Argentine Culture

Core Concepts

Primary Author
Chara Scroope,
  • Pride
  • Solidarity
  • Perseverance
  • Honour

The eighth largest country in the world, Argentina, is located in South America, encompassing most of the southern part of the continent. The country is filled with diverse landscapes such as plains, forests, deserts, mountains and thousands of kilometres of ocean shoreline. Argentine culture is a blend of European customs and and indigenous traditions. Argentines are quite proud of their nation and its blended heritage as well as their ability to rise above adversity. They are also proud of their talents in many fields. For example, Argentina has produced five Nobel Laureates in the fields of Peace, Chemistry, and Medicine along with various creators in the arts. Although Argentines tend to be more than their counterparts in neighbouring countries, family networks and support continue to be a core part of Argentine society.

Geography and Space

Argentina can be grouped geographically into four main regions: the Andes, the North, the Pampas and Patagonia. However, the geographic distinction that Argentines are most aware of is between rural and urban areas. The vast majority of the country lives in urban areas of the country (approximately 92% as of 2017), and about one-third of the population lives in the Greater Buenos Aires region, located in the Pampas.

The urban-rural distinction is primarily between those in the rural interior (provincias del interior) and those along the urban coast – the ‘bonaerenses’ (the broader province of Buenos Aires). More specifically, the term ‘porteños' refers to the ‘people of the port' or those who are from the capital Buenos Aires. These divisions between the rural and urban population have become an ongoing topic of debate in Argentine politics. Many residents of rural areas have developed a sense of resentment towards the wealth, political power and proud demeanour of the porteños. At the same time, some porteños look upon those who reside in the rural interior as impoverished. However, rural people often take pride in the management of daily life among friends and neighbours. Indeed, those from rural areas usually desire to make a visitor’s stay enjoyable and pleasant. This sense of warmth and hospitality is also found among porteños.

Although modernisation in transport and industry has reduced regional differences, it is still common for people’s home regions to play a key role in their outlook and self-image. For instance, those from urban areas tend to be more cosmopolitan and informal. Many urbanites are proud of their European heritage, and some may consider themselves superior to their rural counterparts. By contrast, Argentines residing in rural parts of the country tend to be more conservative and traditional and will often communicate formally.

Colonisation and Ethnic Composition

The country has been heavily influenced by Spanish that began in the 16th century. Argentina declared independence in 1816 after almost 300 years of rule. Thereafter, many Argentine nationalists were instrumental to independence movements throughout the continent. Although the country has been independent for over 200 years, the impact on the makeup, religious landscape and culture of Argentine society remains visible. For example, the Spanish introduced Roman Catholicism to the country, and it is still the dominant religion of Argentina.

A wave of European migration between the mid-1800s and early 1900s also had a massive impact on the composition of the country. The vast majority of migrants came from Italy and Spain. Italian migrants had a notable influence on Argentine culture. There were also smaller numbers of migrants from France, Poland, Germany, Russia and Britain. Today, approximately 97.2% of Argentina’s population have an connection to Europe.

Spanish is the national language of Argentina, yet the local language has absorbed many words from Italian. There are also a variety of accents associated with each region. One distinctive accent is the porteño accent, found in Buenos Aires. This accent has influences from Italian, and it incorporates slang expressions known as ‘lunfardo’.

Political Changes of the 20th Century

A political and social movement known as Justicialism or Perónism emerged in Argentina when  Juan Perón became president of the country in 1946. Motivated by ideas of social justice, economic independence and political sovereignty, Perón implemented a series of reforms in the financial and labour sectors in Argentina. Perónism had a vast influence on Argentine politics, which is still present. The movement eventually led to a severe downturn in the country's economy and Perón was sent into exile in 1955. Perón returned in 1973 and was successful in his bid to become president of Argentina again.

Simultaneously, the late 1960s and early 1970s of Argentine history were marked by pervasive anti-government sentiments and riots throughout the country. The death of Perón in  mid-1974 led to further fragmentation of the society. Argentina was ruled by right-wing military and security forces from 1976 to 1983. Some Argentines refer to this period as the ‘Guerra Sucia' (‘Dirty War') while others prefer to call it ‘La Dictadura’ (‘The Dictatorship’). Argentines who call it the ‘Guerra Sucia’ tend to be those who supported the military rule. On the other hand, people who refer to the era as  ‘La Dictadura’ view the military rule as an abuse of power. During this period, people who were suspected of being left-aligned or part of left-wing guerrilla groups that emerged in the early 1960s were targeted by the military and were arrested, tortured, raped and killed. Human-rights groups estimate that during this time, approximately 30,000 people were abducted, detained and killed, many of whom had no association with left-wing guerrilla or activist groups.

