Argentina from Outside: How It Lives Up to and Defies Its Stereotypes

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Caminito in La Boca Caminito in La Boca Katherine Li

By Kristine Vaivode & Jackson Vaughan

In addition to wanting to help the projects in the organization, many Voluntario Global volunteers seek to know “the real Argentina”

While it’s impossible to distill the “truth” of a city into a single blog post, there are a few popular outsider notions of Argentina that, upon living here for a while, have proved to have varying degrees of truth/pervasiveness for us. Below you’ll find a list of 7 things Argentina is known for and how we feel they live up to the reputation



Out of all the things Buenos Aires is known for, chief among them might be Tango. Yet it also seems to have the least bearing on most Porteños’ lives. Rather than being an integrated part of the culture that many practices, as it perhaps was in the 1920s, Tango has largely been relegated to tourist activity status today rarely pursued by locals. Though there may be relevant modern dance studios or tango communities, they are evidently far and few between. It is telling that most of the tango clubs/workshops seem beholden to an image of 20s folks performing the dance to represent the “Golden Age of Tango.” It implies that the golden age has passed and that while it is celebrated in the annals of Argentine culture, it hasn’t been a particularly vibrant aspect of the culture for some time.



In almost polar opposite to Tango, mate lived up to expectations and more, proving its ubiquity time and again. Nearly every Argentine person we’ve come into contact with has a thermos filled with hot water and a cup filled with mate on hand. They drink it like coffee, more frequently, even. One common question people ask when you “reveal” you’re foreign is if you’ve had mate, so important is it to the culture. It does have a bitter taste, but no worse than coffee. If you aren’t interested in bitterness it might pay to come during their summer months where they borrow a Paraguayan variant of mate called “Tereré” made instead of hot water and yerba with cold juice and yerba or juice poured over iced yerba. In addition to the juice balancing out the bitterness of the yerba, it also doesn’t absorb as much of the bitterness because it isn’t hot: very refreshing on a hot day.


Paris of Latin-America

If you’re planning to stay in Buenos Aires, you are most likely to come across and learn about the history of this diverse city. And upon finding out about the European influences, you’ll see a bit of France, Spain or Italy embedded in the city’s architecture. But why exactly Paris of Latin-America? Well, during the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century - the golden era of Argentina - Buenos Aires was a canvas to be filled in by European architects, mostly inspired by Parisian aesthetics. So there are a few similarities between BA and Paris, although the lifestyle and people are truly Latin - the warm-hearted Porteños greeting you with the friendliest smile, the biggest hug and a kiss on a cheek (another concept we’ll talk about in this post). All that in conjunction with the inviting rhythms of cumbia, samba or salsa coming from clubs in Palermo, where the locals are willing to teach you a step or two. So to conclude, you are not very likely to catch the vibes of Paris in Buenos Aires, despite what the architecture might suggest.


Asado/Vegetarian Difficulties

Typically, when researching the traditional Argentinian cuisine, asado (~barbeque) pops up in every article, which can be slightly intimidating for someone whose diet doesn’t involve eating meat. Rest assured, carnivores, they do eat a lot of meat and “la parrilla” is a very important part of Argentine gatherings and life, but for all, you non-meat eaters coming to Argentina - their love of meat doesn’t preclude the availability of fruits and veggies. Locally grown fruit and vegetable filled stores are on every block as well vegetarian restaurants and weigh-by-kilo Asian fusion places are not difficult to find. In addition, there are plenty of “dietetica” stores full of natural fare such as nuts, dried fruits, spices, herbs and other organic produce. And, of course, this section wouldn’t be complete without a mention of empanadas - there’re plenty of fillings to cater to your vegetarian taste buds, just be sure to master vegetable names in Spanish, so you know exactly what you order; some popular ones - cebolla (onion), albahaca (basil), verdura (vegetable), espinaca (spinach), tomate (tomato).


Unique Greetings/Farewells

If you’re coming from a generally hands-off place like the U.S. or the U.K. it might be difficult to fathom a place where people kiss each other on the cheeks upon meeting each other for the first or second time, but yes, it does exist here in Argentina. Not only does it happen, but it’s important to make sure you “get” every person you are meeting with either a peck on the cheek or handshake as the situation requires. It’s rare that a meek “hey everyone” or some similar mass greeting cuts the mustard. It’s almost a laborious process at times to go down the line or circle of people and individually say hello or goodbye each time. That said, it’s a very sweet tradition, and is emblematic of the friendliness you’ll often encounter.


City on the Sea

Geographically this one should just be true, and yet it manages to elude the city in practice. The nearest actual beach is about 4-5 hours away, unless you take a 1h ferry to Colonia in Uruguay, where the beach scene is a tad better than in Buenos Aires. In BA it’s actually somewhat difficult to find a spot to see the ocean at all. Down in Puerto Madero there’s a big lock but it lies in between the mainland and another sizable strip of land. Compounding the lack of visual ocean presence is the fact that there’s not much of a sea food scene in the city either, or seemingly about as much as a land-locked city. All of this adds together to make the alleged ocean that BA lies upon irrelevant in most people’s daily lives.


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