Full Confession: This post isn’t strictly an “armchair” geographer post. At least not on the writing side. Why not? Well, because some of what I’m writing or sharing is based on my experience actually being in the country. Still, I followed a very similar format as I have for my other armchair geo posts, so it still provides us non-academic, casual geographers with a good base.
I’ve learned so much about the incredible country of Argentina in the last couple months and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it all. Any time I learn anything, I find myself realizing how much more is left to learn. In this case, mostly I end up researching down a rabbit hole of recipes, political figures, or musicians. Naturally, it’s hard to fit it all in one post. The odds of you seeing another post (or three!) featuring Argentina in the near future are high. I think that’s a good thing. Let’s get started!
Save Face Facts
So that we don’t feel super silly in conversations with real geographers or people from Argentina, we’re covering a few of the basics that we really ought to remember.
Save Face Fact #1: Where It Is
Argentina is found in southwestern South America. It’s big. So big that it has penguins in the south and caimans in the north.
Alright, now that we can find it, let’s learn a bit more.
Save Face Fact #2: What Language They Speak
In short, Argentina speaks Spanish. But no one from here would really say that. They’ll tell you they speak Castellano. And if you know a bit about the language, you know that Spanish varies greatly from one country to the next. Even within the country, accents and expressions vary immensely. Buenos Aires, for example, has its own slang called Lunfardo (but that doesn’t mean everyone uses it).
This article does a really good job of explaining ten of the most common Argentine Spanish expressions and idiosyncrasies.
There are, of course, other languages spoken within the country. Many immigrant languages are still spoken (Italian, German, etc.). The most widely spoken indigenous language is Quechua.
Save Face Fact #3: Buenos Aires is the Capital
Buenos Aires is the principal city, and the Greater Buenos Aires metropolitan area is home to approximately 30 percent of the entire country’s population. Its cultural and political scene influence much of the rest of the country. You know how it feels that in the US all the movies are filmed in New York City or California? In Argentina, all the movies are set in Buenos Aires. It’s the London, the Paris. You get the picture.
Bonus fact: It’s better if you pronounce Aires as eye-race instead of air-ace.
Save Face Fact #4: The Population is a diverse mix of ethnicities and cultures.
Like all of Latin America, there is a mix of races, a combination of indigenous culture and European influence. That said, Argentina saw waves and waves of immigration from European countries, including Italy, Germany, and England. It’s not at all uncommon for us to be mistaken as being from here. Until we open our mouths or give the Holy-crap-are-they-speaking-to-us?! faces.
Sparkling Dinner Conversation Points
Moving on from the basics, here are some talking points to keep a conversation rolling when you meet someone from Argentina or a geographer who happens to be talking about it.
Like I said, it’s a really big country and there’s a lot to see. Still, even being able to mention a few points will give you a bit of material for discussion. Here are the four biggest tourist stops that I’m usually held accountable for knowing about.
Buenos Aires | The Cultural Hotspot
We’re lucky, right? We already knew about this from above. Think restaurants, museums, cafes, markets, and dancing. To see posts from our time visiting Buenos Aires, check out this post and this post.
Mendoza | The Most Well-Known Wine Producing Region in the Country
We’re going here in November because it’s sort of on our way to the airport. We’ve heard many good things and are excited to slowly sip this place off of our bucket lists. It’s found in western Argentina, toward the border with Chile.
Iguazú Falls | One of the World’s Largest Waterfalls
As little tykes (all right, only about six and a half years ago), we came ventured here on our honeymoon. The waterfalls are located on the border between Argentina and Brazil.
Patagonia | The Stellar Glacier and Hiking Region of Argentina
I haven’t been. And I won’t make it on this trip. But someday (I’m looking dreamily off into the distance as I type this).
Photo credit: Bariloche- Argentina» por Chipppy – Trabajo propio. Disponible bajo la licencia CC BY-SA 3.0 vía Wikimedia Commons.
