My impressions of Argentina after one month

Argentina is an interesting country, a little bit of Latin, a little bit of European, a little bit of Spanish, and Italian. This trip as been especially special as it is the first time I traveled to a Latin country and am able to speak Spanish, so I was able to absorb a lot more, converse with people and make local friends. As a result, this trip made a big impression on me.

My biggest impression is that driving and crossing streets in Argentina is like gambling with your life. I have been to a lot of countries and a lot of poor developing countries with no rules or infrastructure in place for the traffic. But Argentina is beyond comprehension in this area, a relative developed country but yet the rules and habits of the drivers are worst than any country that I have visited. I have to say it is cultural because, after a few days of driving, I started driving like them. Going through busy intersections without slowing with blind faith that the other drivers will give way, driving slowly on highways, and like a rally through downtown area cutting off pedestrians as they cross the street. The four way intersection are the most incredulous, why does the government not just put a stop sign or traffic light instead of having the drivers repeatedly come close to head-on collision at full speed. The pedestrians are not any better, the morning traffic hours in Buenos Aires, the crosswalks are staffed by cross-guards like they have when we were in elementary schools. You would figure that once we become older we would learn that crossing infront of moving traffic is not the most intelligent or best move for your health.

But I have to say, that the driving habits are due to their strong and confident personalities (maybe even arrogant). Argentinos are strong headed individuals with strong sense of self (somehow being very social at the same time), who are not shy to speak their minds and opinions. This I believe carries into their driving habits. Doing as they please and as another way to show their personal strength. But, I think that is why I like them so much. I like people who are very opinions and do not hold back their thoughts – at least you know immediately if you get along.

Similarly, the women are very confident, some of the most I have met. This is evident as soon as you set foot in the streets and see how many women smoke, even more than the men. Ladies walk confidently down the street, puffing away on their cigarettes, it is to me a typical scene. This is in stark contrast to the major parts of the world where smoking is taboo and particularly for women. But again, they do as they please without worries about what others think.

Fashion, I think the Argentinas are more fashionable than most countries. No they do not put on a lot of makeup or wear brandname clothes or carry expensive handbags. I mean they are fashionable as they are creative as everybody has its unique style of dressing but in my opinion all tasteful and attractive. What is notable is that Argentinos are not rich especially after the collapse of their peso. So they are restricted to be creative in combining some of the simple and inexpensive items into an outfit that is stylish. This I think has to again due to their culture of individual expression…hence there are limited major chains and brands, as most prefer boutiques of artisans.

Their language is also very expressive, Spanish is of course the norm but sounds like Italian using more tonal fluctuations and slang.

The country is big and each area have a very distinct culture and atmosphere. There is a large European influence…cafes, Tango, fashion and food, and wine, but there is a great population of Gauchos (or cattle farming and cowboys) which have their own distinct lifestyle and dress. The area of Bariloche reminded me of the swiss alps, even the town is filled with log homes surrounded deep forest of pine. And the major souvenir for tourist are to taste and purchase from the numerous chocolate shops.

Finally, Parrilla (the Argentinean BBQ). This is the standard food, everybody with a home will definitely have a special BBQ area in their back yard. They cook everything on the grill! And everybody is proud of how they do their BBQ. Seems like everybody has a particular way of making the fire, to the point that it become the subject of conversation. Unlike the American BBQ where we like to use really hot flame to sear the steak on the outside keeping the inside moist and juicy, they only use very little of the heated charcoal to slowly cook the foods allowing time (sometimes hours) for the flavor to seep through and to evenly cook the meat throughout. To be honest, I do not know if their method makes the food tastier…but I do know this, it allows more time to sit around the fire and sip on the wine and relax and chat with friends and family. To me this is the focus of all BBQ, so in this they Argentineans have the right for recipe. Oh, How can I forget about the Argentine wine? Argentineans all drink wine and why would they not when they have such good wines. And I could not believe how inexpensive it was, even some less than a 2liter bottle of Coke. At a campsite out in the middle of no where, we were able to buy a relatively good bottle of wine for like $3. But all wine taste good when you got good company and conversation. And more popular drink than the wine is the Mate tea. Seems like everything they do is somehow designed to maximize socialization and bonding. Mate, drank out of a small holder of the tea and a metal straw. It is routine among friends to gather in a group around one mate cup and a thermos of hot water. As someone takes charge filling the Mate and passing it around friends passing from one to the other. It is interesting to think that most of the world drink out of their own cups, but Argentinos share the same straw bringing friends and family closer.