So yes. I did it. I left Chile on perhaps the most important date of the year. I got a lot of comments about this, that it was unpatriotic, that I was a “traitor”, etc. But it didn’t really bother me because I knew I was going to have an awesome time in Argentina, and that I did. My friend M. has been doing the Peace Corps in Paraguay for the past two years and we’ve been trying to plan a trip for awhile now. Her time in Paraguay is up in December, so we decided that it was going to be September or never. The province of Jujuy, Argentina is a relatively easy bus ride from Paraguay and I planned dates so that the plane ticket for me wasn’t too overpriced due to the holiday.
I will recap our trip in a later post, but first I’d like to make some observations about Northern Argentina. I’ve never been to Buenos Aires (unless you count the 5 hours I spent sleeping in the airport there), so these observations are not about BBAA or any other part of Argentina, for that matter. And I was only there for six days so obviously I didn’t have time to closely observe or analyze the culture.
Anyway, without further ado…
1. Siesta is observed. From 1:30 to 5:00pm most stores (with the exception of grocery stores) are closed. In Salta, which is a large city, the restaurants luckily stayed open, but we were eating lunch at the market in San Salvador de Jujuy and they closed and locked the gates right after we left at 1:35.
2. There is a SERIOUS lack of small change. Let me tell you, I thought Chile had a problem. It is WAY worse in N. Argentina. No matter where we were (grocery store, restaurant, pharmacy), if we tried to break a bill larger than a $20 the person sighed and rolled their eyes and asked us for smaller bills. One of M.’s friends, D., tried to break a large bill at a big pharmacy chain and they refused to sell him the item because they didn’t have the change. Also, a lot of the bills are really old. They’re ripped and taped together. Also, if they’re missing the security strip, they won’t be accepted. Some placed won’t accept ripped bills either, which is obviously a problem, because a vast majority look like they come from Peron’s time in office.
3. Now, on a more positive note, the people are really friendly. I had to remind myself to get rid of my Santiago gruffness and smile and say hi to people. People waved to us on the road, they were willing to answer our questions (some more accurately than others) and seemed really interested in us, but not in a “look there’s some tourists, let’s take advantage of them!” way. This could be because we were the only tourists in one of the villages we stayed in and also because we were in rural areas for the most part. I think that no matter what country you’re in, people from the campo are friendlier.
4. Cubierto fee. At almost every restaurant we went to, there was a cubierto fee, which is a fee they charge you for using their plates, basically. Or for sitting in their chairs. I don’t really know, it kind of baffled me. In Salta, it was around $5 Argentine pesos per person, in the other smaller towns around $2.50. As far as I could tell, this didn’t replace the tip.
5. Natural Gas Stations. Some cars in Argentina run on Natural Gas. We made the mistake of turning into one of these thinking it was a normal gas station (gas=nafta in Argentina) until we saw all of the cars’ hoods up and the attendant looked at us funny and told us to go down two more blocks to the nafta station.
6. Traffic lights. The traffic lights turn yellow before they turn green (in addition to turning yellow before red). M., who did a lot of the driving, said this was useful when driving a standard because it gave you time to shift.
7. Completo isn’t a completo. So the last night in Salta I was by myself and looking for something familiar to eat after I had eaten new things all week. I went to a restaurant and saw they had a sandwhich called lomito completo, which in Chile would be a steak sandwich with mayonnaise, sauerkraut, tomatoes and salsa americana (kind of like relish). I was about to order it, when I asked the waiter what completo meant, just in case. Completo, in Argentina, means with ham, cheese, egg, tomatoes and maybe something else that I’m forgetting.
8. The accent is hard to understand, but funny to imitate. Chileans love to imitate the Argentine accent. The ll, which in Chile is pronounced kind of like y in English, is pronounced kind of like a sh in Argentina. So take the word parrilla (which means a barbecue) is pronounced parr-EE-ya in Chile, but in Argentina it’s parr-EE-sha. The y is also pronounced like this. I spoke the best Spanish in our group (most Peace Corps volunteers in Paraguay speak Guaraní, not Spanish), but I still had to ask a lot of people to repeat themselves and constantly remind myself about the different pronunciation. Also, to make things even MORE complicated, Argentinians use vos instead of tu and conjugate the verb differently. Instead of ¿tienes sencillo? (do you have small change?) they say ¿tenés sencillo? Luckily, they use this conjugation in El Salvador as well, and so I am kind of used to it.
For anyone who’s spent time in Argentina, I’d love to hear your comments. Is it like this in the whole country? Am I way off my rocker? Let me know!