1. How to embrace people that aren’t just like you.
In Argentina, diversity is embraced. Gays? No problem. Argentina was one of the first countries in the world to legalize gay marriage and allow gays to adopt. Sex changes can even be covered under a public or private medical plan, and all it takes to ‘legally’ change one’s gender identity is to fill out a form.
As for foreigners, when taking a taxi in Buenos Aires they better be prepared for the driver’s enthusiastic, never-ending interrogation about their country. And Argentina has one of the most laid-back policies in Latin America for foreigners to be able to work or stay in the country legally. When I go visit the US (with a US passport, no less!), I feel like I sometimes have to make a case for myself to justify to whoever stamps my passport why I should be allowed in the country. On the contrary, when I show up at Ezeiza airport in Buenos Aires, I am always given a warm welcome.
2. The importance of family.
I’m in no way saying that people from the States don’t care about family. But Argentines in general seem to keep family closer. Argentines of all ages don’t hesitate to express to their mom or dad how much they love them, Sundays are almost sacredly reserved for family get-togethers, and many kids stay nearby once they finally move out of the house (which often doesn’t happen until their mid-to-late 20s!).
3. That a university education and medical care can be free.
How an economically messed-up country with extreme amounts of bureaucracy and political clusterfucks can figure out how to offer free university education and medical care to all of its citizens, when the US can’t get its act together even in the slightest in this regard, is beyond me.
4. How to chill the fuck out.
You crashed your car? ”Que bajón, pero no pasa nada, son cosas que pasan…” (Bummer, but no biggie, these things happen…) Your partner cheated on you? ”Ya fue, ya fue…” (It’s already done, so let it go). In general, Argies stay truly mad for a long time over very few things (ahem, futbol). Life’s too short to not spend it drinking bottles of great wine and having an eight hour asado with a bunch of friends, family, and neighbors every single chance you get. Everything else ‘bad’ that comes up in life? Situations, no más.
5. That there are more important things in life than working.
Storefront signs I have actually seen since living in Argentina: “We open when we open, we close when we close, and if you come and we aren’t open, it wasn’t meant to be.” The other? “Almost always closed.”
Between that attitude and more paid national holidays a year than any other country on the planet, not many Argentine businesses would ever even think of being open 24 hours a day or on days like Christmas. They actually have a life to go live. Often, in the States, people ask immediately upon meeting you, “What do you do?” This question doesn’t come up quite so quickly in Argentina — conversationalist Argentines know there is probably something much more interesting to talk about than what you do for a living.
6. How to weather a crisis.
Financial crisis? HA! No one knows how to take a financial beating better than an Argie. With rampant inflation, a dollar situation so fucked-up complicated that I don’t even want to try to explain it here, and a history of the whole economy basically collapsing and wiping out everyone’s bank accounts, Argentines still recognize that life goes on. Things change. Times will get good again. Then they will dive bomb. Rinse and repeat. Get used to it. Now dig up some of those pesos buried out in the backyard or under the mattress and go buy stuff for an asado to end all asados while you can, because you never know what tomorrow will bring.
7. The awesomeness of hugs.
None of this handshaking or pat on the back crap here. Argentines hug and they hug often. They’ll give you real hugs, holding you tight and simultaneously kissing your cheek. And if it’s perfectly acceptable for your mailman or the lady at the supermarket to hug you — look out when it comes to friends and family! It might seem weird at first, but you will be surprised at how soon you get used to it.
Upon return to the US, you might be surprised to realize that it’s one of the things you miss most. I remember my first time back to the US after living in Argentina for a while. I was a guest teacher at an elementary school to teach the Spanish class about Argentine culture. A little girl about 7 or 8 years old, who was a friend of my daughter, ran up in the hallway to hug me. Of course I returned the hug! Later in the day I was called into the principal’s office to receive a lecture about how ‘we can’t hug the kids’. I shit you not. At that point I explained with utmost clarity that I would rather quit the job than not return a hug from a little kid who asked for one. I couldn’t get back on a plane to Argentina soon enough.
8. Food is to be thoroughly enjoyed.
Prime example — no Argentine would think to take coffee to go — coffee is to be enjoyed while relaxed, sitting down, people watching or engaged in great conversation. Barbecues are dragged out to be all day and often all night affairs. Kids in school are given adequate time to eat their food — none of this ‘15 minutes for a nasty hot lunch you are expected to shovel down then get your ass back to class’ stuff. And even the most weight-conscious Argentine woman knows that a single scoop of gelato won’t kill her, and she probably won’t feel the slightest amount of guilt in savoring a cone of dulce de leche.