sandwich factory, and that the locals are terribly enthusiastic about said sandwiches. That it is often considered rude to take your shoes off in other people’s homes. That it is a widely-held belief that any dish or foodstuff can be improved with the addition of ham and cheese. That writing stuff about being an expat in Buenos Aires gets kind of repetitive and fernet-and-dulce pretty quickly. That at first the whole sobremesa thing will come across as both exotic and real and then eventually kind of dull and finally make you pine for solitude and whatever’s on TV.

That there is generally nothing on national TV, but then at the same time that there is so very much on national TV, if you are possessed of a heightened sense of irony.

That self-medication is not a problem. That once you get over all the bullshit about how many psychoanalysts there are per capita, psychoanalysis can be wonderful thing. That the cancellation of internet/cable/phone services is usually the quickest and most effective way of getting the internet/cable/phone provider to fix whatever they were supposed to fix three months ago, and that the phrase ‘doy de baja el servicio’ is the first phrase they should teach you in those intensive Spanish class, along with ‘tengo un novio’, if you’re a woman. That it is impossible to cross the 9 de Julio on foot in one go and that you should stop trying. That secondary qualities such as avenue width can be used as a tourist draw.

That if nothing else, Argentina is water-rich, and that this might come in useful one day, and that the day when being water-rich becomes a useful thing, Argentina will somehow manage to screw up this once in a lifetime opportunity.

That listening to Aspen Classic for any length of time will inevitably lead to all kinds of reminiscences and embarrassing memories of your teenage self. That this is the only country in the world where Rick Astley can play in, if not sell out, a 3200-seater venue by himself, and that none of the locals will find this particularly odd. That Creedence Clearwater never needed a Revival.

That The Simpsons is pretty much an Argentine institution, and that it sounds better in Spanish, primarily because of the Mexican guy who voices Homero. That the locals bemoan the incursion of American culture and that The Nanny was for a long time the most-watched TV show in the country. That some people get really wound up if you say ‘American’ instead of ‘US’ and that the same people then use the term ‘North American’ with complete disregard for Mexicans. That the average social class and education level of the average McDonald’s user is considerably higher than back home, and that some even wear suits.

That winter lasts a week, really, and that you never knew it was possible to get tired of summer. That hyperbole and summertime temperatures are happy bedfellows. That sweating is something you learn to accept rather than combat.

That ‘pelotudo’ is a way, way more offensive term than ‘boludo’, despite their near-identical, big-balled etymologies, and that you can only find this out the hard way. That a surprising number of shopkeepers would rather lose one peso than give you nine pesos in change. That the half-kilo-of-meat-per-person asado rule-of-thumb is nearly always a gross overestimation. That eating choripán from roadside stands in unsalubrious areas is fine, health-wise, but not recommendable psychosomatically speaking, and it’s often actually the chimichurri that does you in.

That clubs don’t really get going until 3am, even on a week night, and that a large swathe of the under-30s survive on pretty much no sleep whatsoever. That ‘torta’ (‘cake’) is a non-offensive slang term for ‘lesbian’ and that no lesbian can tell you why this is. That this is a country forward-thinking enough to legalize same-sex marriage but still backwards enough to continue outlawing abortion under practically any circumstances. That there tend to be more Argentine women marrying foreign men than foreign women marrying Argentine men, and that you think this might say a lot about the failings of Argentine men but would prefer to sidestep any controversy.

That a disappointingly high number of Argentines will take offence to this innocent article, which is more about the narrow experience of an ex-pat in Buenos Aires than Argentina itself, and let their country down in the comments. That no matter how much you love Argentina, you will eventually leave it for a country with a higher GDP and more developed attitudes towards litter, and then pine for Argentina at various unexpected moments for the rest of your life, but that if you stay you’ll always wonder what might have been, if you hadn’t been chicken.