Argentina is a country made up of very different cultures, which has largely resulted from successive waves of immigration. Nonetheless, Argentines share strong habits and hobbies that bring them together and contribute to shape the country’s national identity. Explore below some major aspects of Argentina’s people and popular culture:
Demographics of Argentina
Argentina’s population was estimated at roughly 43 million inhabitants in 2015, over 30% of which lives in the Greater Buenos Aires metropolitan area. Such concentration contrasts with vast areas of the country that remain sparsely populated, especially the southern region of Patagonia.
The origin of Argentina’s population is strongly connected to the many immigration waves coming from Europe that massively settled in the country between 1860 and 1955. The great influx of foreigners, mostly Italians, Spaniards and Germans, added up to the then modest local population composed of native indigenous people, African slaves and Spanish settlers.
Since the middle of the 20th century, Argentina’s ethnic composition has been primarily influenced by immigrants from bordering countries such as Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile and Peru and, to a lesser extent, by Asian immigration waves, notably from China and South Korea.
The term “crisol de razas”, or “melting pot”, is typically used to highlight Argentina’s diversity and harmonious coexistence among the different cultures.
There is ample freedom of belief in Argentina, which is guaranteed as a right by the National Constitution. However, there is no accurate data on the population’s religion preferences since this item is not included in the national census. In any case, it is estimated that around 92% of the population has been baptized in the Roman Catholic church, whereas 2% are estimated to be Protestants, 2% Jewish and 4% belonging to other religious groups.
The election of Pope Francis as the first non-European pope in March 2013 renewed the faith of Catholics worldwide and had a huge repercussion in Argentina, home country of the then cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.
It is also interesting to note that Argentina’s Jewish community is the largest in Latin America (almost double the size of Brazil’s) and the 7th largest globally, after Israel, US, France, Canada, England and Russia.
Quality of Life
Argentina’s standard of living has been traditionally considered one of the best among Latin American countries. Although some indicators have deteriorated over the past few decades, it continues to boast one of the lowest illiteracy rates (1.9% in 2010) and infant mortality rates (10.6 per 1,000 in 2014) in the region, as well as a high life expectancy rate (76.3 years on average in 2015), among other favorable indicators.
Spanish Language in Argentina
Cómo olvidarte en esta queja,
Cafetín de Buenos Aires
Argentina’s official language is Spanish, or Castellano (Castilian) as Argentines prefer to call it. Some indigenous languages, such as Guarani or Quechua, are also spoken in specific regions of the country. The main peculiarities of the Castellano spoken in Buenos Aires − and in a great part of Argentina and Uruguay − are:
The use of the pronoun “vos” instead of “tu” (you) is one of the most typical characteristics of the Argentine way of speaking, although in some regions “tu” has been preserved.
An important consideration is that the use of “vos” leads to conjugating verbs in a more regular way compared to traditional Spanish. Taking the verb “poder” as an example, “tu puedes” becomes “vos podés” (you can). Taking “tener” as an example, “tu tienes” becomes “vos tenés” (you have), and so on. The main exception is the verb “ser”, in which “tu eres” becomes “vos sos” (you are).
“Y” and “ll”
The pronunciation of letters “y” and “ll” in most of Argentina is close to the “sh” sound in English, as opposed to the “yi” sound that is typical in mainstream Spanish. For instance, “calle” (street) sounds like “cashe” instead of “cayie“, and “ayuda” (help) sounds like “ashuda” instead of “ayiuda”. In other regions of Argentina, the same letters may be pronounced quite differently.
“Che” and “boludo”
The interjection “che” is commonly used in Argentina as a way of referring to another person, with no specific meaning, but indicating some closeness to the listener. It can be loosely assimilated to English expressions such as “hey” or else “man”, “dude”, “bro” and the like. A common sentence could be “Che, ¿nos vemos el sábado?” (Che, will I see you on Saturday?).
On the other hand, the transformation of the pejorative term “boludo” (or “boluda”) into a friendly vocative is a much more recent phenomenon. While its use is even more informal than the use of “che”, it’s still very typical in Argentina. One example would be the already classic greeting “¿Qué hacés, boludo?” (What’s up, boludo?) or still the combination of both interjections in the same sentence, such as in “Che, boludo, contame cómo te fue en el viaje” (Che, boludo, tell me how did your trip go).
Lunfardo is the urban slang of Buenos Aires and is quite widespread in several parts of Argentina and Uruguay. To a lesser extent, some expressions have also reached Portuguese-speaking neighbor Brazil thanks to cultural influence.
Born in the end of the 19th century, Lunfardo’s origins blends with the origins of tango. Both have been influenced by the same marginal environment of low-end neighborhoods due to the forced coexistence between immigrants and the local population. Lunfardo’s structure was build upon the replacement of terms in Castellano by other terms appropriated from foreign languages and dialects, whose meaning was often altered.
A support element of Lunfardo is inverting the syllables of a given word. For instance, “tango” becomes “gotán”, “mujer” becomes “jermu”, “pagar” becomes “garpar”, and so on.
