Argentina South America

Thoughts on Argentina…

* Gosh. They don’t half like a protest here. You can barely move without coming across a group of people airing their grievances. For the first part of our stay in the country there was a big ongoing protest by the country’s farmers against new export duties that president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was trying to push through. Every time we turned on the telly there’d be the same footage on each of the five local channels, which would either by CFK giving a passionate speech or the senate in the middle of a heated debated about the new taxes. (The farmers got what they wanted in the end, but only after the vice president used his casting vote to break a tie and vote against the bill–clearly someone had an eye on his political future there…)

We’ve come across many protests when we’ve been out and about too. At one point we were in a taxi to the bus station and had to take a detour around a group of hospital workers who were burning tyres in the middle of the road in a bid for better terms and conditions. Then when we got to the bus station the TV in the waiting room was showing a full scale riot taking place in the centre of Córdoba, a town we’d been to a week or so earlier. Of course all the locals around us were just going about their business without paying any attention to the devastation being wrought on their second city. To us this stuff is incredible. To the locals, it’s just what people do here.

* They say that the British like a bit of a queue, but they’ve got nothing on the Argentines. As tourists we have been largely immune to it, but for the locals there is seemingly no part of going about your everyday business that doesn’t involve joining the back of a rather lengthy line.

The closest we came to getting involved in this was when we made the mistake of buying a local SIM card for our phone. In the UK this would have been a straightforward procedure:

(1) Buy SIM card
(2) Place in phone
(3) Make calls

But nothing in Argentina is that simple. It was more like:

(1) Buy SIM card
(2) Realise SIM card doesn’t work
(3) Buy second SIM card
(4) Realise that although second SIM card does work, international calls are barred by default on pre-paid lines
(5) Spend the next few weeks with a local mobile phone that doesn’t do the only thing you wanted it to do
(6) Phone customer service and try to talk to bloke in Spanish until he hangs up you
(7) Finally decide to brave the customer service centre
(8) Join queue stretching almost out of the door just to get a number to wait in line to be seen by one of the customer service representatives
(9) Stumble through a conversation in Spanish with helpful but ultimately clueless person who tells you it is probably the phone but who eventually agrees to raise a help ticket anyway and says that it might be sorted in two days
(10) Finally manage to dial an overseas number on the phone
(11) Realise that credit was loaded onto the phone so long ago that you now only have 2 days to use it before it expires…

* Argentine Spanish is weird. I’m getting better now, but when I first got to Argentina I suddenly found I couldn’t understand anyone (and they couldn’t understand me). It’s bad enough that the Spanish I learnt at school was European Spanish, but speaking Argentine Spanish isn’t just a matter of remembering to “s” every time I was taught to “th”. They have different words for stuff, and (in the area around Buenos Aires) even an entirely different verb form, vos, which replaces tu as the informal “you”. Oh, and the Argentines also pronounce the double l, which is usually a “y” sound, as a “j”. I’m still getting used to saying “pojo”, “boteja” and the like when my instincts tell me it’s wrong…

Ironically, they call Spanish “castellano” here, even though Castilian Spanish is precisely what they don’t speak. The other day someone asked me if I spoke Spanish by saying ¿Caste-j-ano? I think by failing to answer and only pulling a confused expression, I sort of answered the question…

[One thing I do love about Argentine Spanish, though, is their habit of using -ita. You can add this to a Spanish noun to make it a smaller version of the thing (hence senorita is a small senora), and the Argentines have really taken this verbal tick to heart: from preguntitas (little questions) to problemitas, it still makes me smile every time I hear it…]