Suitcase on wheels     stuck in the snow   sniffer dog

Sunday, August 27, 2006

76. Why can't we be friends? (Bariloche, Argentina)

The inhabitants of the largest city in any country often seem to get a bad rap throughout the rest of that country. Often those who live in the largest city have more disposable income, more expensive cars and houses, and more entertainment options (international concerts, theatres etc), which gives them a superiority complex over their small town cousins. They may also have more hectic lifestyles, live with more pollution, and more stress. Obviously, these factors make those who live in the largest city different from those in the rest of that country. In NZ, for example, the term JAFA (just another f'in Aucklander) is used with disdain when referring to those from Auckland, the largest city. I guess it's much the same in other countries (Sydney, New York, Madrid, Paris).

The biggest divide between a major city and the rest of the country that I've seen is in Buenos Aires. To start with, porteños, as the inhabitants of Buenos Aires are called, have little regard for the rest of the country - many of them think of Argentina as consisting of Buenos Aires + places to take a holiday. It's often said that BsAs has the highest number of plastic surgeons and the highest number of psychiatrists per capita in the world. I have my doubts that that statistic is still true, but it does offer a hint at the porteño psyche. Throughout the rest of Argentina (and this view has spread to other countries in South America) porteños are thought of as being proud, arrogant, rude and neurotic. A well-known joke goes "How does a porteño commit suicide? -He climbs to the top of his ego and jumps off.

Around Bariloche - 08 - View from apartment pano
From our apartment. On windless days the lake becomes a mirror

This South American view of porteños may contrast with what the typical expat encounters. Just about every expat blog I've read has said that Argentineans are fun and really friendly. Of course this depends on the circumstances - as in most large cities you're unlikely to make a new friend by random chance - say in the street or a bar, or even your neighbours in the same building. People here are super-wary of strangers, more so than anywhere I've lived. But, if introduced to someone through mutual friends obviously that person will make your acquaintance. Everything normal so far.

However, making the leap from an acquaintance to a friend, I found, was difficult. I made a fair few acquaintances through Argentines that I knew before I came to BA and then through my girlfriend, and while we'd have a great time hanging together with our mutual friends, they'd usually not turn up to a party of mine if it was on my turf - I'd only see these people on our mutual friends' turf. It took me a long time, and a few no-shows to realise that these people probably never will turn up so eventually I stopped inviting them, but we stayed acquaintances.

Around Bariloche - 07 - View from apartment night
From our apartment again, at night

Another anomaly I found with my friends here, not my acquaintances, was they were very lazy when it came to returning calls or meeting on time. If we were gonna meet at 10 that would mean to expect them any time between 10:30 and 11:30. Sometimes they wouldn't even turn up at all! Calls to cellphones and text messages would simply go unanswered. This sort of behaviour I find unacceptable, and quite immature. Especially the keeping people waiting. But it wasn't only happening to me - I'd see my girlfriend's friends doing the same crap with her. So I let it slide. Other expats have told me the same happens to them, that their Argentine friends are notoriously unreliable.

Anyone who's tried to do business here will point out that in the business world it's often the same. Appointments are often not kept without even a courtesy phone call. Employees don't turn up for work and they won't even call in to lie that they're sick. They'll just switch the mobile off and stay in bed. The concept of time = money doesn't seem to have sunken in here, especially if it's your time they're wasting.

A report I read yesterday conducted by online address book company plaxo said that Argentines have more contacts in their plaxo address books on average than any other country, with an average of 479. I've spoken about friendship with a couple of Argentines I know, and they both told me that they have a lot of acquaintances. But they also tell me they have few friends.

Anyway. Although I had a lot of friends and acquaintances after my first two months in BA, by the time I left BA the number of Argentine friends I had left I could count on one hand. I'm not saying it's like that for every expat that comes here, but that was how it was for me. I'm hoping that the behaviour I saw was only a porteño trait, and that I'll have more luck with friends here in Bariloche. Although since this is a tourist town, with lots of comers and goers, I kind of doubt it. Maybe I would have had more luck if I took up a social hobby, like tango...

Here in Bariloche life's carrying on slowly. The weather's been great for the last 2 weeks, sunny days, no snow, and even warm (24°C one day last week!). A preview of springtime. I'm happy with the change of weather, although the skiiers and snowboarders aren't, as the snow is melting.

Cerro Catedral - 04 - Ruth mate
Ruth with mate-listo on the mountain

A tradition here in Argentina is that to celebrate the end of their final year of high school, the entire class takes a class trip to Bariloche, between August and December. So the town continues to be full of kids travelling in packs of up to 50, clapping in unison and singing football songs, dressed in identical (sponsored) jackets. It's a bit like schoolies week in Surfer's Paradise, Australia, only here it's spread out over a few months.

