Argentina cultural insights
The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
On this page
Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:
- Communication styles
- Display of emotion
- Dress, punctuality & formality
- Preferred managerial qualities
- Hierarchy and decision-making
- Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
- Privileges and favouritism
- Conflicts in the workplace
- Motivating local colleagues
- Recommended books, films & foods
- In-country activities
- National heroes
- Shared historical events with Canada
- About the cultural interpreters
- Related information
Argentineans differ from one another. Geography might have an influence on the characteristics of people you may be in contact with. For instance, people from a metropolitan city, such as Buenos Aires are generally more informal and direct than people from towns and provinces of the interior of the country.
It is customary to shake hands with both men and women when greeting the person. However Argentine people usually kiss on the cheek, especially among women and between men and women. In formal meetings and some social events it is common that a superior greets a woman employee by simultaneously shaking hands and giving a kiss on the right cheek.
Another important issue is the way to talk with people. In a formal conversation people refer to others using the personal pronoun "usted". This voice is used especially when young people are addressing an old person. However, "vos" (equivalent to "tú", the most common voice in Spanish) is widely used among young people and among friends. Also in employee relationship based on trust and a more direct contact, the use of "vos" is most common. Trust is important to determine the use of the voice.
At first contact people are willing to talk about work and social tastes; in an urban area people are less willing to address personal issues. Although Argentine people are family-oriented, in little towns and small villages people are more involved in addressing family issues at first contact than in a big city. For example, "what is your family like?", "how many kids do you have?", etc.
Generally speaking, Argentines are open-minded and outgoing. All issues can be addressed in a conversation. However, at first contact religion and political issues should be avoided or addressed politely and with some restraint.
When meeting someone for the first time in Argentina the experience is warm and friendly. In formal business encounters you should offer your hand in introductions. In social encounters, Argentine men will kiss females on the right cheek and shake a man’s hand and sometimes offer a pat on the back. Argentines are generally more affectionate than Canadians.
Questions about their country, the region of Argentina that they come from, their family and football (soccer) are all good conversation starters. Argentines are also curious to hear about where you are from and what it is like there. Argentines have a lot of pride about their home and their country. This pride is accentuated when making comparisons to other South American countries such as Chile. An animosity between Argentina and Chile exists largely due to border disputes. This would not be a good conversation starter. Other topics that may be deemed inappropriate at initial encounters may be politics. Argentina, like Chile, is divided politically and is undergoing substantial reform. In Argentina’s political history there have been scandals, corruption and violence. These discussions are better had with close colleagues and friends.
Despite a turbulent past Argentines have good humour and are generally willing to have a good time.
Most Argentine people have Spanish and Italian origins. Basically, they are outgoing and warm. They like body expressions to come with conversations. Mostly among friends, people use more facial expressions, laugh and touch. In formal situations, the use of gestures and facial expressions should be moderated.
Argentines have a very warm nature and their communication style reflects this. Personal space may not be as important to Argentines as it is to Canadians. Eye contact is not critical but is helpful to show you are sincere and to build a sense of trust between yourself and an Argentine. You should remain friendly and courteous in your tone of voice and in the manner in which you speak.
In Argentina, Vosotros is used instead of Ustedes and Vos is used in place of tú. This form is also conjugated differently. In addition the letters ll and y is pronounced as "sh" in English. Argentines also do not use the th sound for their c or z as in Spain.
Display of emotion
Some emotions are acceptable because people are willing to express themselves in a more open way than is customary in Canada. Mostly it is women who are allowed expressions of affection; especially in informal situations.
Argentines are more likely to display affection than Canadians. Due to the many political challenges Argentines face currently, there has been an increased participation in protests and public demonstrations. These protests are most often peaceful but have, in the past, turned violent. Anger and or frustration may otherwise be seen when a football game is on and "their" team is losing. Passion for football is similar to what is experienced by the most devoted hockey fans in Canada.
Dress, punctuality & formality
Work styles differ between workplaces but it is important to be clean and punctual. Argentines pay extreme attention to dressing, both in summer and winter. At the workplace, men must wear formal jackets. Women are expected to wear appropriate clothing at work. Note: Argentine women pay a lot of attention to fashion issues and style. Beauty details and ornaments are allowed and sometimes expected at workplace.
