Argentina and Chile are close neighbors: in the time it would take for me to travel by car between Sandusky and Cincinnati, I had moved from one country to another. Being such close neighbors I had assumed there would be small differences but not many. I also had assumed that, generally speaking, they would be friends. I was wrong on both accounts.
If my childhood, elementary school experiences and general politics of the world have been any indicators at all, I would have realized that those living in close proximity are usually the fiercest of enemies. Maybe enemies is a strong word here, but it’s safe to say that there exists a certain tension between Argentines and Chileans. As a matter of public opinion, both Chileans and Argentines have choice words regarding the other. Most of the things they say are the same on both ends. Both claim to have invented the asado and perfected it. Both regard themselves as slightly if not indisputably superior. I’m speaking in general terms here, the overarching stereotype of public opinion, and don’t mean to proclaim any of these things as facts or even my own opinion. However, it exists, just as unsavory opinions and undercurrents run rampant in the U.S. and every other country of the world. I’ve met as many Chileans who talk down on Argentines as Chileans who don’t give a crap and have tons of Argentine friends
Argentina, however, has a different feel. Like the Portokalos family house in My Big Fat Greek Wedding serving as a painfully obvious physical tribute to Greece, Argentina almost feels like the beacon of Europe within a continent dominated by energies more associated with “typical Latin America”. The people have lighter skin, are taller, trendier. The order and energy of the city here remind me more of Italy and Spain. Distance between countries may not be great down here, but the differences in culture, language and customs can be as different as if they were on opposite ends of the world. Chile’s neighbors alone are the perfect example: third-world Latin America to the north with Peru and Bolivia; trendy, upscale Argentina to the east; and then Chile itself, a blend of Latin America and Europe with a booming economy and first-world standards of living.
Some Notes about Argentina:
- They chill their red wine. I’m not kidding. Isn’t this the biggest no-no of wine connoisseurs everywhere? I had thought so, until I met Argentinians who put ice cubes in their red wine. And then I came to WINE COUNTRY in Argentina and am finding both regular and chilled red wine. My palate is appalled, but being the open-minded gal I am, I shall continue the wine-tasting until I acclimate.
- The Spanish is more musical. Being that this was a haven for Italian immigrants at some point in the past, the Argentinian accent is as melodic and enchanting as Italian. Get a group of Argentinians together and sit back and enjoy.
- Argentinian Spanish has its own set of frustrating peculiarities. “Si po” is replaced by “Si che”; “Weon” gives way to “voludo”. The most confounding part? Argentinians utilize the vosotros verb tense. Anyone from Perkins High School’s Spanish Club will recall that we specifically did not learn that part of speech because “it doesn’t get used that much anymore”. Sigh. Luckily I know enough Spanish to know what I’m being asked/told/shouted/repeated for the fifth time.
- Purchasing one, tiny item in a store does not require four different employees and four unnamed, unadvertised steps. Chile is famous for the Check-Out Hassle; most common stores (apart from the big name chain stores) utilize the four-step checkout, which entails the following: one employee to select your item from the wall of available items, another employee to hand you your ‘check-out ticket’ which you then take to the caja (register) where another employee will handle your money, who then gives you another receipt to take to a final counter where a fourth employee will re-find your items, package them, and hand them to you. The pattern of steps and shuffles this creates across the floor of the store would look like a drunk hectagon. Phew. Learning this was irritating and confusing, to say the least. Argentina’s system is less bureaucratic – I can just wak into a store and buy what I want from one employee – but then again, less checks and balances might be the reason why their economy is suffering at the moment. Who knows.
- Argentinians are physically unable to consume a meal without bread. Also, there exists a vaguely unhealthy obsession with mayonnaise.