1. Beer drinking
Ah, glorious beer. That special, urine-colored sap that has put many a dent on a British liver, and many an affair in a British marriage. There are a number of reasons for our obsession with beer, but one is that it presents itself as a cheap way of getting loose on a Saturday night, in the face of many expensive alcoholic alternatives.
It’s true that I haven’t gone completely cold turkey on beer since arriving, but the wine here is just as cheap as the beer, and a million times better. Malbec is a revelation. Predominantly made in Argentina’s sun-drenched Mendoza region, the wine comes out singing of the sunny climate in which it was brewed. On the flip side of this, it’s tricky to get any decent beer in Argentina. The local Quilmes is far from the finished article and even the imported stuff tastes a bit different. And to stray you even further away from the beer that you once loved, there is our black, syrupy friend that keeps us warm in the dead of the night: Fernet.
2. Getting uptight about punctuality
Punctuality and efficiency are the keys to the whirlwind life of a Londoner. Whether it’s rushing to get to work on the tube, eating a quick lunch at Pret a Manger, or starting Friday night at 5pm, nobody wastes a moment in London. But this breeds impatience, which is something that you better leave behind if you want to keep your sanity in Argentina.
In Argentina, people like to run on their own clock, which is one that has usually been set a couple of hours late. Buses, for example, wind an extravagant web across each corner of every city, but never to a predictable or consistent schedule. Or sample the famous Argentine asado. On one hand, it is a dish of pure carnivore delight, but on the other a test of endurance and discipline, as you sit drooling for literally hours while the meat cooks at a tortoise-like pace. Even meeting friends for a drink can test the most sturdy of patience, as you will inevitably be required to navigate through the boredom of that first hour or two of obscurity between meeting time and the time when anyone else might actually arrive.
3. Acting like a cyborg in public
Some people would say that us Brits are polite, some would say that we’re cold and rude, I would say we’re a bit of them all, with a slice of confusion chucked in there as well. We tend to be brought up with an admiration for politeness and ‘proper’ conduct, whilst coming from a historical appreciation of a ‘stiff upper lip.’ This attitude has made us semi-robotic cyborgs out in public.
Happy to let it all hang-loose on any given street, the Argentines have no problem whatsoever in expressing themselves in public. They sing, they shout, they dance, and they argue in front of anyone and everyone, and they don’t give two shits who’s watching. This was tricky to understand when I first arrived, as I shied away from those spontaneous conversations that would spring up in the street.
4. Banking, legitimately
In Argentina, the economic situation is rather temperamental and has been ever since the crisis in 2001. This has, due to a variety of factors, resulted in two different currencies: the official currency and the ‘blue’ currency. The official rate, as peddled by the government, basically overvalues the Argentine Peso as the government refuses to accept the true rate of inflation in the country, while the blue rate tries to create a currency exchange rate that is more representative of the peso’s actual value. For example, today if you exchange US dollars on the official market you will get 8.6 pesos per dollar, but if you exchange them on the blue market you’ll get 13.5 per dollar.
The government has labeled the blue rate illegal — although the entire country uses it — so the banks use the official rate. Needless to say, I don’t fancy having 30% of my paycheck stolen by the government after it’s already been taxed, so I’ve left banks behind. Now, rather than the convenience of using one of the city’s many ATMs for cash, I have the pleasure of using one of city’s numerous, yet sometimes shady, intermediaries to serve up my dolar blue.
5. Watching TV
With little to do during cold British nights, you can often find solace in a mildly entertaining TV show. Usually lacking in the mental-exertion department, the shows require very few brain cells to enjoy, but they offer just about enough entertainment to deter you from pursuing any genuinely rewarding hobbies. In Argentina this is not a problem.
Television in Argentina seems to bounce between highly biased news coverage, incomprehensible entertainment shows with colorful flashing lights, 1990s movie repeats, and football from every corner of the globe — usually of a fairly low transmission quality. So TV gets scrapped, which is sensationally liberating — more time to pursue that hobby or drink your nights away. Malbec and fernet, remember?