Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. Ephesians 6:10-11
On any foreign mission trip, a U.S. partner should expect to experience culture shock.
Culture shock occurs when the maps and guidelines that one learned as a child become distorted due to the differences in practices, beliefs, and values in the new culture.
In Buenos Aires, you will quickly experience sensory overload. There city is loud and very crowded, and urban noise persists 24 hours a day. You will be hearing a language you might not understand for the majority of the day. You will be living on a different schedule and in an unknown environment. It is not uncommon for people to become irritable or withdrawn after a short time in Buenos Aires.
Culture shock can manifest itself in the aggravation of medical issues, fatigue, resentment towards the local language or culture, irritability, and depression. The severity of culture shock is determined by the extent of cultural differences, individual personality, and how the missionary responds. So, we encourage you to pay attention to your team members and monitor yourself during the week. Stress and culture shock can lead us to acting in ways that we would not normally act.
Because of this, our cultural guide is the longest portion of your preparation studies. This portion is jam-packed with valuable information about Buenos Aires, so pay close attention and your stay here will go much smoother.
- Walking: Be prepared to do a lot of walking. We want you to be aware that walking is a common and routine means of getting from point a to point “A” to point “B”. It is not uncommon to walk 3 miles per day. When necessary, public transportation will be taken.
- Water: The water in most parts of the city is safe to shower in, brush your teeth with, and even drink. If you do not like the taste, grocery stores carry “Agua sin gas” or “con gas,” This is simply carbonated or carbonated mineral water. Bottled water is generally very cheap here,
- Food: The Argentine diet is high in starch. Be prepared to eat Pizza, pasta, & empanadas. If you have special dietary requirements, be sure to let us know prior to arrival. Plan to eat breakfast at your apartment. We will visit a grocery store shortly after your arrival. Lunch is generally a sit-down meal, but is still very casual. Depending on the day we may go out to eat or order food in at your apartment for dinner. (You can get almost anything delivered here!) Argentines may have tea or coffee with a pastry around 5 p.m. to tide them over until dinner, which generally takes place very late at night. It is important to bring cash to sit-down meals because very few restaurants will split the check. In addition, service at restaurants is very different than in the United States. A server will never try to hurry your meal along, so to get your waiter’s attention, you may have to actually signal them with a glance or by raising one hand. Food here is not spicy. Argentina is most famous for beef, and cortadors (specialized butchers who cut beef into exact cuts (ie bife de chorizo, or bife de lomo) who reach the top of their trade are even offered positions as autopsy specialists for the government. Meat is very important here, and it’s a difficult city to be in if you are a vegetarian. Other popular foods include maté, dulce de leche, alfajores, and medialunas (croissants).
- Clothing: Argentines tend to dress up more on a daily basis than Americans. Most people in Buenos Aires try to stay within
current trends and wear a lot of black. Jeans and nice shirts are okay for most occasions, but please do not wear t-shirts or lots of bright colors. Especially do not wear clothes with a lot of English writing. There will be a few occasions where you will dress nicer, and khakis with button-downs are fine for these occasions for men, women can wear dress pants or a skirt with a nice shirt. Please only bring modest clothes with you. You will be doing a lot of walking in the city, so please bring comfortable walking shoes, and be sure to watch your step. Sidewalks are very uneven, and people do not always pick up after their pets.
- Schedule: Argentinians are absolutely night owls. While you are here, expect to stay up late, sleep later, and eat your meals much later throughout the day.
Buenos Aires is often called the Paris of South America. The architecture in the city has a heavy french influence, but the people speak Spanish, and generally act like Italians.
The city falls under most European societal norms. There are some things that come with the European influence that you need to note:
- The standard greeting in Buenos Aires is the Argentine Beso (kiss). When people meet, regardless of gender, instead of a handshake they give each other a single kiss on the right cheek. They also do this to say goodbye. In Argentina, people say “Chau!” instead of “Adios,” or other typical Spanish farewells. It is important to say hello and also goodbye to every person in the room.
- Alcohol use permeates the culture here. Argentina is famous for several kinds of wine and it is not uncommon to see wine at every meal and in the homes of your Argentine partners. Regardless of your thoughts on alcohol use, we ask that you refrain from drinking during your time in service here, and also not raise the issue with your Argentine partners.
