Adjusting to Culture in Argentina: Mate and Machismo

Noa Leiter
March 30, 2019
La Casa Rosada

Living in the same country for the last twenty years has ingrained in me a certain set of social norms. I know how to act in a grocery store, what to do when I walk into a restaurant, when to make small talk, how to dress appropriately, and so on. Not only do I act a certain way because of my upbringing, but I expect the people and institutions around me to function in a predictable manner. Settling in to Buenos Aires I have had to adjust both my actions and expectations to fit into the city and respect the local culture.

Buenos Aires and Latin America in general is known for machismo, which is essentially an exaggerated sense of masculinity. Although many of the more overt acts of hypermasculinity such as frequent catcalling and even groping has decreased with the recent rise of feminism in the country, I have definitely felt like men and women are treated differently here than where I grew up in the United States. The most constant aspect of machismo that I have encountered is the way men look at women on the street. Unlike in the States where I sometimes make uncomfortable eye contact with a passersby but we both quickly look away, many of the men in Buenos Aires seem to have no shame in starring me down and looking at me like an object.

As a product of the machismo, there is a culture of chivalry: men let women off elevators first, always hold doors, and are without fail handed the check at restaurants. The most overt experience I had with this involved boarding a bus with one of my guy friends, Antonio. My friend and I boarded the bus, he said the stop we were getting off at and tapped his card to pay first. After tapping his card the busdriver looked at him and in an extremely serious tone asked “¿Vas a ser respetuoso?” which translates to “Are you going to be respectful?” Thinking his payment may have not gone through or he had by mistake been rude to the driver, Antonio tapped again and then moved into the bus. When I approached to tap my own card, however, the driver said I was all set. Only then did we realize that the driver had implied it was rude for Antonio, a male, not to pay for my bus ride. Although an ultimately harmless experience, it exposed some of the antiquated views of chivalry that persist within the culture.

While it’s been a little hard adjusting to some aspects of machismo, I have been thrilled to adapt to and adopt many other aspects of Argentine culture━like their norm of sharing. Unlike my experience in the States, where people seem to be hyper aware of germs and reluctant to share cups, cutlery, etc., sharing appears to be a completely normal aspect of Argentinian life. The most obvious example revolves around the popular drink mate, which is a bitter tea made from yerba.  It is served in a small gourd with a metal straw and while it is normal to drink it alone, it is more commonly enjoyed between family and friends as a social tradition. When drinking mate in groups, everyone shares one straw, each taking a couple sips before passing it to the next person. Although I was originally taken aback with the custom, as sharing a straw, especially with acquaintances, is against my own set of norms, I’ve found that it instills an awesome sense of trust and warmth within a group.

This willingness to share goes beyond mate. One day at a bar for example, my friend realized that her gin and tonic was in fact just tonic water. When she expressed her concern, the bartender asked to try the drink! A little shocked Zoey said yes and handed her drink over the counter. The bartender took a sip of her drink, added gin, and gave the same drink back. While the overall encounter was just kind of funny in the moment, it made me realize how much more relaxed Argentina is in comparison to the U.S.─many customers would be absolutely horrified if a waitress asked to try their drink in the States. Overall, while some aspects of Argentine culture has taken time to adjust to, it has been exciting to learn their way of doing things and try to fit in as best as I can!

Noa Leiter

<p>I am a junior at The George Washington University majoring in psychology and organizational sciences with a minor in Spanish. I am passionate about sustainability and over the last three years I have been working to both decrease my own ecological footprint and advocate for sustainable development on campus. I am also an art enthusiast; I love exploring galleries, finding new street art, as well as creating my own photography and multimedia projects.</p>

Home University:
George Washington University, The
Newton, MA
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