Now that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, in her eternal wisdom, has effectively locked the doors so that no one can travel abroad ever again, it’s become the patriotic thing to pack up your alpargatas and go on holiday in Argentina. Nothing wrong with a bit of patriotism now and again. At Casa Tunnard we always celebrate ‘Día de la Soberanía’ (look it up) by inviting round a French neighbour and trying to sail up my Argentine wife’s internal waterways while she beats us back with chains, until Frenchie and I give up and gallivant off to carve up the Guyanas.
Yes, patriotism’s all the rage this summer, and even if you find it hard to feel patriotic about a country that you’ve only lived in for a couple of years and to which you have an at-best passing commitment, think of it as a way to give something back. It’s not like you pay taxes, is it?
Anyway, here are a few things to expect when veraneando with the Argentines:
Tossing a light sweater over your manly shoulders.
An integral part of any Argentine holiday. Buenos Aires in the summer is an intolerable hell-hole of suffocating humidity, so Argentine men venture to the kind of climes where it’s sunny by day, but a bit fresco by night. This allows them to walk around at all times with yellow knitwear draped over their virile shoulders, nicely matching with that sky blue polo shirt. Traditionally, Argentines would go to Mar del Plata just to buy sweaters and have their photo taken with a concrete sea lion; it wasn’t until the second Perón administration that people started lying on the beach for interminable periods. Which leads us nicely to:
If you are an Argentine woman, and I know many of you secretly wish you were, you can expect to spend at least 50% of your fortnight trip on a quest for that most sought-after summer accessory: the tan. Only in Argentina are the words “me quemé” (I’m burned) uttered with such joy. Skin cancer is considered an affliction of pasty Australians, and hardly a concern for anyone whose family includes at least three men nicknamed “el Negro”.
If you are unlucky enough to be a man going on holiday with an Argentine woman, you’re in for a very boring time. You may like to liven up endless days at the beach by abducting small children and abandoning them in a crowded part of the beach. When missing children are found, everyone nearby starts applauding, and distracted parents anxiously check to see if they are missing something. Soon, the child’s mother will come running to find her brood, while you marvel at this wonderful display of Argentine solidarity. See how many kids you can abduct without getting caught (watch out for the biters)!
If you are unlucky enough to be a woman holidaying in Argentina, you will spend every daylight hour of your holidays lying flat out in the sunshine, pausing only for the chance to show a passing news crew your arse. Which leads us nicely on to:
While you regularly share with porteños the joys of large plates of meat, bulky pasta, and starchy facturas, in private you will frequently supplement this with bran-based breakfasts, meat-free lunches and, God forbid, pulses. Well you can kiss goodbye to peristalsis as you enjoy a holiday fortnight of meat, starch, and cheese. You will be eating exactly what porteños eat, and the hotel where you’re staying will be serving an Argentine breakfast of weak coffee and medialunas. Don’t even think about asking for eggs. They’ll stare at you blankly as if you were speaking a foreign language. In fact, you are! Which leads us nicely to:
Argentines (not quite) abroad
As much as the prospect of a holiday in the same country where you live and work might strike fear and despair into your very core, for many Argentines this is the most natural thing to do. Many Argentines make it a point of pride to go to exactly the same place year after year. Rather like Americans, many Argentines consider anything foreign with an ingrained suspicion, and find great comfort to be taken in holidaying in a place that has exactly the same television, language, and food as back home. And you can be sure the food is exactly the same. This is not like travelling in Italy or France, where the cuisine changes dramatically from one region to the next. Fuck, no. There might be a bit of goat here, or the empanadas might be filled differently there, but basically it’s the same menu in the 5,000 kilometres from Ushuaia to La Quiaca. Which leads us nicely on to:
It is the unspoken dream of some 5% of porteños to just dash it all and go and live on the coast or in the mountains. For many of those stupid enough to go through with the plan, this invariably means making their own jam and selling it to tourists. No Argentine holiday would be complete without a wander around some hippie’s shop, admiring all the names of the different fruits that you didn’t even know existed and which have now been turned into jam for your benefit. Sadly, these people’s businesses are doomed to fail, for the simple reason that no one really eats that much jam. My personal jam consumption for the last tax year amounted to three tablespoons, and that was only because if you travel by coach in this country they give you a tub of jam that they expect you to spread on three complimentary crackers on a moving bus. And an alfajor. Which leads us nicely on to:
The highlight of many Argentines’ holidays, do be sure to buy a box of these to share back in Buenos Aires with your Argentine colleagues. The women will coo and swoon, while the men will excitedly fight over them like schoolboys, as if you had given them Toblerones or something nice. And then the awful realisation will finally dawn on you that you’re not really one of them and never will be, and that next year you’ll be doing like me and other Anglophone poets Martin Amis and James Hetfield from Metallica, and spending your holidays in Uruguay.
Wherever you do end up on holiday, wear your seatbelt, try not to complain too much, and do remember at all times: at least you’re not on holiday in England.
Daniel’s new book ‘Colectivaizeishon, el ingles que tomó todos los colectivo de Buenos Aires’ comes out on Random House Mondadori in 2013. Details at www.danieltunnard.com