Thursday, June 21, 2012

How To Survive The Culture Shock in Argentina

The whole experience of moving to Argentina, both on the plane and after I arrived was a huge culture shock. So I’ve added some tips that will hopefully make your travelling, and living experience a little smoother if you move here or simply choose to visit.

Let's start with some tips to make travelling to Argentina easier while avoiding the cultural shock.
On the plane
If you’ve never been on an airplane before you need to know that when the plane descends, your ears will pop and hurt like hell. I have no way around this, but I do recommend that you try pinching your nostrils and blowing your nose. This will alleviate some of the discomfort.
At the airport
Stay calm, collected and friendly. Nervousness is seen as a sign that you have something to hide, even if you don't.  
Don’t be a jerk! Just because it's a different culture doesn’t mean that you are any better than they are. Argentineans are quite accommodating and friendly, but don’t be rude or they will respond in kind.
Bilingual Airport Staff
The staff at Argentinean Airlines do speak English, albeit broken. All announcements on the plane are made in Spanish (Argentinean Castillian) and English.
TIP: Have all your documentation ready.
Do I Need A Visa To Enter Argentina?
YOU DO NOT NEED A VISA IF YOU ARE A U.S. CITIZEN. YOU WILL BE GRANTED THREE MONTHS. Once you are here you can request an additional 3 month extension a week before your original VISA expires but you will not be granted a 3rd VISA. You only get 2 VISAS (known in Argentina as PROROGAS) per entry. If your VISA expires you will not be deported. However, when you decide to leave the country you will be charged a fee.
Booking Your Tickets With 
I recommend Don't read the horrible reviews people have written on their site. I read them after I bought the tickets and it terrified me, but I had no issues at all. They are the cheapest travel agents you can buy your tickets from.
After you purchase your tickets online, they will provide you with an e-mail with an electronic confirmation number from This will not help you at Argentinean Airlines.
Contact by e-mail shortly after receiving your e-mail confirmation of the transaction and request a reservation number for Argentinean Airlines. They will provide it for you quickly. 
Three days before your flight I recommend you call Argentinean Airlines and give them your reservation number.
You will not be able to do an online check-in but when you call you will be able to reserve your seat number.
If you are traveling with someone, you will definitely want to make sure you are sitting next to them. If you don't do this you run the risk that the airline will assign you separate seats.
What to Avoid Doing In Argentina
Don’t do the "Okay" hand gesture. It’s like telling someone to go F*ck themselves or sticking your middle finger at them.

They do understand what the middle finger stands for. In fact, the gesture is used quite often. They've likely learned it from watching American films and television or meeting expats from the States. Avoid making that gesture too. It's tacky.

Avoid talking about the dispute with the Falkland Islands (aka Islas Malvinas). This is a very touchy subject for Argentineans. If you happen to speak about the islands, refer to them as Las Malvinas. My advice is to avoid the subject completely.
Here's What You Should Know And Expect
Electronic items such as Televisions, Playstations, X-Box, cellphones, tablets and computers are highly expensive
Blu-Ray and DVDs and Piracy in Argentina
Blu-Ray and DVDs are difficult, but not impossible to find. You just have to go on a scavenger hunt in your province to locate authentic movies and TV series sets. Stores like Musimundo and bookstores like Yenny are your best option. Again, keep an eye out for bootlegs if you buy dvds from a local store owner, as they will not work at all on your U.S. DVD player.
Games and Game Consoles
Most Playstation 2 and Nintendo wii games sold or for rent in Argentina are bootlegs. They will work only with the systems here in Argentina. Trust me. I tried buying a Playstation 2 game that I thought was super cheap. When I opened the box it looked like a blank DVD rewritable you buy at a computer store. I stuck the game in anyway and tried it on my Playstation 2 console (which is from the States) and it wouldn't play. The next day, I took it back and it played fine on the Argentinean console. I was informed that this is because the Argentinean game consoles here have been reconfigured to accept bootleg.
Aside from DVD movies and popular video games, computer software here is mostly pirated. A lot of government agencies use Windows programs that are bootleg. Even some of the pre-loaded software on computers and laptops are bootleg. I know this because I learned it the hard way when I bought a laptop from an alleged reputable store.
U.S. Restaurants, Fast Food Joints and Coffee Shops in Argentina

Burger King and McDonalds can be found in Argentina

You won't find Taco Bell, IHOP, Chili's, Bennigans, or Denny's.

You will find Wendy's and KFC in Buenos Aires though.
There are two Starbucks in Cordoba, and I assume, other provinces must have them as well.
There are TGIF restaurants in the capital of Buenos Aires, but no other provinces as of this post.

