Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Reflections on life in Argentina (after one week)...

Cripes! Time flies when you're idle... It's already December. Happy month everyone! I hear Europe (the northern part, at least) is in the grip of a cold spell. Therefore it would be inconsiderate of me to brag about the fantastic weather we are having here at the moment. No-one likes a smug, self-centred so and so, do they? But, I can't resist... the weather has been gorgeous! The only time I felt the slightest bit chilly was at about 5 am on Sunday morning, when a southerly wind picked up and reduced the temperature to about 8 degrees. For anyone as meterologically nerdy as me you can have a look here and chart the weather's progress throughout my trip (I'm guessing that, Dad, you'll probably be the only one taking me up on this kind offer):

Moving on from the weather, I thought it was time for a few observations about life in Argentina. First impressions, if you like:

  • Actually, I'll move on from the weather in a minute, because first I have one last nugget of infomation that I want to share (I can almost hear the yawns from here!). What's been most interesting thing weather-wise, so far (for me), is that there was a sudden (and quite dramatic) drop in temperature between Friday and Saturday, of about 20 degrees (if you're Italian this will explain why I've now got a bit of cold, if you're not then you can blame a slightly weakened immune system brought on by a change of environment, some late nights and a host of new, exotic viruses, waiting to attack me). Anyway, this type of temperature change is quite normal here, apparently. It happens when the wind changes direction - we're not so far from Antarctica, after all):
  • People here seem to have a major aversion to fruit and vegetables. I don't think I've seen a single person consume a piece of fruit since I've arrived. Oh, actually, we did eat some strawberries once, but they had to be doused in sugar to render them palatable! ;-)
  • The tea party is alive and well in Argentina! Fancy little sandwiches, cakes (facturas) and (instead of tea) oceans of gaseosas (fizzy pop). I guess Argentina must be the biggest consumer of fizzy drinks in the world. It's no wonder that Coca-Cola is such a successful company. They must make billions out of Argentina alone. ;-)
  • And talking of sweet things, they just love sugar in general. Dulce de leche is quite possibly the sweetest substance known to mankind and they use it in/on just about everything. That's not to say I don't like it, just that you can.
  • Lots of people here drink mate (not you, Máté). It's a kind of bitter infusion (from a relative of the holly bush). I don't think it's narcotic (at least I haven't noticed any effects), but it's quite a good digestive (no, not a biscuit) and I rather like the whole ceremony attached to it. One person is the cebador (i.e. the person who serves the mate). They pour hot (but not boiling) water onto the dried leaves (which are traditionally contained in a gourd), and the tea is drunk through a metal straw, which mustn't be (re)moved until the session is finished. Each person drinks the mate until the liquid has gone, and then the cerbador refills it and passes it to the next person. You need to change the mate once it starts floating to the surface. Oh, and you don't say gracias until you've had enough, which for a polite Englishman is an exercise in restraint.
  • Everyone warns me about how potentially dangerous things are (and I'm not saying it's not, but rather that I haven't felt in immediate danger so far). They must consider the risk of crime to be quite high, though, because everyone has bars on their windows and avoids walking around at night. But I'm not sure its much worse than parts of England. I wonder if it's mainly because Argentinians consider Europe to be virtually crime-free, and worry that we are a bit wet-behind-the-ears as a result. As someone who has experienced 3 burglaries and 2 black-eyes, survived 2 weeks travelling with a con-artist ( and foiled a potential bag-snatch in Marseille, I hope I am reasonably vigilent and not too naive a traveller. Obviously I don't wish to tempt fate (and will remain suspicious [not to say paranoid] at all times) but as a naturally worrier, I don't really need people to make me even more anxious than I already am (but I do appreciate their concern and efforts to make me safe and happy)!
  • People are very friendly and curious to meet and talk to "el inglés". Which is nice.
  • Lots of things remind me of southern Italy: eating very late (never before 9pm), not going out until well after midnight, going to bed at 7am, going out for an ice-cream at midnight, not drinking as much as the British (but drinking more than the average Italian), going to the beach for a month in the summer (everything stopping for the whole of January). 
  • However, it's like a slightly Americanised version of Italy (the grid-system, more convenience food, fewer long-standing traditions, a corrupted version of the language ;-), reliance on the motor car [oh, that's the same as both Italy and America!]...) 
  • People drink wine with ice and/or sparkling water! 
  • At birthday parties people play a strange game involving dropping a mobile phone down the back of an armchair and then attempting to get it back out again. This game can last for at least an hour, and is a bit like a Krypton Factor mental agility challenge.
  • Everyone's mother owns a school.
  • Lots of people seem to both work and study, which I suppose is a reality of the modern world and makes me realise how easy I had it when I was at university.
Well, that's enough for now. It hopefully gives you a taste of life here, at least. I'll be back later with the more prosaic details of the last few days...

J xx


Vanesa Morán said...

I loved reading your detailed explanation of the "ceremony of mate", it was very funny because it reminded me of all the foreigners taking just a sip and then passing it on... ;-)
And I have a doubt, what do you mean by "Everyone's mother owns a school"?? Is that an idiomatic expression?
Ok, keep in touch James! See you...

Sidmouthian said...

Hahaha, no it's not an idiom... ;-) it was just a coincidence, but I met 3 people in Monte Grande whose mothers owned schools. Weird, huh?