Colleagues and even supervisors are often addressed by the first name. Sometimes in a hierarchical relationship the use of Dr. or Licenciado is expected.
People are expected to meet deadlines in the workplace, although there is often some degree of flexibility. However, in some social events (which may involve work issues) people are often much less punctual. Generally speaking, people like to start social events later than in Canada and they enjoy staying out later too.
Work schedules differ from one workplace to another. For instance, in the public service, people have a routine of 9AM to 5PM. On the other hand, in private companies employees can work earlier or later. A tendency to be accountable for results is more used in private sector than in public sector.
In Buenos Aires, Capital Federal, people are concerned about style. The city has a European flair and this is reflected in the way people dress and carry themselves. The men, at work are dressed in a suit and tie and women in skirts or nice slacks and blouses. Outside the Capital region, the dress is not as formal but is still smart. Slacks and collared shirt are appropriate for men and a top with skirts/slacks are appropriate for women.
Titles are very important in Argentina so before you meet anyone make sure you know something about their education. If the person that you are meeting is a doctor, use this title. For any other occupations, mention what they do. This will serve you well and they will treat you with great respect simply because you come from Canada. The use of names from formal to informal depends on your continuing relationship with this person. If you are a close colleague and have numerous interactions, you will come to use their first name. If your relationship is always formal, then continue to address them with proper titles.
The approach to time is one of the most difficult things to get accustomed to in Argentina. Punctuality is not as important to Argentines as it is to Canadians. Meetings may start late and people may come in and out. For important meetings with superiors (either Argentine or Canadian) most participants will be punctual. In non-governmental organizations being punctual to meetings is of even less importance. Ensure that you have confirmed appointments the day before.
For those that work in non-governmental organizations, deadlines may be less strictly enforced than in government offices. It is worth noting, also, that higher unemployment levels have led to the creation of many intermediary steps to generate more positions.
Preferred managerial qualities
A superior is usually valued for his/her level of education, possession of diplomas and degrees and special skills. In some places, hierarchy is based on these qualities and they determine the style of relationship between superiors and subordinates. Therefore, in hierarchical organizations (i.e. public sector), more distance between superiors and subordinates is to be expected.
In contrast, in less hierarchical organizations, a high degree of cooperation from subordinates is expected, depending on the type of relationship established between superiors and employees. Trust and sometimes personal relations of trust are important to obtain more cooperation. Distance and a disinterest in or lack of receptiveness to new ideas or initiatives might discourage cooperation from subordinates.
In my opinion, when the supervisor is not local, trust networks may yield a great deal. For instance, the interest of the supervisor in personal issues, such as family, problems with children, etc. might increase the level of trust. If subordinates perceive some interest and concern in their personal lives, they may be more willing to cooperate at work. In my personal experience, generating a pleasant environment could increase productivity. Because Argentine people are basically family-oriented, they would expect their boss to be sensitive to such personal issues.
Education and experience are the most highly regarded qualities in Argentina. Being a Canadian in Argentina will also be looked upon favourably. Initiating change in the workplace can be hard if you have not earned a high degree of trust from all the participants. Trust can be hard to establish among organizations, particularly non-governmental organizations (NGO), university and research institutions, as they are often in competition for very scarce funding resources. If trust is not established, change will be painful and disruptive. If a rapport is developed and uncertainties acknowledged, then people will be more willing to embrace change and new ideas.
Hierarchy and decision-making
How decisions are made depends upon the workplace. Again, in hierarchical organizations, supervisors usually make the decisions and particularly at the top levels of the organization. However, some degree of cooperation (mostly the provision of information) is needed from employees. Under a less hierarchical style "team work" would be more feasible, having a strong impact on productivity.
Different margins of decision-making are assigned according to responsibilities within the organization. If there are some doubts regarding procedures or rules, it is important to go to the immediate supervisor for feedback.
Decisions are made by the superiors but ideas can be generated by staff and superiors together. In NGO’s and in academic settings, Argentines are willing to share ideas with colleagues but will be very cautious when dealing with others that do not work within the organization. It is acceptable to go to immediate supervisors for feedback and answers as long as there is a respect and trust established between you and your supervisor.
