Those little cultural things… part two

After I published my first “Those little cultural things” post, I kept realizing there were other things that I forgot to mention. So here they are.

1. Pagos / Cuotas: Pretty much everything here can, and usually is, paid in pagos / cuotas, basically monthly payments or installments. This isn’t just on large purchases like cars or furniture. You can buy shoes and clothes in cuotas. When you check out at the grocery store they ask if you want it in one payment. Even the store in the mall that sells little home knicknacks asks if you want to pay in cuotas. What ends up happening, then, is that everyone has to pay their monthly bill, leading to long lines at the various appliance/electronics stores (like Best Buy) during certain times each month.

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2. The wheels on the bus go round-and-round. The busses can get SUPER packed here. I thought it was bad in Ecuador, but really I hadn’t experienced crowded. As I was attempting to get to class on Saturday, three busses just sped by and didn’t stop? Why? The busses were too full to hold any more people. Literally. No standing room, and certainly no sitting room. I made a “ugh” sound when the third one went past and a girl told me that the other day, nine different busses passed by, all completely full. Dear SAETA (bus company), you need way more busses on the Transversal line (the one I take to school). Please and thank you.

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3. What is “late”? Since I waited for approximately 40 minutes for the bus and ended up taking a taxi to my university on Saturday, I was SUPER late by American standards. As I was speed-walking through campus, I saw Hugo, the guy who helps out our graduate program. He told me I was late!!! What? I almost stopped dead in my tracks. Apparently you can be “late” here. This was news to me. I still don’t know what the definition of “late” is, but I guess I was it. (Unless there’s a different standard for me because I am American and people expect me to come on time. Not sure about that one).

4. Weigh your produce! In high school the majority of my friends worked at Pick ‘N Save, the main grocery store in Wisconsin. They ended up memorizing the produce codes for literally every fruit and vegetable in the store, because when you buy produce, they weigh it and price it right there at the check-out. Here it’s different. In some stores there is a counter in the produce section where they weigh and label your fruits and veggies. In other stores, there’s a weigh counter in the front near the check-out, but not at the register. Either way, you have to be aware of what the store’s policy is and always look for the counter in the produce section so that you don’t look dumb when you get to the check-out and they tell you that you have to run back to the produce section to weigh your fruits and veggies (not that that’s happened to me…).

5. No one ever has change. The ATMs here only dispense 100 peso bills (about $20 USD). Ironically, no one EVER has change. The grocery store, the mall, restaurants, taxi drivers… seriously. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “¿Tenés dos pesos?” (Do you have two pesos?). Because no one ever has change! This is extremely frustrating but I’ve gotten quite good at managing when to spend and when to save my small bills. (The picture is missing the 50 peso bill, the 1 peso coin, the 2 peso coin (new to Argentina as of late), and some other small coin probably.

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6. Can I just give you some candy instead? Because no one ever has change, what usually ends up happening is that the store owner will ask if they can just give you some candy (caramelos) instead of change. Seriously. This happens at corner stores and at most copy shops because you’re dealing with little amounts of money and coins are especially hard to come by here. So instead of getting your 50 cents back, you get a small handful of candy (sometimes of your choosing, sometimes not). This is hilarious to me. Also, clearly no cashiers ever have to balance their drawers at the end of the night.

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7. Food court. In the states, eating at the food court (at least in my opinion) is usually a last resort. If there’s a restaurant attached to the mall, that’s usually a first choice, or people avoid eating at the mall all-together, with the exception of Auntie Annie’s pretzels and Cinnabon. But here, the food court is seriously all the rage. The stores close at 10 PM in the mall but the food court is open until 2 AM! People go to the mall specifically to eat at the food court. Parents take their kids to get lunch there even if they do not plan on shopping at all.

8. Dinner. This is extremely similar to Spain, but here dinner is not eaten until 10 PM. Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve started to develop some kind of heartburn/acid reflux-like symptoms, and I blame it on eating dinner and going to bed shortly thereafter. Anyone who has knowledge of nutrition, health, and the body would tell you that eating a lot right before you go to bed is terrible for you. I’m making a concerted effort now to eat earlier, going against all norms and customs here, because I can’t go to bed that full! So good job America, for eating dinner early enough that you can digest everything before you go to sleep.

