Argentines have a dramatic disposition. Witness the spontaneous street protests where neighbors spill out on the street to bang pots and pans, usually prompted by an electricity cut or burglary. A football game can be communal chaos. The deafening chanting amid rocket flares and mammoth banners covering huge crowds watched by heavily armed riot police is at once terrifying and electrifying. Or sit back in any cafe and watch the exaggerated gesticulations of the patrons who have been there since 8am complaining about the politicians, the heat, and the crime, and then gushing over the photos of the adorable newborn nephew. Everything is animated, including the exaggerated greetings and farewells when everybody rises to cheek kiss and hug, including the men. Argentines are a gregarious bunch, and they would rather sit around until 4am with friends and drink mate tea than sit in silence in front of a TV. It is therefore not surprising that the most popular TV programs are chat shows.

The country's psyche is somewhat schizophrenic. Deep pride is counterbalanced by strong self-doubt. Famous on the rest of the continent for being arrogant and self-confident, Argentina's brashness was somewhat sullied after the economic crisis in 2001. An identity crisis ensued where a period of navel gazing saw the nation's intellectuals wondering whether they were First World or Third World. Argentines will freely criticize the politicians they keep electing or the system they keep supporting but soon switch to the defensive if a foreigner offers a negative opinion. Such contradictions are evident in their attitude to the British. Argentines act aggrieved regarding the Las Malvinas defeat, triumphant regarding football victories, and fawning regarding British culture, with ubiquitous pop on every radio station and the middle class dropping English phrases at every opportunity.

Of course it is dangerous to generalize a whole race of people, especially when their characteristics differ greatly depending on class and location. The usual capital and provincial rivalry exists here just as anywhere else. Perhaps in Argentina it is a little more pronounced as Buenos Aires is overpopulated and the vast countryside underpopulated. Those from the provinces regard Porteños as loud, brash, and untrustworthy. The capital dwellers feel less strongly about their country cousins; but whatever opinion they have, it is usually twinged with disdain and condescension. What they all have in common is love of family, food, and football; pride in their country's natural beauty; disregard for watches and all known timepieces; and utter contempt for taxes. The famous footballer Maradona illustrates Argentina perfectly. Despite his many faults, he is like his country, loved by everybody.


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