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
In recent decades, women have gained access to many positions in the job market as well as in politics, economics, etc. However, some constraints keep women from advancing within a more predominant male job culture and helps explain the small numbers of women at the top level of many organizations.
Generally speaking, Argentina is a Catholic country, with the presence of some minorities of Jewish (2% of the population, concentrated in the area of Buenos Aires) and other minorities such as Muslims. I do not believe that there is a religious cleavage in Argentina and religion does not usually have any particular impact on the workplace.
In my opinion, class differences do not have a specific impact on workplace.
85% of the population in Argentina has European origin and 15% are of mixed origins. Sometimes, discrimination due to physical appearance does arise.
Gender is currently less an issue in the workplace than it has been in the past. Women are active in the workplace but hold fewer political and senior positions than men. They are more visible in universities and in public servant positions.
Argentines have close ties to the Catholic Church and honour their faith. Many Argentines still attend church, although attendance among young people is down. There is not a tremendous amount of diversity in religion in Argentina and thus there is less concern for religion impacting the attitudes in the workplace. All catholic religious holidays must be respected.
There is a class system in Argentina and unfortunately the gap between the rich and the poor is widening due largely to the economic difficulties. As a Canadian working in Argentina, the attitudes between the rich and poor will not be as apparent unless your work takes you into the poorer areas.
In comparison to Canada there is less ethnic diversity in Argentina. Racial tension is not as detectable in the workplace.
Sometimes personal relationships increase opportunities to do business. Argentines are usually committed to personal values, and friendship and family occupy a central place in Argentine society. The ways to establish personal relationships, such as friendship, vary from one person to another. In Buenos Aires, it is very common to go for coffee after work in one of the city’146;s many cafes. To invite somebody for coffee and indeed talk about business outside of the office is a valuable way to get in contact with others.
Establishing a good and trusting relationship with a colleague is very important in Argentina. Businesses and non-governmental organizations have become very wary of government and their promises, as they have been exploited in the past. Argentines have also become less trusting of businesses and organizations, although foreign organizations and businesses are more welcome in partnerships because resources may be more secure. Thus, when building partnerships, trust must be established between all those involved.
Being consistent and communicating needs and ideas creates trust. Ensuring that there is a contact person that has resources and time to commit to the relationship would also foster a stronger relationship. If there are multiple partners, each of the person’s roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined and understood.
Privileges and favouritism
Special privileges of such a kind depend on the workplace. In big private companies I cannot see how personal relationships or friendship could be important in obtaining the cooperation of employees. Usually these companies tend to be more competitive and value more the skills and professional backgrounds of employees. By contrast, in small companies or in the public service, some privileges might be expected and could increase cooperation of employees.
Due to the emphasis on trust being established in business relationships, there may be a tendency to have partnerships with people that are already in an established network. For Canadians it may seem difficult to understand why we should not gather experts on a particular issue. For an Argentine, however, this may not be appropriate at all and very much discouraged due to history and past experiences.
Conflicts in the workplace
In my opinion, is better to confront problems with a colleague directly and privately. Sometimes the public exposition of differences among colleagues can diminish the trust within the organization. People are generally accustomed to following procedures and routines and so trust networks might be important to establish specific procedures to resolve disputes.
In dealing with difficult issues, the approach that is used in Canada is also appropriate in Argentina. Communication, particularly when working in another culture, is essential. In Argentina, the people are open and willing to enter into discussions and difficulties. This is best done privately. Argentine people are very proud and will want to save face in public settings.
Motivating local colleagues
As for many people in the world, for Argentine people money is an important motivation to perform well on the job. Nonetheless, job satisfaction and good working conditions affect widely the performance of local colleagues. For most Argentine people, the workplace is a social space, which should offer alternatives for personal development that go beyond the job. Because Argentines are friendly, workplace is usually a place to meet new friends. Thus, a kind work environment is important to increase performance at work.
With the current lack of job security in Argentina, the best motivation is consistent employment. Foreign investment and foreign partnerships are considered desirable. Because of the current climate, loyalty is very important and will go a long way in any business venture.