9. Just buy it in a bag! At first I thought this was really stupid, but with time I’ve come to change my opinion and I think the US needs to start doing this as well. Cleaning products are hard to find in bottles/containers. For example, there might be one facing of Clorox wipes in the cylindrical container, but 7 facings of the wipes in bags. One facing of Windex in a spray bottle, and 5 facings of window cleaner in bags. I was really confused at first as to how Argentinians successfully clean their windows from said bag. But now I’ve realized that these are refills! Duh! This totally saves on packaging costs, making the products way cheaper than in the US and better for the environment at the same time. Would it really kill Americans to pour Windex from a bag into the bottle? Or to take the top off the Clorox wipes container and put in a new pack of wipes? Probably not. We should start doing that.

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10. Recycling… or lack thereof. It’s super, super difficult to recycle things here. My building doesn’t have recycling, nor do most others. There was a thing in the plaza a few weeks back where you could recycle bottles and cans, but overall nobody recycles. I’m definitely not a gung-ho environmentalist but this seems really dumb to me because it isn’t that hard to recycle things and it’s a huge way to cut down on waste.

11. Elevated…  “trash holders” in the street. Here, people don’t have those big garbage cans in their home or apartment building for trash. Instead, everyone just leaves their garbage in bags in “trash holders” in the street, at least in the city center. Then someone comes by and picks it up. These holders are off the ground, assumably because…

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12. There are SO MANY STRAY DOGS HERE. I really do love Argentina, but the one thing I literally HATE about this country is the number of stray dogs AND the apathy towards them. There are PUPPIES 2 months old sleeping on the street because they were abandoned. It constantly breaks my heart (… I finally caved one day and rescued that little pup, who I am proud to say is doing super well with his new mom!)

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13. Breastfeeding. Sorry if this is an awkward topic? But here breastfeeding happens everywhere, all the time. In the park, in the plaza, on the bus, while walking down the street… And the women don’t throw a blanket over themselves and the baby. So let’s just say that you see WAY MORE than you ever wanted to. Gross.

I DID NOT TAKE THIS PICTURE, CLEARLY! Found it online. But seriously, this happens EVERYWHERE in public in Salta.

14. George López ringtone. For some reason, every other person whose phone goes off on the bus has a George López ringtone. So random! I don’t know why that is popular. But I always smile because I love(d) this show!

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15. Blackberry – Blackberry is the iPhone of Salta, apparently. It’s the hot phone to have. Which is funny because that’s so 2008 to me. But I got one the other day, replacing my piece of crap Nokia 500, and couldn’t be happier to have a Blackberry! Isn’t she cute?

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16. These weird shoes with a separate part for your big toe… Super popular. So strange. Not cute.

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17. Silent signs of faith. Salta is REALLY Catholic. In Spain they “say” they’re Catholic but let’s be real, no one goes to church anymore. But here, it’s still really, really Catholic! The most interesting thing to me are what I call silent signs of faith. Whenever people go past any church, whether it’s on bike, on foot, in a taxi, while driving their own car, or on the bus, people do the sign of the cross. There are a good number of churches here, so this happens a lot. Around Easter thousands of people climb up Cerro San Bernardo, one of the three main hills overlooking Salta, on a pilgrimage of sorts. It’s so Catholic here!!

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5 Comments

  1. So I’ve got to say, I LOVE that women in South America openly breastfeed their children any and everywhere. It was very common where I lived in Peru and Bolivia as well, and is also common here in Colombia. I LOVE it, because I think that the stigma against doing one of the most NATURAL things a human being does is TERRIBLE in the U.S.A. I’ve on numerous occasions heard people scoff and show disgust at women breastfeeding in public in the U.S. even when they’re TOTALLY covered. This angers the piss out of me, because again, woman’s breast are there for that specific purpose, and it is one of the absolute best things a woman can do to ensure the health of her child, which literally impacts their development and health for the rest of their life. So when I see women busting out their boobs in public to feed their child, I pretty much just want to give them a high five. High five for giving their child wonderful nourishment and high five to the culture and community around them that doesn’t stigmatize them for doing so. And after all, they’re just boobs…we see mens boobs all the time, and in many cultures (such as Amazon tribes where I just visited) women still opening walk around with their boobs exposed. Also, there are topless beaches all over the world, because really, boobs aren’t gross or awful. They are a baby’s best friend. And ya, they are a sex symbol too, but that doesn’t bother me.

  2. P.S. In case it wasn’t clear, breastfeeding, and the encouragement and reduction of stigmatization of it, are super duper important to us public health folk. Particularly global public health folk, as we’ve seen the disastrous results of cultures and communities that discourage and stigmatize breastfeeding, and then subsequently use less nutritious, more expensive formulas, typically mixed with unsanitary water to feed their newborns, resulting in high infant mortality rates from basic diarrheal diseases. Thus my strong stand for breastfeeding, whenever, wherever. 🙂

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