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Argentine Culture

Much more so than most of Latin America, Argentina is a true cultural meeting pot. It was inhabited by relatively primitive indigenous groups when the Spanish arrived: the mixture of these two groups in the pampas flatlands would produce the famous gauchos. Black slaves were brought in to work, although there were relatively few of them (compared with, say, Brazil). After independence, Argentina opened itself to immigration, and waves of immigrants came from around the world, including Italians, Polish, Germans, Chinese and many more. By the end of the nineteenth century, Argentina was the most culturally diverse nation in South America.

Each and every one of these groups left their mark on Argentine history and culture. The natives, sadly, were the victims of a series of genocidal wars at the end of the nineteenth century which wiped most of them out. Still, remnants of their culture survive. The groups with the largest cultural impact are doubtless the Spanish and Italians. The Spanish, of course, colonized Argentina and gave it its language, legal system, cuisine and more. The Italians who arrived at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries represent by far the largest of the immigrant groups that came at that time and left their mark on Argentina culture, including food, the tango and even the distinctive Buenos Aires accent.

Argentina has always looked to Europe for culture. This is most evident in Buenos Aires, where the best way to compliment the city to a local remains “Wow! Buenos Aires looks like a city in Europe!” Argentines consider themselves the most sophisticated and urbane of the people of Latin America, which you’ll see in the opera houses and great theatres of the cities.

Not everything you’ll see is borrowed European culture, however. In the two hundred years since independence, Argentina has developed a culture all its own. The best example is the tango, a romantic dance with mysterious roots that may date back to Italian immigrants, indigenous groups, black slaves or others. Argentine cuisine is distinctive, with a heavy reliance on fine beef. Argentina continues to make its own way culturally, boasting one of the best film industries in Latin America. The nation has also developed a taste for football(soccer) that borders on obsessive…oh, who am I kidding: Argentines are obsessed with football to an alarming degree: they rate just below “suicide bomber” on the fanatic scale.

The gauchos deserve special mention. The gauchos – a sort of Argentine cowboy who worked with the great herds of cattle in centuries past – are all but gone, but the Argentines continue to make much of that time in their history, and the gauchos have found their way into literature and film, and you can take a trip to any number of touristy “authentic gaucho ranches” from Buenos Aires.

The best way to experience true Argentine culture is to get out into the streets, cafes bars and restaurants of Buenos Aires. Take in a soccer game, eat as much grilled meat as you can, go to a tango show, and most of all, talk to the people: they’re very friendly and always willing to share with new friends.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Argentina: Convento San Bernado, Cerro de la Virgen, Formosa’s Fantastic Beings, Molino Forclaz, Studying tango and visiting milongas, Dance in Argentina, Tikunaco, Museo de Deuda Externa, Literature and Gauchito Gil.

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
02 Feb 2009

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