Since the era of Perón and the last dictatorship, Argentina has gone through numerous political changes and upheavals, such as entering a war with Great Britain over the Falkland Islands, the restoration of and massive changes to the country’s economy. This tumultuous political history has deeply affected many Argentines, resulting in a cultural tendency to avoid uncertainty and ambiguity. Indeed, many approach life one day at a time. When making decisions, they tend to draw on lessons from the past and focus on the present context. Argentines also tend to communicate indirectly and avoid conflict in their day-to-day lives. This can be partly attributed to the desire for peaceful relationships after such a turbulent history. However, at the same time, Argentines have learnt the importance of dissent and political activism. Many are willing to voice their concerns through participation in protests and public demonstrations. For the most part, these forms of resistance have remained peaceful.

Argentine Identity

For many Argentines, national and cultural identity is a complex matter. For some, the national identity of Argentina is a blend of indigenous and Spanish traditions that were dramatically altered by European migrants and globalisation. One example is the ‘gauchos’ who continue to be a common icon of Argentine identity. They were herdsmen that tended cattle in the Pampas regions during the 18th and 19th century. Gauchos wore distinctive clothing that consisted of a wide-brimmed hat, a poncho and loose trousers. For many, they represent the blending of European and indigenous ancestry, which helped create a new cultural identity. 

For others, Argentine identity is rooted in the Catholic and Spanish heritage of the country. Indeed, one of the population’s defining features is that most people have European ancestry. This European heritage is often a source of pride and a key factor influencing the way many Argentines see themselves. Outside of Buenos Aires and other urban centres, however, the European influence is less pronounced. 

Today, Argentines identify less with Europe than they did during the rule of Perón and the military. For the most part, families that have been in the country for more than one generation identify themselves as Argentine. In turn, there is little tension between different migrant groups as many feel they share the commonality of being Argentinian. Pride in Argentina is often accentuated when comparisons are made to other South American countries such as Chile or Brazil. Argentines often identify their population’s dominant European heritage as the feature that distinguishes them from the rest of South America.

Social Stratification

Throughout most of the 20th century, Argentina had a large middle-class, many of whom were descendants of immigrants who settled in cities and worked in the industrial, commercial and public sectors. However, in recent times, distribution of resources and finances has become less equitable. The gap is widening between those in the higher classes of society and those in the lower classes. This is visible in housing situations across the country; many upper-class families live in enclosed private neighbourhoods. Meanwhile, those who cannot afford proper housing tend to live in ‘villa miseria’ (shanty towns) found on the outskirts of cities.

Financial security and home ownership are important to many Argentines and have become common indicators of socioeconomic status. One’s level of education also tends to reflect differences in class. In large cities, the typical family saves for many years in order to purchase an apartment or house. Many seek to improve their socioeconomic status and provide a better future for their children. However, some Argentines are growing worried that this goal is becoming less viable as the country’s economic situation worsens. In turn, it is not uncommon to find young professionals migrating abroad in search of better employment opportunities.

Solidarity and Individualism

The turbulent political landscape has engendered a sense of solidarity among many middle-class families over the years. Indeed, many families and neighbours are willing to help one another during times of economic hardship through sharing food or exchanging gifts. One example is the concept of ‘la gauchada’, which refers to a special favour. It reflects the attitude one has when asking someone close to them to help with something outside their typical duties (for example, helping someone find a job). Indeed, it is common for people to depend on their social network to assist in seeking opportunities. This is reflected in the term ‘palanca’ (‘leverage’), which refers to knowing the right people to help you reach a goal.

Argentines are generally friendly and hospitable to those they meet. Although many Argentines are focused on building strong communities, a strain of is also prevalent in the country. According to Hofstede Insights (2018), Argentina is classified as the most country. Collective accomplishments or failures are not usually recognised as such but rather seen as the efforts of a few individuals who will be given most of the credit or blame. Moreover, some Argentines may place themselves or their family before the wider community or country.

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