I’ve been back in the United States for two and a half months now, and I realized I hadn’t talked about some of the basics! I wanted to publish a guide that shows what life is like in Argentina: food, music, school, traditions, slang, and differences from the United States.
Achilata: a flavor of ice cream unique to Tucumán that’s weird but good, in a way.
Asado kind of like an Argentine barbeque. Steak, ribs, chorizo, morcilla, and sometimes even intestines and kidneys. ARGENTINE STEAK IS THE BEST IN THE WORLD.
Dulce de leche: Kind of like caramel, but as a spreadable topping. Often eaten with pan tostada (pieces of french bread, toasted) and tea, for breakfast or merienda (the 4:30-6:00 snack). Key ingredient in cakes and pastries.
Empanadas: dough folded around meat and vegetables and sometimes cheese and baked in the oven. The good ones are juicy. The correct way to eat it is to take a tiny bite out of one end and then squeeze a Tucumán lemon into the empanada, adding some zing. Then you proceed to devour it.
Facturas are any pastries that are not medialunas.
Humitas are made with fresh corn and sometimes corn meal or corn flour. Humitas en chala are wrapped in corn husks, boiled in a pot of water and served that way, while Humitas al plato are cooked in a pot and served on a plate. Originally a Native American dish from pre-Hispanic times. They are either sweetened with sugar after cooking or spiced during, with tomato, onion, and pepper. The texture reminded me a little too much of baby food.
Locro: A soup made of beans, beef, chorizo colorado, smoked bacon, cow’s large intestine, cow stomach, butternut squash, onion, pork fat, cumin and paprika. It is traditional to eat it on el 25 de Mayo, a national holiday celebrating the first establishment of a local government in Buenos Aires. This was significant because military leaders and the common people kicked out the Viceroy (who was the leader Spain had appointed to control the Spanish colony) in the first successful revolution in the South American independence campaign. Now, over two hundred years later, you get to eat cow guts on May 25th every year!
If you’re lucky, you might end up with something like this in your bowl:
Lomito: A sandwich especially popular in Córdoba made of veal loin, cheese, ham, fried egg, tomato and mayonnaise. So good.
Mantecol: a candy that is basically like the inside of a reese’s peanut butter cup, but solidified, or the inside of a Butterfinger, but less crunchy. There are plenty of other Argentinian sweets, but this deserves mention, because if you’re like me it is basically a food group.
Medialuna: croissant coated with honey
Milanesa: schnitzel, if you know german, otherwise it’s veal or chicken cutlet. It’s often served with cheese melted on top, or with ketchup and cheese. Even more delicious are sanguiches (sandwiches) de milanesa.
Ñoquis: The 29th day of every month is Gnocchi day. Argentines call it Ñoquis del Veintinueve. You will never get tired of them.
Panchuque: It is like a fried hot dog, but not like a corn dog. It is pure deliciousness and only sold on the streets of Tucumán. They pour the dough into the panchuquera (which is like a waffle iron for panchuques), put in the dog, and close the lid and voilà! An almost sinful indulgence. Toppings include ketchup (pronounced kay-choop), mayonesa, queso (squeezed from a bottle for your delight), and mostaza (mustard).
Pastafrola a sweet tart, jam-filled pastry
Polenta: It’s like cream of wheat, but of corn. It is eaten for dinner, and seasoned with salt or ají (a spicy sauce).
Sfijas: This is arab food at its finest. They are kind of triangular empanadas, but softer. Dough with ground meat, onion, lemon, tomato, oregano, paprika, cumin, and pepper inside.
Tamales: like humitas but with meat
Torta de hojaldre: Cake. Layers of crunch with dulce de leche in between and merengue (an airy sort of frosting) on top. IT IS THE MOST DELICIOUS DESSERT TO EVER HAVE GRACED MY MOUTH AND I MISS IT TERRIBLY.
Yerba Mate: Loose-leaf tea, often shared with friends. One person is the server, who prepares each drink, adding sugar if the first drinker wants it and pouring water from the thermos over the leaves. The first drinker sucks all of the water from the leaves then gives the mate (the cup) to the pourer to refill for the next drinker. If you are sitting in a circle, the mate goes around in a counter-clockwise fashion. When the leaves start to float in the water, it is time to change them out for fresh leaves. People drink mate at work, at school, at home, when they go to the park or wherever. The cup is called “mate,” the straw is a “bombilla,” and the leaves just “yerba.”
