Argentines fervently describe everyone in the Americas (North, Central and South) as “Americans.” The first time I encountered the ferocity of this statement was when I was having dinner one night at a fancy parrilla. The previously friendly waitress instantly jumped down my throat when I told her I was from America, saying how insulting it was for me to say that.
Her “cara de culo” (one of my favorite local phrases, literally meaning “ass face,” used to denote any nasty expression on one’s face) took me aback. I asked her what the name was of the country across the river was, and she replied “Uruguay!” I corrected her by saying that it’s actually called the Oriental Republic of Uruguay…so if she thought that it was fine to call that country Uruguay, why was it wrong to call the United States of America, America? She took her cara de culo back to the kitchen. Obviously I didn’t stick around to order coffee and dessert, as she totally would have spit in them.
So there you are, patiently waiting for over 20 minutes for the (insert any bus line here) to show up. You share frustrated looks with the others waiting. Finally, the bus turns the corner and your mood brightens. Half the line steps out onto the street with their arms raised in the proper position to signal the driver to stop.
You see the bus’s right-turn signal go on and you relax, fish your SUBE card out of your pocket, and prepare to board the bus. But then the bus suddenly speeds up, and in unison you all try to make eye contact with the bus driver…but he’s looking straight ahead as he speeds by.
On the one hand, Argentines inherently “know” that any food served to them in a home or restaurant simply does not have enough salt, so they don’t hesitate to put large amounts of it on any food before tasting it. On the other hand, the thought of even a mild sprinkling of pepper on anything is immediately proclaimed to be “too spicy!” Any owner of a foreign food establishment, be it Chinese, French, Thai, Mexican, Arab, or whatever, will tell you the food has to be made ridiculously bland or they will go out of business.
No one ever seems to have the ability to make change. Ever. So prepare for that “cara de culo” from any taxi driver or merchant when you try to pay with a 100 peso bill, and be prepared to be given a piece of some nasty candy in lieu of change at the kiosko.
It all seems so straightforward. Find the requisite metal straw. Fill a mate cup with yerba. Add warm water and drink away, passing it around to all your new Argentine friends. Um, not so fast, Yanqui. There’s a whole art to the preparation and serving of mate. Do yourself and all of your Argie friends a favor and let a local handle the job!
There are so many ways you could be screwing up the process and not even know about it. For example, water temperature must be perfect…as in, roughly 158 degrees F, but who’s getting technical? A local knows when it is ready by listening to it, not even kidding. It’s also all about timing — don’t hog the straw and stall the process (that’s called ‘microphoning’ and it’s a big no-no), yet don’t make anyone feel rushed, either. And don’t go thinking gracias means a straightforward ‘thank you’ — in mate situations, it means you’re done and don’t want any more. While any Argentine will think it’s great when someone new wants to try mate, their enthusiasm can quickly dive bomb the second that person screws up the mate in any way.
One of the easiest ways to feel the hate is to need to go to the supermarket, hospital, or any government office, because there’s a line with your name on it! They are everywhere and they’re an all-consuming part of your daily life here. In the digital age of online bill paying, you would think that standing in some line for literally hours to pay your utility bills or taxes would have gone the way of the dinosaur by now, but not in Argentina. At least you’ll be surrounded by others who will be more than happy to let you join in on the complaining!
Argentines never seem to tire of hating their political paradigm where a rainbow of political parties, all under the banner of Peronism, fight a daily death cage match in the media for the hearts and wallets of the Argentine Republic. The Left hates the Right and Right hates the Left, and they both hate the Center, which is split into so many factions that it is basically inconsequential on the national stage. At least it’s more entertaining than that tired old Left Nut vs Right Nut two-party USA system, isn’t it?
You’re feeling pretty cool when you get an invited to one of the million asados taking place on any given weekend in this country. You notice that the friend that taught you about mate is manning the grill, and when he takes a bathroom break (those big boy Quilmes go right through a person!), you decide to jump in and man the grill in his stead. Oh. My. Fucking. God. You didn’t. Big…and I mean BIG…mistake! You will instantly find that the mood at the asado has grown dark! Who the hell does this Yanqui think he is?
Hopefully one of your other friends will step in to save you from what could be an eminent ass kicking! Why? Because you don’t know jack shit about how to BBQ Argentine-style! So just slink back to the table and wait for the dark cloud to pass. This is an art passed along through the generations, and as far as any Argentine you will ever meet in this lifetime is concerned, you will never get it right.
Know that in Argentina, Maradona enjoys a God-like status and Pele is considered a mere mortal. When on Argentine soil, never, ever question the fact that Maradona obviously was a better player than Pele.