Getting up close and personal with strangers in Argentina isn’t difficult. In fact, finding yourself at a rather intimate distance from Argentines is hard to avoid. You’ll inevitably end up pressed against someone’s armpit in a lift, or uncomfortably close to other passengers on the metro in Buenos Aires. Punters at the market physically jostle for attention rather than form any kind of orderly queue.
And it’s not just strangers. Argentines meet their friends, family and even new acquaintances with a hug and a kiss; anything else is considered rude. Even doctors greet their patients with a warm embrace.
Now Argentina’s disregard for personal space is backed up by science. A recent study has revealed Argentina as the country where people require the least amount of personal space. Researchers surveyed 9,000 people across 42 countries, and concluded that Argentines in general stand 2.5 feet away from strangers – much less than any other country. (Romanians require the most personal space).
“Argentines are very touchy,” tango teacher Alejandro Gée tells me when we meet at his charming old dance studio in Buenos Aires. “We say hi with a kiss, we hug all the time. When you’re talking, you’re touching – it’s very common.”
Gée specialises in milonguero, a style of close-embrace tango. “Two people are dancing very close, sharing a space; it’s not an individual dance. It’s very communicative. Tango is Argentinian and it’s very much an expression of this culture.” His experiences reflect the study’s conclusion. “Here there’s not much personal space – actually there’s almost too little personal space, people can be all over you!”
The tango expert sees this most clearly when he teaches students from other countries. “When someone comes from a different culture where they’re not used to touching, and they come into tango, usually their first reaction is to freeze. They think, ‘that’s too close for me’. I mean even when it’s between a husband and wife – it’s not just people who don’t know each other. So the first thing [to do] is to break that barrier.”
Tango dancer Naomi Hotta has had a similar experience. “For example, in the US one of the first things you always end up teaching is ‘relax, take the tension off your shoulders’. People are not used to embracing somebody so they do tend to get nervous. Here, when I taught a beginner Argentinian guy, he had no problem whatsoever embracing. I realised then that it is part of the culture, it comes more naturally for these people who tend to be more close to each other.”
“In places where you think you’d keep space, people are OK having physical contact,” she adds. “You meet someone for the first time and give them a peck on the cheek. People in stores and restaurants are friendly.”
“Tango is definitely part of the culture – it comes naturally from a culture where you embrace people, it’s social. It’s not about the form of the dance. In other countries it’s a dance where it’s physical or sports-related, but here it’s more culture. Both the man and woman engage in the dance, they connect, they’re embracing each other.”
Gée has also felt the contrast in personal space preferences when he travels. “When I went to my first party in the US, no one said hello. It’s like you don’t exist. Then maybe an hour later someone comes over and says, ‘hey what’s up’. For an hour this person didn’t acknowledge your presence. So I was shocked until I learned that it was a cultural thing. When you’re at a party in Argentina, you go and say hi to everyone and kiss them, even if you don’t know them. You can’t just sit down, people would think it’s rude or that you don’t want to talk.”
See the original post at The Telegraph
PH: “Godoy Cruz Antonio Tomba club, Mendoza.” By Nacho Gaffuri.