Literary Figures and Contributions
The amount of poetry and prose to come out of Argentina–Buenos Aires in particular–is astounding. An extensive list of influential Argentine writers is clearly beyond my scope and the scope of this post (many to choose from!). So, I’m going to leave you with a short list of some of Argentina’s heavyweights.
- Jorge Louis Borges | If you know one Argentine author, make it this guy. His most popular work was Ficciones, but he wrote hordes of other things, including essays, poetry, and other books.
- Julio Córtazar | Also a novelist, short story writer, and essayist. His name is also all over street signs in Argentina.
- José Hernandez | Hernandez is most well-known for writing Martin Fierro. Think of Martín Fierro as the Don Quixote of Argentina. It’s the romanticized story of the guacho figure. It’s widely available for free on the internet, in PDF form if you’d like. English translations are also available via Google search.
- Cafe Tortoni | You got me. This isn’t a person. It is, however, a place where many of Buenos Aires’ literary greats gathered or work on what would become sort pretty dec (pronounced dees; short for decent; as slangy as I get) literature.
This probably should have been made into its own post. Music in Argentina is varied and I’m just barely beginning to get a handle on it. It’s probably obvious based on the display below, but I tend to gravitate toward the folk music over the modern-day rock and pop. Without further ado…
Argentine folk music is made up of several types, but it is roughly grouped into Andean, Chacarera, and Chamamé.
Jaime Torres is one of the most well-known folk artists from northern Argentina. He plays the charango (something like an Andean ukulele), as you’ll see in the playlist below. I could listen to this all day.
As for the Chacarera, you’re already familiar with that from our Spanish-language playlist, right? This type of music originated in Santiago del Estero, a place a have an affinity for now 🙂
And finally, the Chamamé, the type which I’ve listened to the least out of the three, but consider it reason number one for me to learn to play the accordion. It comes from the provinces of Corrientes and Formosa, where there were many Polish, Austrian, and German immigrants. Yet another playlist for your listening pleasure:
One more note here, you’d better make sure you remember the lovely late Mercedes Sosa.
I’m supposing you’ve heard a bit about the tango before. If you’re looking for a good summary on how it came to be, this webpage has a great introduction. Tango comes to you straight from the brothels of Buenos Aires. Okay, okay, it used to. For a classic tango playlist, check out the following video. It should be said that modern tango, while clearly tango, is a bit different. And is reason number two for me to learn to play the accordion.
Honestly, I thought that at the end of our stay here, I would have a little more knowledge about Argentina pop and rock music. I guess we were more into the folk and older Latin music movements while here and simply didn’t take the time to get to know rock and pop. However, I’ve been told that the “greatest Argentine rock band of all time” was Sumo. I did some listening and can appreciate some songs, but frankly, haven’t gotten that into it. You have a listen and let me know what you think.
If you look at some Top 20/40 charts for Argentina, you’ll notice a lot of what you see mirrors the international charts.
Argentine food is often said to revolve around the three Ps: parrilla (grilled meat–lots of beef), pizza, and pasta. We’ve found this to pretty much ring true anywhere that we’ve been in the country so far. Asados (barbecues) are not only meals, but pastimes.
But there’s a bit more to the cuisine than that, obviously. I plan to delve a little more into food a bit more separately, because there’s so much more I want to say about it, so here I’ll leave you with a quick overview.
Breakfast is typically coffee, medialunas (mini croissants) with dulce de leche (yes, caramel for breakfast!) or butter, and a fruit cup. There are many variations and it clearly depends on personal choice as well.
Lunch or supper could consist of the three Ps (from above), but you’ll also see a lot about milanesas and/or lomito sandwiches, which are both beef sandwiches (usually). The main difference is that a milanesa is covered in bread crumbs before being cooked.
In the northern part of Argentina, things are a bit more Andean, and you’ll start to see humitas (a dish from corn), tamales, llama, and quinoa.
