I just got back from Buenos Aires just in time for some holiday snowstorms!!! I’ve just spent the last two semesters studying spanish, economics, and political science. However, I am extremely pleased to say that more than my academic experience, I’ve learned a lot about Argentine and specifically Porteña (word used to describe people from the lovely port city of Buenos Aires) culture. They warn Americans who spend a good deal of time abroad to not come back with an attitude problem. This is especially an issue for those who come back from Europe and cannot stop saying things like, ““I can’t believe I have to drink boxed wine again. We never drank that in Florence.” Here’s a funny article from Glimpse.org about the reverse culture shock faux-paus. But it is very much from the perspective of a return from a developed, probably westernized, maybe even glamorous foreign country. It does not deal with the reverse culture shock that comes from witnessing true poverty, failing economies, and institutional corruption in a foreign country.
My experience in Argentina was not that harsh. I lived in a comfortable environment in a cosmopolitan city with most of what I required (and desired) available to me somehow. And because of a favorable exchange rate, I was able to live a relatively luxurious lifestyle. Not to say I was having fancy dinners and shopping in Palermo Soho every weekend, but cab fare was rarely an issue and I was able to do some traveling outside of the city at my leisure.
However now that I am back my reverse culture shock isn’t quite what I am expecting nor what anybody gave me as a warning. And the interesting, and almost embarrassing part of it has to do with one of the most distinct elements of Porteño culture as compared to American/Boulder culture. And that is in the field of romance—and the relationship between men and women.
Big differences I noticed had to with:
1. The belief in the possibility of friendship between sexes
2. The value of honesty and fidelity
3. Who “wears the pants”
4. The games!!
In my experience the Spanish language is simply more straightforward than English. The quantity of words is less so there are fewer combinations of ways to be diplomatic, political, or to simply step around what you are really trying to say. So when there is interest, it’s very obvious. I have felt like Americans have a bigger fear of putting themselves out there, so there are lots of concerns with reading and misreading signals, saying the right thing and not coming across as a fool. That leads to those stupid games everyone plays. In Buenos Aires, I felt like if there is interest it is clear and everyone just acts on it. But, because people are forward, almost every relationship begins with a potential romance involved, so friendship is seen more as a defeat. In the states, friendship is usually the first step so having a lot of friends of the opposite sex is completely acceptable.
When I talk about wearing pants, I felt like the courting part of romance and the maintenance of the relationship were really different. The man HAS to court the woman. Forward women are rarely taken seriously. But ironically the women have all the control during this process—that is until they are willing to invest in the relationship. And at that point the men seem to take over. Once the woman allows herself to be vulnerable, the men seem to lose interest (it’s a classic problem) and that’s where honestly and fidelity come into play. I would be very hesitant to marry an Argentine. The horror stories of cheating and lying I’ve heard (and experienced) would be enough to give up my dual Argentine citizenship. In the states, it can be exactly the same, but it seems like there are more diverse combinations of courtship. Also, not to say that cheaters and liars don’t exist in the grand United States, but truly, concerns of fidelity and lying seemed to be greater than any other relationship problem I heard.
Of course as a disclaimer, we have to recognize the variables that affected my expierence. I was living in a big city. This means anonymity and often fearlessness that you probably won’t find in Boulder. I was a foreign student. That meant I was a temporary option for most of the men I met and most of what was expressed to me was only charm for the night. That led to shady attitudes and lies. Thankfully though, all the negative experience with men helped me relate better to Argentine women and that led to beautiful friendships!!
After being exposed to that for almost a year, I don’t remember what men are like here. Obviously it varies person to person, between backgrounds, situations, etc. But I am having a hard time preparing myself for getting involved with people here because I am afraid the negativity I now possess and the skepticism of anybody who looks at me are unfortunately pervasive. And more than getting involved, it’s about the process. I just don’t understand it. Although, I’m sure we can settle on the fact that few understand it—none of us, most likely. But it sure complicates things to mix up this part of life in different languages, countries, and cultures…
Usually in phases like this, it’s best to simply concentrate on your schoolwork. I’ll end on that note.