Friday, 7 September 2007

Speak now or forever hold your piece

It’s difficult to resist the temptation of comparing life here to elsewhere as you go about your everyday business. I find myself constantly evaluating quality of service, food, drink etc. Fast pace, big city life has conditioned me to keep random communications e.g. with a shopkeeper, as short as possible. Something that really stands out here as a cultural difference however is the mutual compulsion of the porteños to expand on what could be just a basic 4 sentence, 10 second interaction between strangers into an agonisingly long and drawn out dose of what a non local can only perceive as verbal diarrhea

A serious disease which, once it has control of a person, causes them to spew forth incoherent babble from the bowels of the voicebox. Often extremely frustrating for the victim and extremely hilarious for the observer.

. Let’s use the following hypothetical example of: suppose you need a bottle opener for your beer and enter into a shop to purchase one.

In New York or London it would go something like this:

Customer: Any bottle openers? and how much?

Shop Keeper: What colour? What size?

Customer: Don’t care!

Shop Keeper: $6

Customer: ok - thanks

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

In Buenos Aires it would go something like this:

Customer: Hello, How are you?

Shop Keeper: Fine thanks and you?

Customer: Good – its hot today isn’t it?

Shop Keeper: Yes, very humid too, tomorrow is supposed to rain though.

Customer: Oh really, blah, blah, blah etc………eventually a few minutes later… Do you have any bottle openers?

Shop Keeper: Yes, what colour?

Customer: hmm, what colours do you have?

Shop Keeper: Blue, green, pink, black, purple, yellow, orange.

Customer: Oh...I'm a Boca Juniors supporter - any blue and yellow together?

Shop Keeper: No, but I'm a River Plate supporter so pls leave the shop right now - ha ha just joking - did you see the game last night?

Customer: No - I had to go to the hospital to have my piles looked at - hmm, what sizes do you have?

Shop Keeper: Big, medium, small - My Uncle inventented a special pile cream if you're interested?

Customer: well its ok - they are better now - hmm, do you have any different types?

Shop Keeper: Well let me look in the back…… 5 mins later…….err no

Customer: hmm, how much are they?

Shop Keeper: Well let me check the computer – oh no - the system is down again - I'll have to ask my wife - Juanita - how much are the bottle openers ......... ok - 2 pesos

Customer: hmm, let me think about it and come back to you - maybe you offer a discount for bottle openers and pile cream bought together?

Shop Keeper: sure, no problem, let me call my cousin in Mendoza and see if he has any other different types

Customer: blah, blah (x to the power of 15)

Shop Keeper: blah, blah (x to the power of 16) etc etc.....

In retrospect although it’s a tad difficult for a newbie gringo in B.A. not to ‘go postal’ with these long encounters as you eventually realize its just a cultural difference and a slower pace of life. This in itself is somewhat of a paradox as porteños are not patient people. Quite the opposite in fact as for example, any delay in traffic or slowness in getting from A to B e.g. (making the lift (elevator) available) is met with audible impatience verging on contempt. I'll have to delve deeper into the depths of the argentinian phsyche to try and uncover what gives here or then again I could just buy a beer and chill - decisions, decisons - the stress is killing me!

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