Photo: Petrenko Andriy/Shutterstock

How to Piss Off an Argentine

by David Miller Jul 29, 2015

[Para leer este artículo en español, haz click aquí.]

Fart in public.

In the US, kids are taught to say “excuse me.” In Argentina, kids are apparently taught a zero tolerance policy. People fart unabashedly in public restrooms across the US, while bathrooms in Argentina are deathly quiet.

Argentina is a nation where public flatulence is so offensive, so unforgivable, that a dancer named María Amuchástegui who accidentally farted on her popular (and unfortunately, live) aerobics show literally fled the set, ending her career, and not appearing in public for another 30 years. It’s a nation apparently holding it in at all times, accounting perhaps for the preponderance of people walking around with cara de culo, or “ass-face,” particularly in Buenos Aires. Por favor, wait until you’re safely out of anyone’s auditory / olfactory range before tirarte un pedo.

Don’t have change or small bills.

Just try paying for your 12-block taxi ride with a 100-peso bill.

“Microphone” while you’re drinking mate.

Drinking mate has a pace to it. It’s not like sipping coffee. When you really get it, you see how it sets the rhythm of a conversation, or charla. When it’s passed to you, sip purposefully until the mate is completely empty (you need to hear a gurgling sound), and then pass it directly back to the cebador (person serving the mate). Don’t say “gracias” unless you want to communicate to the cebador that you’re finished and don’t want another round.

Argentines take a lot of care in how mate is prepared and served. In any way tampering with the bombilla (straw), stirring the yerba around, playing with it, trying to prepare it yourself and then mess up the temperature of the water, the amount of yerba, etc, or most of all, sitting there talking while you’re holding the mate (microphoning) — all of this gets people ornery.

Be surprised when people microphone while smoking pot.

Contradictorily, Argentines seriously bogart joints and other smokeage. It’s not puff puff pass but puff puff talk puff puff talk. This is frequently how big bottles of Quilmes and other beers are passed around circles of friends as well. Tranqui: There’s no hurry.

Talk shit about their pizza.

Be prepared to feel the wrath if you start comparing your organic veggie-topped, dank microbrew-accompanied, non-greasy pies to Argentines’ beloved “peek-zas.” In general, praise everything culinary, as Argentine asado, vino, and pastries sort of make up for its soggy pizza, dearth of vegetables, (and any solid concept of “breakfast” for that matter).

Misinterpret the kissing thing.

In Argentina you greet people with besos. It’s not about hugs or fistbumps or handshakes. Regardless of gender, people’s friends, family, their friends of friends, even casual acquaintances are greeted and said goodbye to with a quick peck on the right cheek. So don’t start having panic attacks when you’re suddenly stubble to stubble with some dude, or mistake that the girl is actually interested in you. Check yourself: It’s a saludo, nada más.

Refuse to engage in absurdly dangerous handling of fireworks.

Somewhat self-explanatory. Happens on New Year’s Eve and Christmas. Either stay in if you’re not ready to lose an eye/eardrum, or just be ready to duck. Either way, complaining gets you nowhere.

Obey traffic rules / give right of way to a pedestrian.

The roads in Argentina are a shitshow. On every conceivable level, laws, lanes, common sense, and courtesy are thrown out the window, replaced with a kind of machismo hierarchy based around balls and the size/velocity of your vehicle.

Q: Who has right of way at a four-way stop? A(1): Whoever doesn’t stop, and (2) whoever’s momentum and vehicle size would inflict the most damage on others.

There is one universally followed law: No matter what, you do NOT stop for peatones (pedestrians), and if you do, prepare yourself for a chorus of raised fists, ¡boludo!s, and possible rear-endings.

If you’re a guy: Don’t flirt with girls to some degree.

If you’re a guy and you don’t flirt at least a little, then you’re basically written off as un aparato (an “apparatus”).

Leave a party or social event early.

And by “early” we’re talking 2am. In Argentina, the phrase/excuse “I’ve got to get up early for work tomorrow” doesn’t exist.

Refuse hospitality.

In the same spirit, Argentines will want you to eat, drink, party until you reach a comatose state. When you’re literally passing out on someone’s sofa, that’s when you’re done. You can try to claim dietary restrictions or simply say you’re too full for a fifth porción of meat, but you’ll be doing irreparable damage.

Ask if they speak Portuguese.

Buenos Aires is not the capital of Brazil (where, yes, they speak Portuguese), but Argentina, where they speak castellano, aka Spanish.

Doubt their directions.

If you stop and ask for directions, Argentines have two rules: (1) Never say “Sorry, I don’t know,” and (2) Even if you don’t know or aren’t sure, create elaborate, ultra-convincing, and completely false directions as a bluff. With enough language skills, perspicacity, and time spent in Argentina, you can begin to recognize when somebody is actually telling you the truth versus “playing the guitar,” but either way, just smile, nod, and enjoy the show.

Bring up the Nazis.

Juan Perón, Argentina’s at once reviled, revered, and at one point exiled president, seemed to have a hard-on for Nazis. He made Argentina a safe haven for war criminals, helping sneak in Josef Mengele and Adolf Eichmann (among others), where they were protected and able to prosper for decades.

But while this is true, it’s also given rise to unfair, undeserved, hyperbolic associations of Argentina as “full of Nazis” (I’ve personally experienced / witnessed much more anti-Semitism here in the US). Ultimately the most far-reaching fact is that post-WWII, Argentina accepted more Jewish refugees than any other country in Latin America, and is now home to the 6th-largest Jewish population in the world.

Be from the US. . . and be right about something.

I’m not saying it isn’t somewhat deserved (just check your history: Operation Condor), but an obscure antipathy towards Los Yanquis definitely exists in Argentina. Even if you manage to ingratiate yourself with a local crew (and it’s surprisingly easy as long as you’re not an apparatus), there will always be this tiny layer of something like jealousy, suspicion, a sense that you’ve had it easier somehow…. I’m not exactly sure how to describe it.

All I know is that if you just go with it, outwardly accepting, that yes, you’re a boludo when it comes to carving meat, building fences, tending horses, hitting on girls, whatever it is, all will be fine. But as a gringo, as soon as you suggest something — like driving slightly faster on a dirt road to smooth out the bumps — and your (likely male) Argentine friend discovers you’re right? Shit, prepare for extended sulking, bitterness, even outright rage.

Don’t give up your place in line for a pregnant woman.

This is a truly beautiful (if inconsistent with the pedestrians thing) part of Argentinean culture: People in lines always give up their place for pregnant women. Are you a healthy 20-something backpacker waiting for the ATM where you’ll leverage ridiculous euro or dollar exchange rates to extract more pesos for your night in San Telmo than the pregnant woman at the back of the line (with four nenes pulling on her) will withdraw in a month? God help you, let her pass in front.

Call yourself an “American.”

While this is true in other Latin American countries, Argentines seem particularly sensitive to the fact that technically all of us throughout the Americas are “American” and that the proper term is estadounidense.

After getting made fun of for your accent, ask about their English.

Imitating gringo accents is just a kind of national pastime in Argentina. You can live there for years, speaking with so much fluency, grace, and jerga that no Latino outside of Argentina would ever guess you weren’t from there…and still, the second you round off the the d’s and r’s of “Puerto Madero,” you’re gonna get made fun of. And you’re expected to just take this in good humor. The second you laugh at the way they sing “Wish you were here”, the second you ask about their English — preparate.

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