- Like many parts of Europe, Latin American culture is more sexualized than American culture. Billboard advertisements and newspaper stands often use sex appeal to gain attention. Many corners will have prostitution advertisements for “24H Masajes,” or even feature pornography. Argentina legalized prostitution and allowed prostitutes to unionize in a failed attempt to cut down human trafficking. As a result, prostitution is rampant in Buenos Aires, so it is important to be on your guard spiritually so you don’t become distracted from God’s plan for you here. Find a person on your team of the same gender to hold you accountable during your trip if you struggle with sexual temptation.
- Cultural Staples: Pope Francis is from Argentina and Argentineans–even ones who are not Catholic–are as passionate about him as they are about futbol. Some might say that in Argentina, Catholicism and futbol go hand in hand. Praying earnestly for one’s team isn’t considered weird at all.
- Visiting: When visiting a local church you will stand out. Someone attending with you who can speak Spanish will introduce each of you to the church. Plan to stay after the service because people like to hang around and mingle. People will be very interested in where you come from and the members will want to get to know you, so be prepared to answer a lot of questions.
- Safeguarding valuables: It is important to carry your wallet, valuables, or anything you do not want stolen on the front of your body. You should even carry your backpack on the front of the body when you are walking through the city, or on a bus or subway. Pickpocketing is very common here. Ladies may also wish to switch their normal purse or handbag for an across-body clutch to keep people from yanking it away from them.
- Speaking: Watch the volume of your voice on subways, trains, and buses. We want to guard ourselves against the “obnoxious American” stereotype, and most Argentinians speak softly or not at all in transit. Blending in will lower your risk of being a target for pickpockets or other criminals who prey on tourists. In addition, when you are speaking to Argentineans, understand you are the guest in their country. They do not need to know English, and getting irritated that they do not know it will only make you look silly for not knowing Spanish. If someone does not understand you, find a translator, or simply say “OK, Graçias” and walk away. Shouting your words in English will not make you any more understood. Argentineans speak Spanish. They are not deaf.
- Respect: The concept of la familia manifests itself throughout the culture. Respect for elders, mothers, expecting mothers, and children is paramount in every interaction you have. You have to give up your seats for these people on buses and subways, and many grocery stores even have special lines for expecting mothers and mothers of young children. If there isn’t a special line, people will allow them to cut to the front regardless.
People can become very passionate about politics in Argentina and patriotic holidays usually turn the city center into a site of fervor. Most people in Argentina identify as Peronists and idolize Eva Perón the way many people in Great Britain viewed Princess Diana.
- Strikes are very common in Buenos Aires. They can be interesting, like when the symphony orchestras pull their instruments into the street to play. They can be annoying, like when
the entire bus system shuts down. But some strikes can also be dangerous. Most of the larger unionized strikes take place in the city center. If you happen upon a strike, it is best to just walk away. Remember you are not here to make a political statement.
- Political Taboos–Las Malvinas: If you should ever find yourself in a discussion about the Falkand Islands, realize you can not call them that here. They are called the Malvinas, and many Argentineans lost their lives fighting for the territory. The belief that the islands still belong to Argentina is almost universal.
Political Taboos–History: Argentina has a rich history, but some of it is very dark. Dictatorships ruled the country for many years. In the 1960’s and 70’s the government participated in forced disappearances, in which the government abducted, tortured, and killed dissenters, giving the children of pregnant abductees to military families. The mothers of those who disappeared have formed an alliance called The Mothers of the Plaza, and identify themselves by wearing white scarves over their hair. They protest for answers every week in the Plaza de Mayo, and the Grandmothers of the Plaza dedicate their lives to searching for the young adults who were the illegally adopted newborns of abductees. Many people think that the American military assisted with the torture and disposal of people during this time, and many know it was the French. Regardless, Argentina’s political history is violent and bad blood between political parties runs very deep. So when speaking with Argentines it is best to avoid talk of political parties, history, or elections.
For the ladies:
The concept of “Machismo” runs deep in Argentina and Men are extremely forward with flirtation, cat-calling, and what is called “a following gaze.” Men are even more prone to do this when they are with groups of guys because it is seen as a masculine thing to do. It is not uncommon for men to shout they love you, or that you’re beautiful, or that you are a princess or the love of their lives as you walk down the street. This can be flattering, but men may also say very inappropriate things to you. It is best not to travel alone on the street, especially at night, and never to react to the things men may say to you.Women in Argentina are raised around these very “forward” men and do not acknowledge men they do not know. So, most men will take something as simple as a smile, a wave, a long glance, or a polite “hello” as an invitation.