Let us not forget the king of street food: the empanada. This varies from province to province, but is usually a pretty safe bet. They come with beef, chicken, cheese, or a variety of other things tucked inside.
Last, but not least there is dessert. I cannot tell you how many varieties of cookies there are in Argentina for I think no one could actually know. Cookies and cakes are everywhere. Often, they’re made with dulce de leche.
Also notable are the delicious flavors of ice cream that seem to be on every corner.
I was tempted to say that there was really only one sport here: fútbol. It’s true, soccer is by far the sport I’ve heard the most about. Argentina’s got a great national team, which made it to the World Cup Finals this year. The most important soccer player to know is Lionel Messi (often referred to as the world’s leading player). Diego Maradona, so the husband tells me, is the most important historical soccer player to know. In case you’re into soccer and needed another look at Messi’s skills:
Rugby is relatively popular in Argentina as well. We also hear and see a decent amount about equestrian sports. Speaking of equestrian sports, the official national sport of Argentina is pato (Spanish for duck), which is a bit like polo. I haven’t watched a match, but have seen games being played as we drove by.
Tread Lightly, Neo Geo
Watch out for these thorny subjects!
You guessed it, things that are normally uncomfortable to talk about will be: politics and personal religious beliefs. But here are some more specific topics that may be controversial or sensitive depending on the person:
- Opinions on the Current Government: No surprise here. Many people in Argentina are either very pro-KA (the current government, headed by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner) or very anti-KA. Obviously, if the subject is mentioned and someone is sharing, listen to what they have to say. Know that any opinions you might have on the issue could be taken in a different way if you aren’t expressing yourself correctly.
- The Falkland Islands/Malvinas: I’ll admit to you that a couple years ago, I had to learn this lesson the hard way. I was quietly listening in on a conversation between to Argentine classmates about the Malvinas. I didn’t offer any opinions, but was trying to ask some questions. One straight-out asked me my opinions. I prefaced my statement, saying I didn’t know the situation well enough to know, but…then I said something very Switzerland-like, wanting to not take a side. Already, not taking a side was bad enough. For many people, this is a subject about which they are very passionate. State an opinion if you must and want to, but be very mindful of the other person’s. (Not sure what I’m talking about? Here’s a Wikipedia link about the conflict for you).
- The Economy and the Default to the US: It’s not the best time for the Argentine economy. As this article outlines, the economy is facing issues with the value of the peso, defaulting on loans to the US, and recession in general. It’s true that the exchange rates are more favorable for us (making groceries and wines that we’d never be able to afford in Quebec very affordable). I can’t complain, personally, but definitely know that these economic woes are affecting many people here in real ways.
- Grass-fed Beef Controversy: Of course it’s a generalization (as there are some vegetarians even in Argentina :)), but Argentinos tend to love their beef, and traditionally, Argentina produces a lot of beef. This can be a great conversation starter, but the if you want to get into it about whether most animals are raised in feedlots or are still grass-fed or the export taxes and government policies surrounding the beef industry (see here and here), things could be a bit stickier. And if you plan on going into the how beef production contributes to deforestation, be prepared to calmly and thoroughly explain it.
- Controversial Political and Culture Figures: Last but not least, read up on some controversial historical figures (e.g. Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, Eva Perón (a.k.a Evita) and Juan Perón). Be aware that although you might love the tee shirt, not everyone feels the same way about all the well-known folks in Argentina’s history.
Oof, that was a little heavy. How about a pretty plaza photo to lighten the mood?
Alright, folks, I clearly didn’t cover all there is to know about Argentina, but I’m hope something in here taught you something new or peaked your interest to learn more.
Did anything surprise you? What else do you think could or should be added?
As always, thanks for reading. Thanks for learning. And thanks being an armchair geographer along with me.
*All photos not otherwise credited are my own and are subject to copyright laws and all that jazz.
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