If you’re planning to visit Argentina, it would be a good idea to familiarize yourself in advance with some of the manners and customs of the Argentinean people, so as to avoid embarrassing yourself or inadvertently creating a bad impression. Whether you’ll be in Argentina for business, purely as a social visit to meet your partner’s family, or for whatever other reason, it’s always good to know what’s expected, and what seemingly innocent behavior might unintentionally offend someone.
Here are a few tips on what to expect:
Greetings/Body language/General Social Behavior
In Argentina, when you enter a room, it is customary to personally greet everyone individually. This can be with a handshake and a nod, a light embrace and a kiss on one cheek between friends, or occasionally a kiss on both cheeks. If you are uncertain which is most appropriate, let others take the lead and do as they do. (In other words, don’t be like Borat and try to kiss everyone you meet on the cheek indiscriminately.)
People in Argentina stand a bit closer to each other and touch a little more than Americans might be used to. A pat on the shoulder is common, and is simply a gesture of friendship or acceptance. Maintaining eye contact is a positive, as in many cultures.
Never put your feet up on furniture.
For many social events, such as parties, it is customary to arrive thirty to sixty minutes late, and in fact it can be taken as rude if you arrive right on time. Be careful though, because for events that have a more set start time, such as sporting events, arts events, etc., it’s important to be punctual.
People in Argentina tend to be clothes and fashion conscious. Dress well, but lean toward the conservative.
It’s appreciated to bring gifts such as candy or flowers. Clothing is considered more personal and less appropriate if it is not someone with whom you already have a close relationship, so a tie or a scarf may not go over as well.
People in Argentina can be a bit informal and personal with their humor, taking lighthearted jabs about one’s weight and such. That doesn’t mean you should do so also-that’s a bit too risky in most situations-but don’t be offended if you’re on the receiving end.
Good topics of conversation include home and family, sports, and the arts. There are certain other topics that people might be equally or more willing to express themselves about, but such discussions can lead to conflict, hurt feelings, and over-emotionalism, so are best avoided. These include politics, especially the years of the Perón family regimes; the Falklands (Malvinas) War; or comparisons between Argentina and the United States or Argentina and Brazil.
Argentina tends to be more macho (or sexist, by some standards) than is acceptable in some circles in the United States any more. Women visiting Argentina will have to decide how to deal with certain behaviors that may or may not cross a line for them.
The hug and kiss greeting will be initiated more commonly toward a woman, especially an attractive woman. Open flirtation and flattery (not necessarily vulgar, just compliments about one’s looks) are common from strangers, such as on the street.
Women are expected to dress in a way that shows some flair, some desire to highlight their attractiveness. Not like a call girl or anything blatant, but maybe more “sexy” than in an analogous business or social situation in the United States.
Eating on the street or on public transportation is considered low class.
Meals are usually not the place to bring up business matters unless your host does first. Keep the conversation friendly and informal.
Dinner is sometimes served late in Argentina. It is not unusual for the meal to start at 9:00 or even 10:00.
If someone else is paying the tab, don’t order imported liquor. It is artificially expensive due to high import taxes.
Beef and wine are two things that people in Argentina take very seriously. They may be sensitive to any comments about either of these that are not wholly favorable. Serving wine has become something of a ritual; it’s best to leave the pouring of the wine to someone who is knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the custom. Pouring wine backhanded, for instance, is considered rude.
While dining, it is customary to keep both hands above the table. Think of it as like being at the poker table, where having a hand out of sight may come across as suspicious behavior.
When a person crosses a knife and fork in front of them, this is a signal that they have finished eating.
Don’t expect to see someone in a business context without a prior appointment. If you will be dealing with government bureaucracy, it is important to have a local contact who is aware of all the formal and informal necessities involved with doing so.
The pace of business dealings in Argentina can be slower and more reliant on personal connections than some Americans are used to. People in Argentina will be a lot more comfortable doing business with someone with whom they have developed a personal relationship. Meetings can be slow to get going, involve a fair amount of small talk, and extend late into the evening. Often it’ll take multiple such meetings of feeling out and informal give and take before the business at hand gets done.
A relaxed, friendly manner, sustained eye contact, and a lack of heavy emotionalism or hard sell is most effective in a business context.
Michael Nose, “How to Eat in Argentina.” eHow.