Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Those Sociable, Friendly Argentinians

Finally we have objective proof that Argentines are the most sociable folks in the world.

Well, at any rate, they have more contacts listed in their Plaxo email address book than other nationals, according to a recent survey by the “smart address book” company. Argentina led the “Connected Index” with an average of 479 contacts per address book, nearly 100 more than second-place Australia. The US, tied in 29th place with the Dominican Republic, trailed with a mere 293 contacts.

Frankly, I wasn’t surprised. This has always seemed to me to be a country of friends. Sure, family ties matter too, but the role of friends here seems more central than in the US. Folks know how to make them and keep them!

In fact, the extraverted nature of so many here helped induce me to immigrate. No longer is it up to me to start or keep a conversation going—everyone from green grocers and dress shop owners to waiters and bus seatmates cheerfully chat me up. It does take time of course to develop deep friendships, but at least making contacts is as easy as leaving the house. Most folks are simply warm and welcoming.

This weekend Roberto took me to the beach resort of Pinamar, where the small hotel owners, their niece, and her husband feted me with a rousing chorus of “Feliz Cumpleaños” and savored the best chocolate cake I’ve had since my birthday in Seattle in 1991. Granny and Mom encouraged the apple-cheeked one-year-old with his fudge-frosted grin to pose for my camera. The socialization to be sociable begins early!

While I continue to mull over the origins, meanings, and implications of this intense sociability, I continue to be amazed at its manifestations in so many dimensions of life--in communications, dining, urban design, vacation choices, and even in burial practices.

Folks are just more “groupy” here. I receive a higher percentage of group emails (those sentimental power point presentations, for example) from my Argentine contacts than my North American friends. Romantic dinners for two seem less common than gaggles of friends for coffee or asado. A small intimate wedding would be a surprise if not an insult to the hundreds who were hoping to gather to celebrate for hours. Grown men (including my husband) actually get together weekly in stable, long-term friendship groups to fix dinner or dine out—definitely a cultural practice worth exporting! All in all, Argentinians invest time and energy in their friendships.

North Americans would be astounded to see that few residents choose to live outside dense city centers, where you can be sure to bump into lots of those contacts on a daily basis. How can I recognize a vacation spot here? It will have at least 27 high-rise apartment buildings (generally ugly) and countless discos and restaurants.

Peace is not solitude, but togetherness--even after death. While I have seen some graveyards with individual tombs, I have found more mausoleums here, as in the famous Recoleta Cemetery. In the San Nicolas Cemetery, for example, the French Argentine Society’s “pantheon” boasts three stories of caskets stacked five high, allowing 500 members a final resting place among family and friends. (Note that just about equals the number of contacts the average Argentinian Plaxo user reported.)

“El Día del Amigo,” or “Friends Day,” is bigger than Valentine’s Day, which is an imported holiday anyway. (It intrigues me that the chosen date marks the anniversary of the US moon landing, “because it made the world seem smaller,” someone here explained. Why doesn’t the US celebrate it?)

Without a doubt, one of the hardest things for an immigrant is abandoning regular contact with long-term friends and associates. Research shows the importance of such social networks for happiness and resilience. While three years still has not been enough time for me to re-establish truly deep ties, I do find comfort in the pleasant social contacts that are commonplace here. Only time will tell if these deepen into lifelong intimate friendships. At least there is hope as I am already one of those 479 Plaxo contacts for several Argentinians!

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