Films Released In Movie Theaters

Movies that premiere in the United States will usually premiere in Argentina in standard and 3D format within four weeks. You can watch them in English with Castillian subtitles or dubbed in Castillian.
There are no Toys R’Us stores anywhere in Argentina. The toy stores here have limited items and they are usually really expensive. An action figure can be 200 pesos which is about 42 U.S. dollars or more.
There are Walmarts in Argentina, but their DVD, music and toy section are a joke.
Brand Name U.S. Products
You will find brand names at the supermarket like Coca Cola, Sprite, Pepsi, Lay’s Potato Chips, Hellmann’s Mayo, but there are plenty of brands that are unique to Argentina or Mercosur.
Mercosur is the equivalent of the United Nations here in South America. It’s still in it’s infancy but the goal is to unite all the countries in South America in the same way that European countries are united, with the exception the U.K of course.
Item Costs
Don’t be startled by the high prices. 50 pesos in Argentina is not like 50 U.S. dollars. The average person spends about 400 pesos in groceries a week which is the equivalent of 83 U.S. dollars.
Native Customs
Friends and strangers will greet you by kissing you on the cheeks regardless of whether you are a man or a woman. Men also tend to hug women when they meet them and when they say goodbye, even if they've only met you for the first time. Although this might seem an odd way of greeting, I advise that you try not to pull away or appear squeamish as this might be viewed as an act of insult. 
You might strike up a conversation with a neighbor on the street and they might surprisingly invite you in for coffee, tea, a drink, or a meal. Some Argentineans even share their Mate (a form of tea that's quite popular here) with others. If you turn their offer away it may deemed as disrespectful.
Fitting In
Argentineans wear the same style of clothing and footwear as people in the United States. So you're not likely to stand out unless you dress up like Clint Eastwood in an old Western movie.
Argentinean's Physical Appearance
Physically, Argentinean skin tone varies from white to tan. The same can be said about eye color and hair. There are people with green, blue and brown eyes. There are natural blondes, redheads, brown hair, and black hair Argentineans. This variety of ethnic features is due to the European origins that populated this country.
Multi-Cultural Races in Argentina
Argentina consists of people from Europe, the Middle East, and of course, Aboriginals. In recent years, there has been a small migration of Oriental, Peruvian and Bolivian people. Similar to Australia, black people make less than 1 percent of the population in Argentina. Argentineans can sometimes refer to people by their origins rather than by their names. Here is a list of ethnic references you might here.
Tano refers to someone of Italian descent
Gallego refers to someone of Spanish descent (as in Spain, not Latin America)
Yankee refers to someone from North American
Judio refers to someone from Israel or of the Jewish faith
Turco means Turk and refers to someone of Middle Eastern descent. It is also used to identify Armenians, despite the fact that Armenians suffered greatly at the hands of the Turks during the Armenian holocaust.
Indio refers to someone from India. It is also used to refer to certain people from Central and South America but it's usually meant in a derogatory way.
Negro refers to someone of dark or black skin.
Spring starts in September. Then Summer begins in December and lasts until March. Fall begins in April, followed by winter in May that lasts until the end of August.
Terms Argentineans NEVER Use
Oye - used to catch someone's attention. Argentineans use the term "Che", which means "hey!".
Andale - meaning to hurry up is commonly heard in Mexico, but never Argentina
Orale - meaning to hurry up or get on with it is also commonly heard in Mexico
Arriba! Arriba! - Speedy Gonzalez used this term, which I assume implies to hurry up or go. This is a Mexican term. Don't say this unless you're Speedy Gonzalez visiting Argentina! Arriba means "up". The only thing you'll get Argentineans to do if you shout this is to get them to look up at the sky or the ceiling.
An Average Work Day and the Siesta 
Most businesses open in the morning for about 3 or 4 hours. Then they shut down for the "siesta", which can last anywhere from 1pm to 6pm. Then businesses resume from 6pm until about 9pm. This varies by business and province. Banks and supermarkets do not take a siesta. In some provinces, business remain open for a few short hours in the morning or remain completely closed on Sunday.
The Argentinean Work Ethic
Argentineans are very laid back. This doesn't mean that they aren't hard workers. They simply don't stress out as much about schedules or time crunches or deadlines. If you call for a plumber or take your car to a mechanic, don't expect things to get done fast. I wouldn't recommend asking them to hurry it up or rush over to your house to fix something either. They will get there when they get there. It's just the way things work which makes for a mostly stress free lifestyle. The best advice I can give is that you get onboard as well. It will save you a lot of stress too.  
Barbecue is the norm in Argentina, but don't expect burgers and hot dogs on their grill. Argentineans enjoy barbecues that consist of a variety of steaks, sausages, kidneys, cow brains, and entrails. An Argentinean will eat all types of meat (cow, goat, horse, duck, rabbit, chicken).
Pastries are also very popular. You’ll find an assortment of them. Many include fillings of Argentina’s favorite spread, called Dulce De Leche.
Empanadas (meat pies) come in two styles. The empanada criolla consists of ground beef, olives and eggs. The Arabian empanada (Empanada Arabe) is triangular shaped and consists of seasoned ground beef in the center.

Pizza. Prepare yourself. Most Large pizzas ordered in Argentina are the equivalent of a medium sized pizza in the United States. I usually have to order two to satisfy myself and my spouse and they don't have pepperoni here.
Sandwiches de Miga (Crumb Sandwiches) are thin cut ham and cheese sandwiched by equally thin pieces of bread with the crusts cut off. The bread usually has mayo which helps keep the sandwich moist. There are other varieties of this sandwich. Some include veggie style and egg salad. Ordering the ham version is usually more expensive. Most people order Panceta which is a cheap version of the ham for this sandwich.
Pasta is second only to beef in Argentina. Lasagna, gnocchi, ravioli, cannelloni, a wide variety of spaghettis are also commonly consumed at restaurants and Argentinean homes.

Well, that's all I could think of for now. As soon as I learn more, I'll post it in a future entry. Until then, try to keep all these things in mind and you'll have a much smoother transition.


  1. Hi there!
    What a finding your blog was!!. I am completely absorbed reading your experiences and I just wanted to say Hi...
    Our life stories has some parallelisms, I am a Spanish guy with an Argentinian boyfriend currently living in the UK and seriously considering moving to Argentina, although not in the short term.
    As you can imagine I relate to your fears, concerns and shocks. Because I am trying to read it chronologically I still don't know how the country has treated you well or fulfilled your expectations.
    Keep the good work, thanks for the blog and see you around!

  2. Hi! Thank you for your comment. You should write a blog about your experience. Living in the UK sounds very exciting. I'd love to hear about your experience living there with your boyfriend.