A Note on Friendship

In honor of Friendship Day here in Argentina, I decided to dedicate a mini post to the topic, noting subtle differences I’ve found in respect to friendship values and customs that have stuck out to me. As a disclaimer, I know it’s not recommendable to make overarching generalizations, so take this post with a grain of salt, as they are my own personal perceptions and not anything set in stone.

From the moment I arrived, I’ve made a countless number of friends, something admittedly more difficult for a self-proclaimed introvert than for those outgoing extroverts. As a whole, I’ve observed that people tend to be more welcoming in their attitude than they are in Northern countries like the U.S. Once again, this is my opinion! It all depends on the individual of course, but as a culture I’ve seen a trend.

It’s easy to notice this hospitable conduct from their body language. For example, the “kiss” greeting I’ve gone on about is a manifestation of such relationship values. In drawing someone so close into your personal space like that and initiating friendly physical contact, you are saying, “I care about you”. There are many other non-linguistic ways Argentines express this idea as well, such as the way they move in close to speak to you. Their “personal bubble” is comparatively smaller to northerners like myself and I’ve found myself subtly backing away as my friend takes another step closer to continue the conversation.

(Okay, not THAT much, but I love a good Seinfeld reference!)

One can interpret this proximity as expressing, “I care about what you have to say.”

Outside cultures may see this nearness as brash, forward, bold. However, that perception is only in comparison to their own culture. Looking at such behaviors objectively let’s you see that it’s not too anything. It’s just they way they are.

Another curious phenomenon I’ve seen is that at social gatherings, people will make every effort to include as many people as possible by forming a circle in whatever space they are occupying. For example at a boliche when everyone in the group is dancing, party attenders will shuffle themselves around to make space for others and rearrange themselves to form a big circle. I’ve seen this at small parties and gatherings as well. Of course conversations gradually drift off into smaller circles now and then, but for the most part it is very “large-group” focused. Rather than clustering into small, exclusive groups the entire time, a circle is the default formation.

In fact, the general body language people give off and willingness to touch more has made me speculate. Numerous studies have shown that physical contact makes people healthier, lowering cortisol levels and decreasing stress. Dr. Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology from the University of Berkeley, even stated “Regrettably, though, some Western cultures are pretty touch-deprived, and this is especially true of the United States”, in an article he wrote discussing the importance of touch.  Now I can see why they do it!

(Source here…GREAT read: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/hands_on_research)

http://static1.squarespace.com/static/52ab3787e4b0324b1f620686/t/551d5164e4b076461233b7cc/1427984742479/personal+affectio

Even the act of sharing a hot round of mate is enough to show that Argentines are serious about friendship. Sitting together in a circle, everyone tells stories, catches up, gives advice, and listens to each other. All the while, they are sipping from the same straw, a big “no-no” in Western cultures. God forbid we share germs! I see this act of sharing as saying, “I care about your needs and wants”.

Another behavior I couldn’t help but notice was how genuine people are here. They are brutally honest, unlike how we avoid telling to the truth to friends because we don’t want to hurt their feelings. Here, there’s less of a censor, so to speak. If you’re looking a little gortita, your friends will let you know. If those plataformas simply aren’t your style, someone will speak up. Argentines are very genuine in that aspect!

In fact, they rarely say things they don’t mean. How often have you heard from a long-lost friend or an acquaintance, “Hey, we should totally meet up for coffee or something sometime!”, then you never hear from them again. We all have. We’ve all been guilty of saying that and not fulfilling our promise, too. One general trend I’ve noticed is that when Argentines say they want to meet up for mate or coffee, or go catch that movie, they actually mean it.

I’ve asked around about this to get a better idea because perhaps I’ve just made really good friends here. I’ve gotten mixed opinions. Some people will say that a set of friends will have great aspirations for meeting up, but will blow it off at the last minute. I’ve also heard of some flaky friends. So…it all goes back to the individual personality. I would say though, on the whole, 70% of my Argentine friends hold up to their word when they say they want to meet up. That number is still higher than my friends back at home.

I’m going to avoid rambling on into a mile-long post about trifling matters by simply ending the post on this note: In Argentina, I feel more included in events and appreciated as a person. I credit that majorly to how people here see friendship, value it, and foster it. When I speak, they listen—which unfortunately isn’t something to which I’m accustomed. I think we can all learn something here about our own friendships because Argentine’s are surely onto something. Include more. Share more. Listen more. Let’s all change how we think about friendship and just be better friends. Let’s start with ourselves.

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