In my 12 years working with international students, volunteers and interns, I found 4 major kind of “shocking” topics when visiting Argentina in this order of importance, beginning with the most shocking and mentioned:
- Personal space. Both physical and emotional
- Ways of saying things. Speech and body language, timing, loudness and nicknames.
Lets start with number 1, Personal space.
We are pretty physical and we tend to get closer, in many ways, than people from most cultures would: we kiss almost everybody for saying hi and goodbye, we get close to talk and when waiting in lines, some people even grab your arm while telling you something that doesn’t require that much attention, we stare at others on the street a lot, we share mate (local infusion) sipping from the same bombilla (kind of metallic straw), we ask personal questions to people we’ve just met, we tell anybody if we think they’ve lost or gained weight as if it was our business, some couples kiss in extremely noisy and enthusiastic ways as if “Get a room!” hasn’t ever been said on earth. But of course we avoid conversation and even eye contact on (in? at?) elevators, that’s global, isn’t it?
On the other hand, we can be pretty friendly, lively, warm and nice, open to talk and share and give info, we can joke and laugh about anything, our bonding is not yet that policed by political correctness, so you can feel mostly relaxed and refresh, when not invaded or harassed. You can always draw the line where it feels reasonable for you. It’s all about balance.
Let me tell you a story. The first time I received a foreign student in my apartment I asked her everything that came to my mind while sharing my proudly and happily homemade dinner. Like: where exactly are you from? do you like it there? why? how old are you? what are you studying and where? how is campus? do you have both parents? are they together? and siblings? how do you get along with them? do you have a special one? do you like animals? what do you think about your country’s foreign policy?
And then she asked me the only question I never thought about: “May I ask you a very personal question?”
LOL! I really laughed out loud when I realized what I’d just been doing and I found her even nicer when I discovered how gracefully she had been navigating these differences and how open she was when answering and how she kept her standards when asking. What a beautiful person she is. We shared one semester. I learned a lot from her: to be way more environmentally aware, to have a richer breakfast and having nuts for snacks, to cook carrot pies and make all kinds of huge salads. She introduced me to her lovely family when they visited, and also to an amazing volunteering opportunity and a nice wine bar in my own town. I started running because of her, out of curiosity after watching her returning home all red, sweaty and happy after her runs, saying “Hey! I have no idea why people here stare at me so much when running… But what beautiful parks you’ve got round here!”
A few years later I visited her and her husband in San Francisco. Then they visited me. And I still hope she will run for president some day.