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Argentina: Culture

Argentine culture, of course, is more than tango dancing, yerba mate drinking, and Evita Peron. Argentina has been blessed with a remarkably high number of influential artists, intellectuals, writers, and musicians—especially considering Argentina's remote location and relatively small population. Argentina has also been a land of immigrants, whose diverse cultures have created a melting pot of ideas and a dynamism that sometimes spills over into conflict.

Italian and British Legacies

A classic one-liner, popular in Argentina, goes something like this: An Argentine is an Italian who speaks Spanish and thinks he's British. A bit perplexing to outsiders, the joke rings true enough to get laughs from South Americans and especially from Argentines themselves. It also highlights Argentina's heritage of Italian immigration, the enormous influence of Britain in Argentina's history, and not least the Argentine knack for humorous self-deprecation.

The Italian influence is one of the charms of travel in Argentina, instantly recognizable in the lilting singsong of Argentine Spanish and the use of Italian words like ciao (pronounced "chow"), often used in place of adios. Argentine red wine consumption is among the highest in the world. And pasta is an Argentine staple; it's available at almost any restaurant, and there's even a day of the month (the 29th, just before paycheck time) reserved for gnocchi. Curiously, a ñoqui now refers to a "ghost employee" of the government who only shows up on payday.

The British influence, or obsession as some might say, is a bit harder to pin down. In the 19th century the British invested heavily in Argentina, made a handsome profit, and left a lasting cultural imprint. Tensions have erupted over the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), owned by Britain but claimed by Argentina. But 8 of the top 10 polo players in the world are Argentine, and rugby remains a popular sport in Argentina.

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