Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Mientras que milanesas...

.. y panqueques NO lo son!

And neither is the wolf-whistle!
(Btw, what do you call the wolf-whistle in castellano? I´ve never heard it named in Argentina, just whistled:)
All these things, and more, I have heard Argentines believe to be of their own invention, typical and unique to their culture. And they were mighty surprised when told that, ehm, the wolf-whistle IS a pretty common and internationally intelligible way of expressing appreciation for a woman´s looks, they DO have panqueques in France, because they, ehm, actually invented them in Brittany, and milanesas? well, what do they sound like to you? No matter whether you call them cotolette alla milanese, or Wiener Schnitzel - because yes, that´s where the Italians got the idea from, Milan being very close to the Austrian empire, and then took this way of cooking meat overseas to Argentina, see?
It all came back to me when reflecting on the almost irrational pride in their country displayed by many Argentines. There are some cultures like that. I know a couple from quite close, so I can understand it very well. Then there are cultures that consider such a stance ridiculous, if not inappropriate; there are countries where nationalism is considered almost a swear word, and often for good reasons.. it is obviously a cultural matter that might not have a rational explanation, although I think this ferocious pride and conviction that one´s country is the best in the world is more often than not seen in immigrant cultures, which, I suppose, might feel a greater need to assert their traditions and history (or lack of thereof?).
Aaaaaaaaaanyway, forget about my amateur attemps at sociology.. and think: what is the biggest compliment you have ever got from an Argentine?
When I was in Buenos Aires, I was often told that I looked like a porteña, and judging from the way people behaved towards me, it was probably true. I didn´t really pay any attention to it, because I know I happen to have a faculty of blending in which can confuse most observers - it is a talent developed in my childhood which has now become an instinctive reflex. Besides, being a mixture of the north and the south, with my brown hair, pale skin and green eyes I can usually pass unnoticed (in the good sense of the word;) in most (European) countries, the extreme south and Scandinavia excluded, I guess (in Argentina it was only just in Buenos Aires that I didn´t stick out; I had the most marvellous experience in Salta... but that is another story:)
But, to get back to my point, I was once in La Viruta, dancing on a packed dancefloor (and you know how it is when the dancefloor is packed in La Viruta, it isn´t exactly Niño Bien), and on our way back to the table, my partner said, with a hint of disgust in his voice -
´Hay muchos extranjeros en la pista, no?´
This happens; people will sometimes criticise foreigners in front of me, apparently forgetting that I am a foreigner myself.. I reckon it is flattering, in a way, but I still find such situations somewhat embarassing.
So I smirked, and said
´Si, y estas bailando con una de ellos.´
He didn´t hesitate for a moment (I like this about Argentines:) and with a wide smile and a deep conviction in his voice he said -
´Noooo, vos no sos extranjera, vos sos argentina!´
Another example: at an international tango event, people from all over the world, we were talking about who was from where, guessing, looking for a common language to communicate in, when an acquaintance pointed at me, jokingly -
´So, where does she look like she´s from?´ (It usually proves a tough one to guess.)
And Andrea, putting her hand around my shoulders and saying, in a matter-of-course way -
´Ella? Ella parece argentina. Si, parece porteña.´
Andrea, of course, knows full well where I am from.
Of course I am not Argentine. I might look like a porteña. Or not.
But you see, that´s not the point. Because, I realized, in both cases, the assertion of my argentinidad wasn´t so much about my looks, my castellano, or even my ability to dance tango. No no no.
It was a mark of affection. Like saying ´She´s ours.´
And that felt so good.
Mind you, not that I wouldn´t want to be Argentine:) when it comes to that, there´s plenty of things in the Argentine culture that suit my nature de maravilla - like, boy, was it tough coming back to Europe and having people reproach you for arriving 15 minutes late, when back in Buenos Aires you could take your time, no stress, arrive whenever you arrive, and no problem, not even a glance at the watch.. aaaah, Argentina...:)))

1 comment:

Tina said...

Ok I'm finally getting around to commenting!
Being from an immigrant country myself I thought I'd chime in, regarding the first part of your entry. :-)

What you perceive in this entry as a country asserting that it's the best in the world, etc., is... well it's just not that (in this case).

Since this is a country made up of immigrants, with a much shorter recorded history than Europe, naturally you are bound see all kinds of contributions from different places. The architecture reminiscent of several European cities, the Italian influence on some of the cuisine ("milanesa", helado, etc..), the English names of some of the streets. Etc.

To you it looks like what it is - an immigrant country that has stuff from other countries.

But consider for a minute that the people in Argentina are not European - They are Argentinean, plain and simple, and not all of them have spent large amounts of time in Europe, regardless of their families coming from there just a couple of generations ago.

The things you see here as European (and yes they are, in origin), are the exact same things that I call aspects of Argentinean culture.

Yes, they come from other places, and yes it is indeed wonderful and interesting to learn about their origins (I love finding out where things are from), but they are also things that make up a national identity. They are things that people associate with their own country because that's what they know.

Maybe Buenos Aires has 'panqueques' from Brittany and ice cream from Italy but these are all just small qualities that makes Buenos Aires not European, but Argentinean.

Being from the United States I can think of lots of things that are certainly not American creations - but that we absolutely associate with our country. Aspects of our national identity. And please pardon me for having this all be about food.

Take apple pie for example, which of course isn't an American creation, it can easily be traced to Europe - but culturally we see it as American as can be. It's part of our culture. (ever heard the expression, "as American as apple pie"?)
Peanut butter isn't really American either - a few other countries use peanut paste in their cooking, and have done so long before we US folks got so deep into peanut butter. But we still see it as a part of who we are - peanut butter is American - even if it's sort of not.

In the same regard, while medialunas can so obviously be traced to Europe (criossants anyone?), they are an important aspect of Argentinean cafe culture. And yes I know, the cafe culture didn't "start" here either but damn it, it's as Argentinean as can be.

The thing about immigrant countries is that we derive our identity from the contributions of... well, immigrants. Immigrants who didn't come to the US or Argentina to keep being European, but who came to be American or Argentinean. Everything that came from the old world into the new world, became part of the new world.

It's just how it works. :-)

I may have to blog about this later...