Around Bariloche - 05 - Kids banner
Kids on their year-end trip posing in front of the lake


  • I've found it be hard to connect with porteño friends too. They'll be like "let's hang out tomorrow. I'll call you". Then they don't call, and they're not home...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:01 PM  

  • Tell us about the skiing - how are the slopes - what's the snow like during the season - is steep & deep possible in the cold times? how much does it cost - what are the good skiers like? ie good, medium, mediocre?

    By Anonymous bruce, at 3:54 AM  

  • What you think is immature is a typical argentine habit. I read in a magazine that in Argentina when you are invited, you are SUPPOSED to show up half an hour late because when you are there on time it is likely that your hosts are just dressing themselves or take a shower.

    By Blogger lepascal, at 5:23 AM  

  • Not really a comment, more a desperate question...
    I am a guy from Holland and I HAD a Argentinean girlfriend for 4,5 months, until she broken up with me almost 2 weeks ago. I am a bit desperate to get her back, so I am just asking for any tips you (or possibly even better: your Argentinean girlfriend) can give me...?

    PS. Yes, I also had a hard time making friends in Argentina. Even my now ex Argentinean girlfriend doesn't want to be friends anymore, although we broke up without any fights...
    Maybe I should just go back to Holland...

    By Anonymous Dave, at 12:30 PM  

  • Bruce, more on the snow later. I still haven't been skiing.

    lepascal, the "half an hour late" thing I already knew about and expected. The "make plans to meet, not turn up, and not return calls" thing is what I wrote about and not what I expected, yet it would happen more than once.

    Dave, I'll address Argentinian girls in my next post... maybe something in there will help you.


    By Blogger mattyboy, at 6:58 AM  

  • Hi Matt,

    I recently wrote something about this myself (see As another South Pacificer (I am from Great Land of Oz) living in BSAS, I am finding exactly the same thing.

    I also quoted your post here, so I wanted to let you know.


    By Blogger hiedistar, at 5:29 AM  

  • Bit of a late comment, this, but still...

    The Argentinean kids' end-of-term Bariloche trip always worried the hell out of me. What parent would allow their kid to wander around a town (probably) hundreds of miles away - mostly unsupervised - with a very large group of their mates?!

    I mean, if I was an Argentinean wanting to do wrong things with children, I know where I'd spend my summer...

    By Blogger The Alex, at 4:32 AM  

  • I'm from Argentina...

    To the above poster: The kids don't wonder alone in Bariloche!!! They travel with special supervisors that look after them the entire trip...
    It's not a much different tradition to that of US senior students going to Tijuana.

    Interesting how our "not showing up on time" habits are not considered normal in other parts of the world... heh. It's like an implicit tradition for us over here to show up 15-30 minutes late...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:05 PM  

  • one of the simple problems whether here or elsewhere, is, while showing up late may be custom, here not showing up at all is custom about 30 percent of the time so after a while, you get tired of waiting with the thought of a no show, of putting your time aside when a simple phone call would have helped

    By Anonymous diego, at 4:07 AM  

  • I'm an expat living in Argentina and I have found the exact same thing. My boyfriend and I moved here and hung out with an Argentine that had worked with My boyfriend in Paris. We had a great day with her, she invited us to a party that night, we met all of her friends and totally clicked with them. We thought we had found our new group of friends here. That week we had plans with them, and we called to arrange everything. She didn't return the call for a week. It was so weird. I know that they weren't pretending to have a good time with us. We are really confused. A similar thing happened with a few other people. We just can't seem to connect with anyone here... Except for other expats. And our other Expat friends have noticed the same thing. It's frustrating to come to a country with a reputation of the people being so friendly, only to find that it's all on the surface.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:12 PM  

  • I cannot believe what you have written is EXACTLY what i'm experiencing in Buenos Aires with making friends. Generally (not for all) but i speak for the chicas as guys have let me down less, but there is NO respect for time, I expect now that 90% of the time, I will be cancelled on and ofcourse always at the last minute, and calls/texts get ignored. I am just sick of it, I feel like it is impossible to make friends. Girls are just soo flakey and "depressed" "stressed" or whatever. I hate to be such a pessimist, but I have tried OH SO hard to make an effort with several different girls to become friends with and its always just false promises of meeting up because they are oh so busy or depressed and dont want to go out. I thought I made a really good friend here when I first arrived and for the first 3months it was awesome, then suddenly she disappears of the earth and practically ignores my messages/calls. Argentine girls are known to be "CRUZADAS" aka unreliable, flakey - so now that I have experienced it, and I have read other people experiencing similar situations, it makes me feel like It's not me, its them!

    Anyway, maybe this is the Q to leave BA, what do you think?

    By Blogger Resh, at 6:05 AM  

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