Drinks you may see at a teen party:
The drinking age is 18.
el Fernet: originally from Italy, but a national obsession in Argentina. You mix it with coke. I would suggest in about a 1:4 ratio (1 parts fernet to 4 parts coke), but some like it stronger. It’s a wonderful acquired taste.
la vodka: mixed with fruit soda, usually mango or grapefruit
el Gancia: citrusy, herby, a little bit of white wine. Top notch.
el vino con Fanta: Red wine and orange fanta. It’s not as gross as it sounds but it’s not that good either. The kids get wine in boxes because it’s cheaper.
la Sangría You probably know what this is.
el Toc Toc: tequila, lemon and salt
If you’re into beer, Quilmes or Norte are the preferred Argentine brands. It’s not a huge thing at parties though.
Any time you see someone you know and stop to talk to them, you’ve got to greet them with a cheek kiss. At a smaller party, upon arriving, you may have to greet everyone in a room that way.Upon entering the classroom at school, it’s likely that you just greet your friends this way, not their entire class.
Most people just brush cheeks, make the kiss sound and do not actually make contact. Some however, actually kiss you on the cheek.
In Argentina, high school is six years long. Basically, what would be junior high and high school for us are combined. Every high school is a little different, but here’s how mine works. You don’t switch classes, you stay in the same room with your classmates and the teachers do the changing. Since your teachers switch classrooms and you don’t, you can’t pick and choose what courses you take. Between each class is a fifteen minute break, called recreo. During recreo, kids often walk around selling pastries they’ve baked or foods they’ve prepared at home. I occasionally indulged in a homemade sfija, empanada, pastafrola, torta (cake) or brownie for 5 or 6 pesos.
For the first three years, you take all sorts of classes. Then you choose a modalidad: natural sciences, social sciences, or art and design. For the next three years, everyone takes math and language/literature and two foreign languages, but the rest are specific to your modalidad. I, having chosen the social sciences modalidad had the following classes: History of Tucumán, Economics, Culture and Aesthetics, Culture and Communication, Volunteer Project (we tutored students in an underprivileged elementary school) and Psychology. There is not much technology. Teachers have their own netbooks and there are one or two rooms in the building that have projectors and screens for presentations. There are a few copy machines run by staff members and each student must purchase the copies of whatever handouts the teachers give. In class, the teacher orally dictates notes or occasionally writes them out on a whiteboard. Only one class I had used a textbook.
Even though La Escuela Normal is public, we have a uniform. It’s kind of like a lab coat. In this picture, I’m wearing a shirt on top of it.
Every year, each high school has its own special week of celebration called la semana. One part of it is a parade around the entire city, called la caravana. Here’s a video of everyone shouting one of the school cheers at last year’s caravana. In the cheer, we insult five of the other schools nearby.
Below are photos from this year’s caravana, of which I was not a part, as I had to return home to study at Davidson College. Grrrrr I’m so mad I missed out.
A tradition at my high school specifically and at one other in Tucumán is Bautismo (baptism). First year students come, watch a skit, participate in games and activities, then finally go through their initiation ceremony. An obstacle course is set up in one of the courtyards, the upperclassmen are placed all along the route loaded up with ammo: polenta (a sort of corn meal), various liquid concoctions, eggs, condiments, etc.
As the first years come through, the upperclassmen throw or smear these foods all over them, as well as spraying them with hoses, dumping buckets of water on them, or squirting them with squirt guns.
Because it was my first (and last) year at La Escuela Normal, I was baptized along with the kiddies. It was a blast. The best part was taking public transportation home, soaking wet and covered in food waste, for my half hour commute.
In “último año,” 6th year (which is like our senior year), high schoolers have some special things to look forward to:
Buzo o Campera de egresados: Your class designs and orders a graduation sweatshirt. Usually several people submit designs, the best is chosen, then hours are spent arguing and voting over every detail, the hoodie strings, if it should zip open, the school logo, where it says your graduating year, where your name goes, the size of each embellishment, the colors, etc. Once the shouting matches are over, the buzos are ordered. You make two payments: one upon ordering and one upon receiving. The current price range is $55 to 70. When you get your buzo, the class takes a ton of squad photos together that will be plaguing everyone’s insta.
Cena de egresados: Special dinner then formal dance, like prom. Everyone gets hammered.
Viaje de egresados: in July, August, or September, the class takes a graduation trip, usually to Bariloche. It’s done through a travel company and there are no parent chaperones. It’s basically an excuse to party and get wasted and hook up with people (as in make out), but during the day you go on excursions like ice-skating and seeing glaciers from a boat. Unless you go to Cancún. Then you go to the beach. Trips to Bariloche cost around $2,500 to $2,800, and it surprises me that so many parents are willing to spend so much on a week of debauchery for their children. Here are photos from my classmates’ trip and from my sister’s trip.
