There are many joys to marrying an Argentine: the sexual adventurousness, the ability to look great in just a tanktop and flip-flops, the beautiful long hair … and that’s just the men! (Honk!) Yes, you can’t beat an Argentine for a perfect spouse. I mean, such major international stars as James Hetfield, Al Pacino and Michael Bublé can’t be wrong, can they? (OK, so that record Metallica made with Lou Reed was a mistake, Pacino shouldn’t have agreed to the third Godfather film, and Michael Bublé, well…)
(Te aburre leer en ingles, ¿no? Leelo en castellano acá)
Whether you marry an Argentine or not, you need only casually date one for six months or so before you are linguistically, if not legally, allowed to start referring to their parents as your suegros, or ‘in-laws’. In fact, tell an Argentine you’re married and they’ll often ask whether you’re “casado con papeles” (i.e. married) or just going around pretending to be married to the person you live with.
Having experienced the love of two very real Argentine wives, two suegras and three suegros, there is no one better-placed than me to write about Argentine in-laws. Unless you know someone who’s married three Argentines, and I wouldn’t trust their wisdom.
Here’s all you need to know for that fateful day when you meet the suegros:
You Are Now a Child
So you left your parents’ home over a decade ago, achieved financial independence a year ago (daddy paying for flights home doesn’t count), and have carved out a successful career reading Facebook in your pyjamas and occasionally working. You think you’re pretty mature, mostly because when your dad was your age he had three kids and a mortgage, and a mid-life crisis. But it turns out that the girlfriend you thought was a sophisticated, independent, sexy career woman is, in your suegro’s eyes, a 12-year-old virgin princess.
So while she slips on the whitest of cotton socks and cuddles up with daddy, you slip a disc sleeping in the world’s smallest single bed. And your giddily wide-eyed announcement that you’re moving in together –unmarried!- after just a year of courting, causes the biggest family scandal since Juliet Capulet announced that she fancied a bit of Montague meat. Which leads us nicely on to…
Easily the number one attraction in bagging an Argentine, aside from the obvious, is the free access this gives you to juicy asados prepared by the county’s greatest asador, with 40 years at the helm of a huge brick grill he built with his bare hands. Plus the kind of mama’s ravioli you just can’t get at Coto. Granted, on longer stays you will eventually be served a large pile of instant mash and three-day-old vacío, but you learn to take the rough with the smooth, not to mention with roughage and smoothies, if you’re ever going to have a bowel movement before you get back to the capital.
As the chorizos sizzle, you can expect your suegros to treat you as if you’ve just arrived in the country, regaling you with useful facts like: “Chorizo is a kind of sausage,” and “In this country, we have all the climates,” and “Malbec is an Argentine wine”. Which leads us nicely on to…
While everyone back home was agreeing that they should all give up smoking and then frown on it hypocritically while continuing to chug back cheap wine and microbrew beers and pretending they’re so ‘European’, Argentina went in the opposite direction. By all means sip your father-in-law’s Carcassonne while he tells you it’s a fine wine, but you’d be wise to save your bigger binges for Palermo, viejo, unless you want your suegra to worriedly compare you to old Uncle Alberto – God rest his pickled liver – and start hiding the whisky whenever you visit. (Pssst! It’s under the sink, behind the bleach). On the plus side there’s always…
Never try to give up smoking if you’re due to see your in-laws any time soon. My own mother-in-law is a great whisky-drinking, Marlboro-smoking beast of woman who covers the graphic health warnings on cigarette packs with masking tape so that her children might continue smoking unperturbed. She is a good woman. The cigarette companies should use her for advertising. Such a lovely, chatty lady, no man can resist cadging one of her Marlboro reds and joining in the conversation. And that’s not all she shares with you…
A Panoply of Prescription Medicines
Perhaps it is because every Argentine you know under 30 is currently engaged in a university degree course so long you would expect to emerge from it with at least a generously-remunerated head surgeon position. But somewhere along the line every Argentine suegra has acquired in-depth medical expertise and is familiar with every prescription medicine known to mankind. You will find a stockpile of the most useful ones in her First Aid trunk, the bathroom cabinet having given up on storing such a vast supply two decades ago. I recommend the Valium and the Alplax. Oh, momma, we be sailing…
It is highly likely that your unassuming, lower-middle class in-laws happen to own a 30-foot sailing boat and/or a second house in the country, and if they don’t I firmly suggest you have serious thoughts about this relationship. But before you do, don’t forget about the DIYS…
Let’s face it: with your wispy beard, unironed clothes, and “actually, I’m working on a screenplay” face-palm moment, you were never going to get on the good side of your proudly-moustachioed, shirted-and-tied, up-at-6am-on-a-Sunday suegro. But he loves his daughter and to appease his wife he’ll reluctantly drive a 400-mile round trip to put up three shelves in your flat, as long as you buy the wall plugs. That’s “tarugos” in Spanish, for whenever you manage to locate a ferretería (a shop selling hardware, not ferrets, alas) in Palermo Viejo. You can now either quit while you’re ahead, or it’s…
Picture yourself in the back of a sweaty Renault with malfunctioning air-con, with two other grown adults and your own crying baby, your knees bunched up behind your suegra and her chamamé CD, as your suegro manages to take the wrong turning on the way to a beach resort he’s visited every year for the last two decades, while you curse yourself for being such a hipster-doofus that you never bought a car ‘cos, like, you can always get a colectivo, man’. Now picture yourself doing that with these wonderful people every scorching 1st January for the next twenty years. Admit it. Te encanta.
Daniel Tunnard’s over-hyped book Colectivaizeishon, about taking all the buses in Buenos Aires, is out with Reservoir Books (Random House Mondadori) in September 2013. He’s dedicated it to his suegros, the big sock-sucker.
You can see Daniel performing with the suegra-loving Francesca Fiorentini plus happily unmarried Argentine comics Félix Buenaventura and Ana Carolina at Gringo Standup, every Tuesday at Café Rivas, San Telmo.