Argentina’s mores reflect its overwhelmingly European ancestry, and, apart from getting used to the late dining hours, most travellers from the West will have little trouble fitting in.
Society generally displays a pleasing balance between formal politeness and casual tolerance. When it comes to dress, Argentines are quite conservative, and take great pride in their appearance, but in the bigger cities in particular you will see examples of many different styles and subcultures. Particularly outlandish clothing might raise eyebrows out in the provinces, but probably no more than it would in, say, deepest Wisconsin or Wiltshire. One area of etiquette that will probably be new to you is the very Argentine custom of drinking mate, which comes with its own set of rules, but foreigners will be given lots of leeway here, as in other areas of social custom – faux pas are more likely to cause amusement than offence.
Rules, regulations and bureaucracy
Argentines’ rather cavalier attitude towards rules and considerations of health and safety is probably the biggest culture shock many foreigners have to deal with; the most obvious example of this is the anarchy you’ll see on the roads, but you will also likely come across things such as loose wiring in hotels or wobbly cliff-top fencing. A complaint will probably get you no more than a shrug of the shoulders, though there are signs of a change in attitudes. Many visitors actually find the lack of regulations liberating.
Another difference is the Kafka-esque bureaucracy that you will encounter if you’re in the country for any length of time – when obtaining a visa, say, or picking up a parcel from the post office. Do not lose your temper if faced with red tape – this will hinder rather than help.
Sexual harassment and discrimination
Women planning on travelling alone to the country can do so with confidence. Some machista attitudes do persist but the younger generation seems to be shedding gender differences with alacrity and few people will find it strange that you are travelling unaccompanied. You will probably find you are the target of comments in the street and chat-up lines more frequently than you are accustomed to, but those responsible will not persist if you make it clear you’re not interested. Such attentions are almost never hostile or physical – Italian-style bottom pinching is very rare here.
When greeting people or taking your leave, it is normal to kiss everyone present on the cheek (just once, always the right cheek), even among men, who may emphasize their masculinity by slapping each other on the back. Shaking hands tends to be the preserve of conservative businessmen or very formal situations; if in doubt, watch the locals.
Drinking and smoking
Argentine attitudes to drinking tend to be similar to those in southern Europe: alcohol is fine in moderation, and usually taken with food. Public drunkenness remains rare and frowned upon, though it occurs more frequently among the young than it used to. Smoking is fairly common among both sexes and all classes, although it is illegal to smoke in enclosed public areas throughout the country.
You will find no real tradition of haggling in Argentina, although you can always try it when buying pricey artwork, antiques, etc. Expensive services such as excursions and car rental are also obvious candidates for bargaining, while hotel rates can be beaten down off-season, late at night or if you’re paying cash (efectivo). But try and be reasonable, especially in the case of already low-priced crafts or high-quality goods and services that are obviously worth every centavo.
Tipping is not widespread in Argentina, with a couple of exceptions. It’s normal to give hairdressers and the like a few pesos and you should add a small gratuity to restaurant bills if service is not included. The unofficial assistants who hang around taxi ranks to open and close doors also expect a small amount, as do hotel porters and the people who load and unload long-distance bus luggage.