In Argentina, going to public university is free. The government pays. There are enrollment fees. The university is divided into different facultades, which are like the different academic departments in the U.S., but they are in different buildings and sometimes different neighborhoods. You will only take classes in that department. To apply to a facultad, you do not need to write good essays or boast an impressive list of after-school activities and accomplishments.Admission used to depend on how well you do on the entrance exam, but they stopped doing even that. It used to be extremely difficult to get into la facultad de medicina, medical school, but with the new system it’s easy to get in. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to get through. During the first year the professors give super hard exams and only the best of the best pass their classes, so the weeding out still takes place, just later on. La Universidad Nacional de Tucumán (la U.N.T. for short) is the largest in the northwest of the country and I knew some students who went there.
Public university may be free, but it’s not without problems. The buildings often have maintenance issues and the classes more students than seats. Some people I know told me they arrive an hour early to get a seat. Others reported sitting outside the open window to hear lectures and take notes because there was no room inside.
Public healthcare is also free. However, you have to wait a long time to get an appointment because demand is high. Some opt to pay for private health coverage in order to get seen more quickly.
For their fifteenth birthdays, girls have two choices: to celebrate to have a giant party with family and friends in a salón or to go to Disney World in Miami. The lucky ones get to do both.
The trip to Disney is a cruise that departs from Buenos Aires and all the girls from one high school who chose Disney go together. Usually there will be several high schools that go on the same trip.
The trip’s expensive, but the party is expensive and a real production for the family. Here are the official steps:
Sesión de fotos: Before the party, the quinceñera (the girl who’s turning 15) has a photo session with her friends. These photos will be displayed in a video during the party. Many girls also make a funny video with their friends or their friends make a video for them that is shown at the party.
La misa: There is a special mass held for the girl a day or so before the party. Argentina’s pretty darn Catholic. Even if the family doesn’t go to church on Sundays, they’ll probably have a mass for their girl.
El quince: The night of the party, the girl gets her makeup and hair done.
La fiesta takes place at un sálon, a banquet hall. Guests arrive at 10 if they’re invited for dinner or 11 if they’re not, check in (if you’re not on the list, you’re out), dinner is served or it isn’t, the video is shown, then everyone hits the dance floor. There is also a table of sweets (la mesa dulce) that you can visit all night. And when I say all night, I mean it. Quinces often end at 6 a.m. The quince is a huge deal.
Sometimes families hand-make all of the decorations. The effort they put into this party is incredible. I asked my family “Is one night really worth all of this?” They said, “Is a wedding worth everything that goes into it?” Families spend as much time, energy, and money on a quince as a wedding!
Guys don’t have quinces. Their special birthday tradition happens at 18, when their friends shave their head! Yep, the birthday buzz cut is as good as it gets for the Y chromosome kids.
When you’re no longer 15 and don’t have quinces every weekend, but you’re still in high school, here’s what your Friday or Saturday night looks like:
11 p.m. you go to your friend’s house to get ready. you get dressed, do your hair and makeup.
12 a.m. previa– there’s music and people talk or dance and drink or play games and drink. it’s kind of like pregaming.
2 a.m. boliche-you leave the previa, go to a club, and dance. OR you head to someone’s dieciocho- your friend or someone that one of your friends knows or someone that a friend of a friend knows turned 18 and is now of drinking age and you go to celebrate with lots of alcohol and very loud music.
6 a.m. resaca- you head home in a cab, collapse on your bed and sleep half the following day.
If you’re me, you go through this ritual once or twice, decide you don’t like it, and make other weekend plans.
Current Fashion for teenage girls
Platform sandals or platform ankle boots; shiny polyester leggings or bell-bottoms called “oxfords”; mini-skirts; crop tops, floral boho tops; big statement necklaces.
Tango When you think of Argentina, you probably think of tango. Tango is a very Porteño thing (that is, it’s most popular in Buenos Aires), and I lived about 800 miles north of there. I rarely heard tango in Tucumán, but here’s a good one for you to listen to anyway.
Cumbia argentina This (along with reggaeton and the pop music we hear on the radio) is what young people listen to at parties and what they play at boliches. It’s a very diverse genre.
Folclore (pronounced folk-lore-ay) The folk music and dance of Argentina. I love it.
One style of Folclore, the more upbeat and celebratory, is called chacarera. This video is a compilation of many songs. Listen to a few!
This is Tucumán’s (and some say Argentina’s) unofficial anthem. It was originally sung by Atahualpa Yupanqui and popularized by Mercedes Sosa, but I like this version, which features living artists currently popular in Argentina.
Rock nacional is loved by Argentines everywhere. It’s not my favorite, though.