Small Dictionary of Lunfardo and Argentine Slang
||shameless; cheeky, slacker, layabout|
|bajón||negative situation, hangover, depression|
|un cacho||a slice, a bit|
|la cana; un cana||the police; a cop|
|curro||odd job, easy money|
||smooth talk, bragging|
|chanta||shameless; crook, bum|
|faso||cigarette; weed joint|
|gamba; una gamba||leg; a hundred pesos|
|un gil||a silly person|
|laburar; un laburo
||to work; a job|
|una luca; una luca verde
||a thousand pesos; a thousand US dollars|
|un mango||one peso|
|milico||soldier, military serviceman|
|mina||young woman, girl, chick|
|morfar; la morfi||to eat; the food|
|un palo; un palo verde
||a million pesos; a million US dollars|
||boy, kid (girl)|
|piola||smart; handy, convenient|
|timba||gambling, game of chance|
||old; dad (mom)|
|zafar||to wriggle out of something; to be enough to get by|
Sports in Argentina
Soccer or football (“fútbol”) is undoubtedly the most popular sport in Argentina and also arouses the greatest passions. The two main teams are the archenemies Boca Juniors and River Plate, protagonists of the Buenos Aires “superclásico” match. Other major football clubs include Vélez, Racing, San Lorenzo, Independiente, Banfield, Estudiantes and Rosario Central. Impressively enough, Argentina has produced two of the greatest football players of all time – Diego Maradona in the 80’s and 90’s and Lionel Messi nowadays. In terms of titles, Argentina is a two-time champion of FIFA’s World Cup (Argentina 1978 and Mexico 1986) and a two-time Olympic gold medal winner (Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008).
Tennis is another sport that Argentines have traditionally mastered, although its local influence is more limited compared to soccer. Guillermo Vilas and Gabriela Sabatini are the classic champions, while in recent years the list of top tennis players has included Juan Martín Del Potro (led Argentina to its first Davis Cup title in 2016), Juan “Pico” Mónaco, David Nalbandian, among several others.
Argentines also do well in a number of sports considered more upper-class, especially in polo (“Ellerstina” and “La Dofina” teams, global predominance), rugby (“Los Pumas”, world’s top 10) and women’s field hockey (“Las Leonas”, two-time world champions).
It’s also worth mentioning that basketball has attracted greater interest lately thanks to the brilliant performance shown by NBA champion Manu Ginobili. Another popular sport is car racing, in part thanks to the legacy of “el maestro” Juan Manuel Fangio, the world’s first five-time F1 champion.
Food Culture of Argentina
|Beef||Beef is, par excellence, the base of Argentine’s diet. Throwing a barbecue (asado) is a must when family or friends get together. Apart from the steak, it’s common to grill sausages (chorizo, salchicha, morcilla), sweetbreads (molleja) and small intestines (chinchulines) – the famous parillada. In turn, milanesas (breaded meat fillets) are the ideal day-to-day dish.|
|Pasta||Italian pasta is as widespread as meat in Argentina. The preferred varieties include spaghettis (fideos), gnocchis (ñoquis), and filled pasta such as raviolis and lasagnas. Argentine pizza is another local pride, known for its thick dough and abundant cheese. It’s commonly served with a slice of fainá, which is similar to a dry piece of baked polenta.|
|Criolla food||Traditional Argentine food is called criolla and is popularly represented by the empanadas – tasty, salty pastries that can be filled with meat, chicken, ham and cheese, among others. The regional cuisine also offers dishes such as matambre (rolled stuffed steak cut in slices and served cold), locro and carbonada (meat and vegetable stews).|
Traditional beverages AND drinks
|Wine||When it comes to beverages, wines (vinos) in Argentina are a real popular choice. Options range from budget versions that come in Tetra Brick packaging to the most exquisite selections that have placed Argentina as a globally renowned wine producer. Malbec, the country’s signature red wine variety, is often praised for its delicious taste and excellent value.|
|Fernet||In spite of its Italian origin and of being traditionally associated to Argentina’s Cordoba province, fernet is one of the favorite drinks all across the nation. In its pure form fernet is like a naturally bitter syrup, although the Argentine drink will always combine it with Coke and ice. Fernet Branca is the most famous brand as they claim to have the original Italian recipe.|
|Mate||Mate is Argentina’s famous infusion, more of a way of socializing than a plain beverage. It’s typically prepared by filling 2/3 of a gourd (also called mate) with the leaves of the yerba plant (available in every market), putting a silver straw on it (bombilla) and then pouring hot water. Some people also prefer to add some sugar.|
traditional desserts and pastries
|Ice cream||Ice cream (helado) is Argentine’s number one dessert and a key part of the local food culture. Everyone has an opinion on which is the best heladería in town, as many parlors keep their own artisanal recipes. You can’t go wrong trying a cup or cone (cucurucho), which will be even more authentic if it includes some scoops of dulce de leche or sambayón.|
|Alfajor||Alfajor is a traditional and very popular sweet-layered pastry, with a shape that reminds a yo-yo. It’s commonly filled with dulce de leche or a fruit paste and coated with dark or white chocolate. The most famous (and expensive) alfajor brand is Havanna, but local kiosks sell a wide variety of delicious alternatives.|
|Facturas||For breakfast (desayuno) or a late afternoon snack (merienda), Argentines enjoy eating facturas, a generic term encompassing croissants (medialunas), churros, and a variety of other fresh pastries coming right out of your closest bakery (panadería). Some are filled with dulce de leche, pastry cream or fruit paste, while others are drizzled with chocolate.|