What an English traveller learns from Porteños
Here are a few things that I’ve learnt in my first six months in Argentina.
Vegetarianism isn’t well understood.
Similar conversations to this have taken place in my best Spanish:
‘Do you have any empanadas without meat?’
‘No – without any meat at all’
‘ …err…. Roquerfort y jamón’?
‘No …. With no animals inside’
‘…. Errr….. Pollo?…’
You can never have too many holidays.
There seems to be some kind of holiday every week in Argentina. And when there isn’t a scheduled holiday, the people invent their own, in the form of a national strike.
The difference between a fiesta and a reunión.
I thought that I was in a pretty good party a few weeks ago, until I said the word ‘fiesta’ to someone and he shook his head. ‘Reunión’ he said, and then explained to me that it was a reunión because there was nobody dancing. Later, as the salsa started playing, some people took to the floor, and I looked at my friend. ‘Ahora es una fiesta’ he said. When I mentioned this to another friend, she told me that there was no feeling worse than organising a fiesta, and it never advancing past a reunión.
Dulce de Leche is dangerous.
Fortunately there isn’t a history of diabetes in my family, because I am totally addicted to dulce de leche. When I’m not buying pastries stuffed with dulce de leche, I am stuffing pastries with dulce de leche. I love dulce de membrillo and dulce de batata as well, but it is only dulce de leche that has me shamefully licking spoons at two o’clock in the morning.
‘Un par’ is not two.
A few weeks ago as I got off the bus, I asked the driver for a road I wanted to go to. He said it was ‘un par de cuadras’ away. After walking two blocks in the direction that he had pointed, I didn’t find the road, so I asked an old lady. ‘Un par de cuadras’ said the old lady as well. Seven or eight blocks further in the same direction I found the road, and realised that ‘un par’ is not ‘more or less two’ like in English; it is ‘quite a few’.
‘Una docena’ is necessary.
Sticking with numbers; twelve is very important, it seems. Last month I was with three Argentinian friends going to the park. We had all agreed that we wanted 2 facturas each. Entering the bakery, I made the difficult calculation ‘4 x 2 = 8’. Perfect. We should buy 8 pastries. But no; there began the discussion of whether to buy a dozen, or half a dozen. When I suggested buying eight I was looked at as if I had just declared my support for Donald Trump.
Mate is a culture and a science.
A little pumpkin-pot, stuffed with crushed leaves, being drunk through a metal straw. For someone who has never seen it before, this is difficult to imagine. However, a few hours after stepping off the plane in Aeroparque, it seems so normal. I’m happily addicted now, like everyone else. The only thing that makes it obvious that I am new to drinking mate is that I don’t know the science of the preparation. For some reason the herb should be higher on one side, the straw should go in at a certain angle, and the water should go in one specific place. Oh, and the water should be hot enough to separate the real mate drinker from the wannabee.