I recently came back from Argentina on a January Term class about ecotourism with seven other students. I had done some traveling before but always with family and in tour groups — never on my own or with a class. So with this trip, I received an actual view of the culture as opposed to studying it behind glass.
Argentine culture is very relaxed people take their time to enjoy life. Coffee, a late lunch or even dinner at the local café may take hours because it takes time to have a conversation and enjoy the local cuisine.
On one of my last days in Buenos Aires at Havanna (Argentina’s equivalent to Starbucks), I noticed a group of co-workers on their lunch break chatting over coffee. Although I couldn’t understand them completely (my Spanish isn’t too great), they seemed to be enjoying themselves and stayed at the café for at least an hour and a half.
This would be near impossible in American culture. A two-hour lunch break without an agenda just doesn’t fit into an efficiency-driven society.
I’ve always considered myself to be a fairly laid-back person, but even I had trouble adjusting to Argentine lifestyle. Eating out in Argentina proved to be a long process. Our guide said it is considered rude if the waiters come to your table too often or if they bring the check without the customer asking for one. Thus, most meals took us at least two hours to finish — if not more. It only proved inconvenient on days when we were short on time, and it was a little odd to find little to no fast food restaurants. Even at McDonald’s (which I only ate at at the end of my trip), it took at least 20 minutes to receive my food. Things certainly flow at a much slower pace.
Another part of Argentine lifestyle we were exposed to was the sharing of maté. Maté is a tea made from yerba maté and is usually consumed from a small, hollowed-out gourd, through a straw that also acts as a tea strainer. The tea itself is rather bitter, so some people add orange rinds or sugar to change the flavor.
Drinking maté is a social custom wherein a group of friends will drink from one gourd, passing it around and enjoying conversation. Maté has actually been banned in some workplaces because the custom takes too much time out of the workday. This is a shame, especially if the Argentines are trying to create working environments more typically matched to an American business firm.
While the idea of efficiency is crucial for the business world, personal relationships are deteriorating as everyone is preoccupied with timeliness and new technology. If the custom of taking a bit of time out of each day just for conversation could be adapted in the U.S. it would create better work environments and improve personal relations.
Juli Tejadilla/Graphics/ad designer
Juli Tejadilla can be reached at email@example.com.