Recommended books, films & foods
Some Argentine writers I find interesting for finding out more about Argentine culture include Julio Cortázar, Jorge Luis Borges, Osvaldo Soriano—who used to write about Argentine politics during the 1970’s-, Alfonsina Storni—an Uruguayan poet who developed her work in Buenos Aires during the 1930’s- and Ernesto Sábato.
Some interesting movies to see are "La República Perdida I y II", which are about the Argentine political and social history of XX Century. Other movies about recent politics in Argentina to see are The Official Story—that received an Oscar nomination - and more recently movies, which are well known in Canada are Nine Queens, Tango and Son of The Bride. The latter two films were nominated for an Academy Award.
To become familiar with the current news in Argentina you can look to the National Newspaper, http://www.lanacion.com.ar/ (Spanish). English speakers can look at http://www.buenosairesherald.com/ for information. The Economist also has feature articles on Argentina. Cable television brings in programming from the United States.
Argentina offers a variety of natural places to visit in summer and winter. In summer, I would recommend beaches in the so-called "Costa Atlántica" in Buenos Aires Province and the south of the country in the Patagonia that offer lakes, mountains and a variety of options for adventure tourism. One beautiful place to relax in is Merlo in San Luis province, which offers a warm "micro climate".
In winter, I would suggest the north of the country such as, "El Tren de las Nubes" in Salta Province, two important centers of sky—Las Leñas in Mendoza Province and Bariloche in Río Negro Province. In fall and spring, I would suggest visiting the Cataratas Falls in Misiones Province and the whale spotting in Puerto Madryn, Province of Río Negro.
A visit not to be missed is Buenos Aires city, the nation’s capital. Buenos Aires is not only the political and economic center of the country; it is the cultural capital of Argentina. With its European style, a visitor can find a lot of options for enjoyment and entertainment: Restaurants, cafes, discos and even more. One historical neighborhood to visit is "La Boca", the historical neighborhood of Italian immigrants in Buenos Aires; San Telmo, the traditional colonial area of the city in which you can dance and listen tango music; "La Recoleta" neighborhood with its French architectural design figures one of the most distinguished areas of the city. And of course, mandatory places to visit are the downtown, Corrientes Avenue, the Obelisco and the political "heart" of the city, Plaza de Mayo, surrounded by the government buildings.
Food in Argentina has a Spanish and Italian origin. A visitor can eat pasta, pizza, seafood casseroles and paellas. But the original Argentine food is beef. Thus, most receipts are cooked with beef. You can eat a barbecue (the so-called "parrillada" or "asado"). There many good restaurants in which a visitor can appreciate the typical "bife de chorizo o bife de lomo con papas fritas o ensalada mixta", it is a beefsteak with French fries or salad. But if you want to eat some kind of "fast food" you can choose "milanesa (breaded veal) con papas fritas". Other typical plates are "tartas" (quiches) cooked with vegetables, chicken or tuna. Finally, I would suggest Argentine empanadas. There are empanadas of different flavors, such as beef, chicken, corn, ham & cheese and vegetables.
Buenos Aires city offers a lot of cultural and artistic options for visitors. I would strongly recommend the Cultural Center of Recoleta (Centro Cultural Recoleta) to see exposition arts and the Theater and Show Center "Gral. San Martín" to see theatre, dance and exposition arts too. In Corrientes Avenue there are many theatres to watch comedies and dramas.
Cafes are very common in Buenos Aires. On every block you can find a variety of cafes: modern or classic, cheap or expensive. Some traditional cafes that I would suggest for visitors are the "Café Tortoni" and "Confitería Las Violetas", which keep the traditional style of their origins.
One important event to follow is soccer (Fútbol). As with Hockey in Canada, soccer in Argentina is a male sport but women usually enjoy keeping up. Every Sunday many Argentines go to soccer stadiums to see their favorite teams. River Plate & Boca Juniors are the biggest teams with many followers.
To find information and suggestions about cultural events and places to visit you can go to "Casas de Provincia" in Buenos Aires. For Buenos Aires in particular, I would suggest to go to the Cultural Center "Gral. San Martín" in Corrientes Avenue for information. Every newspaper carries ads for upcoming and ongoing shows.
