Argentina is a land of eccentricities and contradictions. While many may struggle to even place this South American country on a map, it might just be one of the craziest places in the world. Here’s why.
Understanding the Argentine economy evades even the craftiest numbers man. The slippery so-and-so that is Argentina’s economy is so volatile that most people lost practically all their life savings in the economic crisis of 2001. So untrustworthy is the Argentine banking system that the country still operates mostly on a cash-only basis, and until recently the largest bill was a 100 peso note, which now converts to approximately $5.8US. Crazy indeed.
Protests are a matter of course in Argentina. Sometimes these huge marches are planned, with thousands descending on the capital to make themselves heard, but often it is not even known what the aggrieved group are protesting about. Road closures in the city centre of Buenos Aires are common during protests, which can significantly impact on the daily lives of citizens and commuters.
Inflation sits at around 40% per annum, an astounding figure that affects everything from your rent to the price of milk. So ingrained into Argentine society is inflation that if you have a work contract (which many don’t), it is stated that your salary should increase every six months to align with inflation. However, this rarely compensates to the full degree, leaving Argentines scrambling to keep up with ever-rising living costs
Drama in the streets
The streets of Argentina are the best place to see what is described as el quilumbo Argentino – a broad term which defines the chaos and madness that characterizes Argentine culture. Traffic accidents, people shouting at each other in the streets and on the buses, this is all just part of daily life in Argentina.
Although Argentina is firmly located in Latin America, it is really only this generation that identify themselves as Latin American. The modern Argentina is founded mainly on European immigrants, who were invited to populate the country in the 19th century, and many older generations align themselves more with Europe than South America, which has gained Argentines something of an untoward reputation across the rest of the continent.
Argentina is a huge landmass with borders along Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay. For years the Chilean border has been a bone of contention, with Chile claiming practically the entire Pacific coast. The war for the Malvinas/Falklands Islands in 1982 claimed thousands of lives, each side claiming that the southern archipelago belonged to them. Territorial disputes on the northeastern border resulted in the War of the Triple Alliance, which cost Paraguay huge numbers of its population.
Out of time
Argentina operates on a different time to the rest of the world – literally. There is no daylight savings in Argentina due to a strategy to increase local tourism to the Argentine coast implemented by the last government. Being on “Argentina time” also means the day starts and ends later, and that it’s more than ok to be late, everybody does it!
At a time when the rest of the world is trying to be more environmentally-conscious and eat less meat, Argentina continues to buck the trend and dig its feet into to its meat culture. Each Argentine typically eats more than 140 pounds of beef annually, about 50% more than the average American.
Argentina has a very specific phrase to describe the romantic behavior of its people – histerico/a. This encapsulates the idea that Argentine romance is built around drama and mind games, all of which can either keep you on your toes or frustrate the hell out of you.
Liberation and lawlessness
The law in Argentina could better be described as “best practice”, and doesn’t really carry the weight it would in other countries. The police are often corrupt, and will ask for a bribe in return for turning a blind eye to petty crimes. The flip side of this is an incredible sense of freedom in that you can effectively do what do want, a luxury in a global society that is more monitored than ever before.
Argentina has a turbulent history – successive dictatorships, a murderous campaign against political dissidents and intellectuals, and the bloody stain of harboring Nazis after World War II, to name but a few. The residual effects of these historical events are still evident in today’s society, where protests against anything that may be seen as repressive are commonplace.
In a world where the family unit is being diminished more and more every year, in Argentina it still reigns supreme. Argentine family bonds run deep, and it is usual for Argentines to dedicate every Sunday as family time.
Battle of the sexes
Most traditional Argentines have a group of friends that has been with them since high school. And more often than not, this group is of the same sex. Guys have los chicos, while girls have las chicas. Mixed friend groups are not common in Argentina, and just as Sundays are reserved for families, one night a week at least will be designated friend time.
Football is like religion in Argentina, bringing its own crowd of devout fanatics. These fans are known as the barra brava, or football hooligans, and are considered on a par with organised criminals or the mafia. They make money from ticket re-sale, the sale of merchandise and food/beverages at football matches, and are famous for their intimidation tactics, often achieved with violence.
Singing in the streets
A funny Argentine quirk is that people – despite the crazy economics, harrowing history and maddening inflation – are still pretty happy. So happy, in fact, that they think nothing of singing out loud in public. It could also be taken as a sign of how comfortable many Argentines are in their own skin that they are not embarrassed to be belting out tunes outside the shower.
Argentina often feels like it hasn’t yet caught up with the modern era, but this is a thing of beauty as opposed to something unprogressive. The past and its artifacts are valued in Argentina – no one ever throws anything out – meaning it’s a haven for antique collectors, with nostalgia lurking in every corner.