One of the more interesting things about learning a new culture, is that you also learn more about your own culture. At least that is what has been happening to me. The more I learn about the Argentine culture the more I learn or realize about American culture.
One of the more difficult things for me to understand about Argentine culture is that the Argentine outlook on life is that there is no future, and there is no past. There is only the present. People live in the present.
They believe so strongly in this, that they do not even use the future tense. When they talk of the future many times they use the present tense. A friend might ask, "Where are you tomorrow?" The answer being "Tomorrow I am in Olivos" rather than "Tomorrow I will be in Olivos." If the future is really needed, then they use the verb ir which means to go, with an infinitive. "Tomorrow I am going to be in Olivos."
My friends say that this is because the past history of the country has been bad and they cannot depend on the future. So live for today. This attitude permeates almost everything people do. On one side, the man I work with could not understand the programing team he hired. He gave them all a small percentage of the company. This is how businesses in the U.S. operate whether it be with stock or an ESOP retirement plan. The guys really did not care. The only thing they care about is the pesos they have today. That is something they can count on. The future is not.
On a more personal level, it drives me crazy. Now that I at least understand the mindset, I can deal with it. I remember once when a guy I was going out with did something ugly to me, I wanted to talk about it. "No," he told me, "that was then. It's nothing. Forget it." (Hay que nada) It was not nothing to me. I insisted we talk about it. I remember telling him if we don't talk about this, it will just happen again. "The past is the future." I said to him. He thought I was crazy. "The past is the past. It is over. How can the past be the future?" he said to me giving me that you are a crazy woman look.
Forget him saying he was sorry, that is another thing that really doesn't happen all that much here. In fact my Argentine friends who have lived in the U.S. make fun of us for saying I am sorry so much. "I'm sorry, "I'm sorry" they mimic. In the end the ugly thing he did to me happened again, and that was the end of the relationship. At least for me. Worse, he doesn't understand why.
What this made me realize is that while Argentines live in the present, Americans live in the future. The past is over, done, it is time to look forward - new beginnings. How many times have we heard that? We never work for the present, everything is for the future, retirement, savings, buying a house, going on vacation. My Argentine friends are more preoccupied with what we will do tonight than thinking about the future.
When I talk about here, people ask me "Why do you like it here so much? What is good about being here." It is a question that always surprises me, because to me it should be obvious about what is so good about living here.
There is a lot to be said for both mindsets. My Argentine friends enjoy life. They take each day as it comes. No one makes these "cast in cement" plans. There is always room for one more. So what if you are a little late, the world won't stop. If you need something, there always seems to be someone who can help or someone who has the answer or someone who knows someone who does.
Today is Good Friday. My phone rang all day. It was friends calling to ask me how I am, what am I up to these days. Did I have somewhere to go for Easter? Tonight we are celebrating Helen's birthday. I told her that I think 15 people will be coming. "I don't even know 15 people here." she said to me. Not important. Between Sandra and I we found 15 people who wanted to come party with us at Gricel. That is just the way it is here.
Walk into an Argentine restaurant. You see many large groups of friends. It is not unusual to see tables of 10 people. Everyone talking, laughing, having a good time. Not just young people. People of all ages. You see tables of 4 or 5 women or men, friends out for the evening. Rarely do you see a table of 1 person. It is hard to be alone here.
Contrast that with the life back in the U.S. There is this mania for privacy. People do not answer their phones. They email their friends rather than talk to them. You want to go to dinner with friends, you need to plan it 2 months in advance. Here you just do it. I cannot imagine scheduling a dinner with my friends 2 months in advance. We always invite each other to come with us, if we have something else to do. There is no calling the other person to make sure it is alright.
I have had to change and adapt to many things. As someone from the U.S. and especially San Francisco, we are so into being politically correct, introspective. I remember the first time Felipe made fun of my Spanish "Hablas como una China" he said to me. Everyone thought that it was funny. People call each other "Gordo (Fatty), Flaco (Skinny), Chino (if your eyes are narrow), Negro (if you are dark complected)". No one is ever offended.
Caring about someone's feelings is a good thing. That is why Americans are politically correct. It is why they want to discuss things. If the stupid guy I was seeing would have cared enough to discuss why he hurt my feelings, maybe we would still be friends. But sometimes, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. When a young child falls down and hurts them self, only the parents or a relative may comfort them. Everyone else is afraid of being accused of sexual abuse. A doctor cannot comfort an accident victim without fear of being sued. Some of my American male friends tell me they never tell their female co-workers they look nice for fear of being accused of sexual harassment. Oh my God, an Argentine man would die if he could not spew comments about a woman.
It is funny, I have become a complainer like many of my Argentine friends. Of course they don't see it that way. Some are worse than others. I don't know why, but they always see the negative. Again, part of the history, part of the culture. Americans always see the positive. Ask an Argentine what they think about something and you will get a barrage of everything they don't like. Ask an American and you will get the opposite, they will tell you all the good things. We were always taught "If you can't say anything good about someone, don't say anything at all." Unlike Argentines who are never afraid to voice their opinion. (As long as it isn't about them)
These are things that drive the Americans (as well as others from English speaking countries) absolutely crazy. It is why for me I love it here so much.