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A Cultural Guide to Argentina

In this article series, our contributor Judith Enders offers insights on Argentina's culture, traditions, habits, and society, drawing from her experiences. Check back monthly for a new installment!

The Importance of Personal Relationships in Argentina

Having been on holidays in Argentina various times and going out with an Argentine for 5 years already I knew that things would be quite different compared to my home country Germany or the country we lived and worked in for the last two years – Ireland.

However I still experienced a huge and unexpected learning curve ever since I came here last May in terms of cultural values and norms that Argentines hold. In this article I will focus on the value of personal relations and practical tips on relationship building in Argentina. Please join the discussion; I’d love to hear what you think!

The Power of Relationships

Before I arrived, in true German “planning mode”, I extensively researched NGOs to get involved with in order to give me an opportunity to practice my Spanish, “get out the house” and meet Argentines, plus do some good in a country that truly needs it. I quickly realized things weren’t as straightforward as I expected them to be! Coming to an agreement took considerable longer and involved many more meetings with different people and emails send back and forth than I had initially thought. At one NGO I contacted it took five months and three different people to set up an induction meeting for new interested volunteers; can you imagine? As this is clearly an extreme example, I still have the impression that things considerably speed up if you happen to know someone personally. I not only believe that Argentines value personal relationships in the business world but also in the realm of personal relationships and friendships. It’s much harder to strike up a casual conversation with an Argentine in a bar/cafe/street/class that leads to a continuing friendship than by simply being someone’s partner and getting introduced to his/her circle of friends, in which case you are accepted unconditionally. Trust is an essential precondition, and the person that can get you introduced in a way vouches for you - it basically means that ‘you are safe’ and are given the green light to proceed with the relationship.

Please note that I am not saying that Argentines are not friendly - quite on the contrary: Argentines are extremely helpful, especially to foreigners. I’ve asked for directions only to be accompanied by a stranger right to the front door so I wouldn’t get lost, and not only once! Try that in Berlin or Paris!

Trusting Rapport: the Most Important Requirement for Successful Relations

Based on my personal experiences and having talked extensively with others it seems that a combination of two contributing factors lie at the bottom of it all: The value of personal relationships and security issues in Buenos Aires.

Firstly, do not underestimate the time and effort it takes to build relationships. Especially the first impression is extremely important and can make or break what you want to achieve. It’s therefore essential to understand proper social and business etiquette and adjust your behavior accordingly. Invest time in getting referrals from mutual friends or contacts! Join an InterNations group or activity. LinkedIn is also a great resource to find those common points of contact in the business word. And if you are just looking for friends or things to do with people, ask your wider existing circle of friends if they know anyone in Argentina and get introduced, or try couchsurfing. Through a personal recommendation I even found my amazing Spanish teacher and one of the NGOs I dedicate my time to!

Secondly, as Buenos Aires is clearly no small town and for other reasons such as huge social inequality security is a big issue here, hence a good dose of suspicion against strangers may be warranted and is especially prevalent in Buenos Aires (less so in small cities and the countryside). While there is little you can do about that (other than of course helping in fighting social injustice) it is still helpful to understand why some Argentines may not be so inviting to strangers. Example: Being invited to someone’s party you just met and had a great conversation with. Back home, there would be no trouble whatsoever - the more the merrier! Here, however, if you want to attend personal events, even “just” a party, you definitely need to develop or create some kind of relation first.

Of course there are always exceptions to the rule but these are my experiences so far in the last four months of living with an Argentine family and interacting with Argentines on a daily basis. Please feel free to share with me your thoughts and experiences in Argentina! Have you had trouble establishing business relationships? Do you agree that close, personal ties matter more than in the US or Central/Northern Europe, especially when doing business? How did you get introduced to people you wanted to meet?


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