To really appreciate Argentina, one must see the diverse landscapes that reach from the far north that borders Paraguay and Brazil to the far south - Patagonia. The diversity of the land is synonymous with the diversity of the people. The business centre of Buenos Aires is very different from that of Bariloche.
Food in Argentina is wonderful but has less variety in comparison to Canada. Vegetarians may find themselves learning to love meat again as the Argentine beef is world renowned for the flavour. Ice-cream in Argentina is arguably better than the gelato of Italy and pizza is also excellent. One cannot start their day without medialunas and a cup of espresso. Socializing around food and drink is very common after work and appreciated. After all, dinner is later in the evening (around 9-10 pm) so a snack is needed.
The type of cultural events that are available depends largely on the region and city that you work in. Buenos Aires is the largest city and thus offers the most in terms of theatre, sporting events and cuisine. When in Argentina, the most valuable sources of information will be the colleagues with whom you work with. Theatro Colon has wonderful performances throughout the year and it is well worth inquiring about. If one is very brave, taking in a football match is exciting and will definitely provide a cultural experience (I suggest going with someone who has been and do not bring ANY valuables).
In politics, "El Libertador Gral. San Martín" is the main national father of the country. In literature Jorge Luis Borges perhaps is the main writer of all time. Argentina is the only Latin- American country that has three Nobel Prizes in Sciences: César Milstein, Bernardo Houssay and Luis Leloir, as well as two for Peace: Carlos Saavedra Llamas and Adolfo Perez Esquivel.
In sports the main national hero is Diego Maradona, maybe the best soccer player of all time. But Argentina used to have another heroes in sports too, such as, Carlos Monzón in box and Guillermo Vilas in Tennis.
Revered as Argentina’s greatest hero is San Martín. He was the Liberator of Chile and Protector of Peru and was called the Knight of the Andes and Santo de la Espada. Diego Maradona is the national football hero who scored the winning goal for Argentina against Germany in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. There is said to be no player as great since Maradona.
Shared historical events with Canada
No, I do not think that there are any conflicts or disagreements between Canada and Argentina. In my opinion, both countries might need to know more about each other. Although they have different cultures, the two countries have some similarities. Both are relatively "new" countries. Canada is an immigration country, as Argentina used to be. Both are countries rich in natural resources and have mixed cultures with people from different origins.
There are no very obvious shared historical events that could affect work or social relations. Canada currently holds a good reputation and relationship with Argentina. There may be some tension in some industries such as mining due to environmental health concerns.
I cannot see any particular stereotype that could affect relationships between Argentines and Canadians. Many Argentines have a positive view about Canada and Canadians. They usually think that Canadians are nice, polite, peaceful and educated people with a high standard of life. This is the source of some admiration for Argentineans as Argentina in the past had economic indicators of development similar to those of Canada. However, I would say that some people might think that Canadians may be unprepared to face the risks of being in a major metropolitan center and vulnerable to being taken advantage of by confidence tricksters or targeted by pickpockets, as tourists frequently are.
Most Canadians are not very aware of Argentina, the political history or the people. It is suggested that any Canadian that wishes to work there should try to become familiar not only with the history but also the immense diversity of the land.
About the cultural interpreters
Your cultural interpreter was born and raised in Buenos Aires city, the capital of Argentina. She is the younger of two children. She obtained her degree en Political Science and Masters in Public Administration at Universidad Naciónal de Buenos Aires. In 2002, she moved to Ottawa, Canada to pursue her PhD in Public Policy at Carleton University. She currently lives in Ottawa.
Your cultural interpreter was born in Victoria the youngest of three children. She was raised in Calgary and Vancouver and studied Psychology in London, Ontario at the University of Western Ontario. Her studies sent her abroad for the first time in 2000 where she worked as a Child Health Intern for the Canadian Institute of Child Health and Argentine Association of Doctors for the Environment. Afterwards, she worked in Patagonia as an Active Travel Guide. Your cultural interpreter spent one year in total living in Argentina. She has recently completed her Masters in Public Administration in Kingston at Queen’s University. She is looking to continue her work in international relations.
Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
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The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.