Cuarteto There’s a commercial in Argentina where a group of juice presses are upset because their owners have replaced them with use flavored powder (kind of like Crystal light lemonade packets). They go to a self help group to try to get over her and a Buddhist temple to find peace. Anyway, the song playing in the background is a cuarteto song telling a guy who can’t let go of his girlfriend to forget her, because she already has another love. Here’s the commercial:
These words aren’t generally used outside of Argentina.
tener fiaca- to not want to get up or do something that requires energy
(note: in Tucumán only they say “tengo paja*” or “me da paja” in place of the above expression, but anywhere else in Argentina that phrase will be interpreted quite differently so DO NOT SAY IT unless you are in Tucumán)
qué bajón- what a bummer
qué culiao*- expression of disbelief, abbreviated ql
en pelotas- naked
garco- a friend who kisses your boy- or girlfriend
perrear- shake your hips
qué macana- what a bummer
chapar- make out
garchar- to shag
chuy (only in the North) – it’s cold, i’m cold
chamuyar- sweet-talk, flirt
qué chomaso- how awful (only said in Córdoba)
qué bronca, qué embole- said when something makes you mad or annoyed
vago, tipo, pibe (Buenos Aires), guacho, guasi, chabón – boy
mina, piba (Buenos Aires), guacha- chica
machado/ en pedo- drunk
de pedo- by sheer luck
clavar al visto- read message but didn’t respond on whatsapp
estar harto/a- to be fed up with or tired of
flayar, flashear – bullshitting, lying
chuño – vomit
ponele- for example or “let’s say,” indicates a hypothetical situation
ni agancho, ni en pedo – I would never do that
escabiarse- drink alcohol or get drunk
quilombo* – a total disaster (in Portuguese it means maroon /runaway slave community)
frutilla – strawberry
piña – fist
pelotudo* – idiot
cornudo, chivo– the person being cheated on in an unfaithful relationship
mandar una cagada*- screw up
una banda, un fardo- a lot
ser ortivo, cortante- to be short with someone
bancar- to put up with someone “yo te banco,” “no la banco”
dar bola- to care about someone
mearse- to wet yourself
mechero- pickpocket, robber
pendejo*- a condescending way of referring to younger kids if you are a teenager or adult
sarpado- two different meanings: awesome or desubicado
desubicado- out of place, inappropriate
histeriquear- play with someone’s feelings/ toy with them
sinf – goes at the end of a sentence,short for “sin flayar” which is a way of confirming the veracity of your statement, i.e.”that actually happened” or “I actually think that”
la posta- the truth
*slightly vulgar expression/kind of a bad word
Just for fun
The argentine equivalent of Pig Latin is called Herringosa.
It is constructed like this:
In between every syllable, you insert the letter “p” plus the previous vowel sound and any consonants that come after it that are still part of the same syllable.
For example, to say “I like your outfit” in Spanish, “me gusta lo que tenés puesta,” you would say:
Mepe guspustapa lopo quepe tepenespes puespues tapa.
Now I will tell you how to play “I spy.” They call it “Veo veo.”
Where in English we would say,”I spy with my little eye something blue” to start the game, there is a dialogue between the two players.
P1: Veo veo (I see, I see)
P2: ¿Qué ves? (What do you see?)
P1: Una cosa (Something)
P2: ¿Qué cosa? (What thing?)
P1: Maravillosa… (Marvelous)
P2: ¿De qué color? (What color is it)
P1: [names color]
and play begins!
Differences I haven’t covered yet
Families there tend to be larger. When people asked me if I had any siblings and I said “a 14-year-old brother” they’d look at me in surprise and say “that’s it?”
Eating disorders are much more of a problem. 37% of Argentine teen girls suffer from eating disorders, while only 3.8% of American girls. That’s 10 times as many!
Argentina has a more collectivist culture while the United States has a more individualist culture.
Bidet: Apparently after going potty, you need an undercarriage wash. In case you’re wondering, the little towel you will see on the floor of an Argentine bathroom is NOT for stepping on after you get out of the shower, it is for drying off post-bidet. Also in case you’re wondering, the bidet was not a custom I picked up while in Argentina. I stuck to toilet paper.
The population of Argentina is highly concentrated in cities. (10% of Argentinians live in the country, while 20% of Americans do.)
There is much higher teen alcohol consumption and tobacco use.
Abortion is always illegal- no exceptions.
Tampons sold there don’t have applicators.
Contraception is available free of charge at all public health centers.
WARNING: Public bathrooms do not usually have toilet paper. I advise you to keep some on your person.
Argentina is officially 90% catholic, but most are not practicing Catholics.
There are places you can drop off items for recycling, but it is not collected from most homes or businesses.
They see the world as having 6 continents (North America and South America are not separate).