Thursday, February 22, 2007

Just a couple of things that are different here (by Helen)

Every now and again I notice something that is different here then, for example, we learned in kindergarten. Lately, I have become aware of the crossing-each-other-in-a-confined-space-rule. For example, if you are approaching somebody on a narrow path, when it comes time meet, we don´t just crash into each other, but we always move to the right. Right? The person approaching will pass you on your left. Right? We learned this in kindergarten and almost without exception, and without thinking, we do this is the US. That is not the custom here, it seems to be hit or miss, or possibly even the reverse, I can´t tell yet. But I can´t tell you how often I have wanted to say ¨Wanna dance?¨, but they wouldn´t get it.

Another thing that is different is when the waiter (mozo) brings the check. For example, in the US, very often at breakfast or lunch, the check is actually delivered with the food. It´s not that the waiter will ignore us after that, and its not that we are being thrown out, its just that we are free to go at any time. However, I may add that it is sort of unstated that we are also not to stay TOO long, I mean, don´t you have a home?
It is not like that here. First of all, when you order a cup of coffee, you get just that, A cup of coffee. No refills. The coffee is more like espresso, so I guess people don´t want refills anyway. In our little cafe across the street, the mozo brings you a cup of coffee, a shot glass of water and a small cookie or two, and then doesn´t return. They don´t leave the check either. Now, I wondered about this since I arrived and I think I finally figured it out. (Our Argentine readers can correct me if I´m wrong). They don´t return to the table because people rarely order anything else and they just leave you to relax and do what you want. The coffee is only part of the whole cafe experience, the rest is just spending time there. People talk, read the free newspaper, people-watch, work on computers, any variety of things. And very often they stay a really long time by US standards. And they can stay as long as they like and are NEVER expected to leave before they are ready. I think that is why they withhold the check. To serve the check before it is requested would be tantamount to asking the patron to leave, and that just simply isn´t done. So, when you want to leave, you have flag down the mozo and ask.


Mia said...

Hi Helen,

Re: hit and miss, you'll find the same to be true in most European cities, except, perhaps, in Northern Europe. People tend to walk as they drive, if they can pass you on the right they will. That's what they are used to. When I arrived in North America I found myself in the same (well, opposite, actually) situation you describe.

Re: not getting the check with the food, yes, that's exactly why they don't do it. Don't you think that's the way it should be in the US too? I sure do.

Chas said...

Could it be that they don't have the built-in profit motive that we US Americans take for granted? I mean, I don't see why they wouldn't, but then I've been a capitalist all my life. If I owned a restaurant, I'd want everyone to leave as quickly as possible, so the next batch of spenders could come in. But maybe they don't have that, for some reason. Or maybe they DO have it, but it's considered rude to show it, just as we may sometimes feel socially compelled to conceal our desire for guests in our home to leave.

Perhaps one of the Argentinos will explain it to us.

leslie said...

Nothing to do with profit -- it is all about culture. The only time the mozo may leave the bill with you is during the early morning rush, otherwise if you want to get out of there in a hurry you must ask your mozo to bring the bill with the coffee.

Taking a coffee in a cafe implies a relaxed sit down with the paper or friends so that you can have a good charla. My boyfriend and I often go to a cafe at the weekends for a couple of hours and it is an activity for the day - maybe some friends will come by and join us, or we'll just sit in the sun and chat, or plan for the day etc.

Note that there is also no such thing as a take away cup of coffee in Argentina. However, if you work nearby, many cafes will do delivery (you'll see the delivery guys walking down the street with a tray of coffees and medialunas etc covered by a plastic dome...)

Starbucks would never survive in Argentina -- and I hope it never dares set its foot in the country. The closest thing we have are the chains Martinez, Havanna, y Bonafide (this one seems to be growing, or maybe its just popular in my barrio), and they don't do takeaway.

However, I'm from Vancouver originally and when I went home last year although you still saw the ubiquitous Starbucks and everyone standing on the corner with their 20oz glued in their hands, it appears that in Vancouver the 5 min coffee and take away culture is being rejected, and cafes are having to add more and more sitting areas so that people can lounge with their coffee...

Anyway I've been living here for almost 2 years now, you'll get used to the cafe culture and then when you go home you'll feel like you're constantly being rushed out of your seat etc.!


Pablo Flores said...

I'm from Rosario but this applies, I guess. The café is a social site, like your office or a square. There are places where elderly people have gone since they were young, to read the news or play cards or chess or whatever. Some actually seem to use the café as their office.

When I was in highschool there was a café one block away and I went there to study with a friend — we were rather broke, so we had one cup of coffee at 8 AM and stayed there with our books and notepads until noon. :) Nobody, ever, asked us to leave.

I'm not sure whether profits would increase if the waiters directly or indirectly told people to leave and make room for other clients, because most of the people I know would never return to that café after such a rude treatment.

Jos said...

I just returned home today from two wonderful weeks in Mendoza. I did not want to return. . .I am actually seriously considering living there a few years.

Will I be able to find work easily? Is there a lot of red tape? Any advice will be greatly appreciated.

I had a layover in Chile and saw that disgusting Starbucks at the airport.

I also experienced what you described during my stay in Mendoza. People are so friendly. . .Can you tell I miss it??

Caroline G said...

Maybe I'm nuts, but I don't see this rushing thing. I can't tell you how many times I have had to get up and dance a jig to get a waiter here in Frederick to notice me and bring me my damn check. Is it because Frederick isn't a big city? Did I feel rushed when I lived in Washington DC all those years? I don't remember that.

In a related story, when I was living in Greece and working as a waitress, we were NOT ALLOWED to remove any of the glasses from the table until the patrons had left. I was never sure whether it was so that they didn't feel rushed, or so that they could keep track of how many ouzos and Beers they had had. It wasn't uncommon for a table for two to be cluttered with 8-10 glasses! OPA! (We just got our tickets, we're going back in May.)

Ken and Helen said...

Oh . . . I see.
Greece, not Argentina.

Ken and Helen said...

Apparently, you are under the impression that we actually know something.

BAnewcomers, a yahoo group is very helpful. Also, look through the archives of

These people know infinetly more than we do.

So glad you enjoyed Medoza. I´ll check your blog for details.

Ken and Helen said...

Caroline, you actually hit the nail on the head regarding the difference here. In the states we actually expect the waiter to properly time the delivery of the bill or we are aggravated and feel we have to dance that jig. To not bring the bill in that undefined¨"timely fashion" means he just aint doing his job right. And asking for the bill lets him know just that. So, Ken and I just sat and sat and sat and waited for the bill, not wanting to imply the waiter was not doing his job. We felt a little like restaurant hostages until we figured it out. We like it now.

Chas said...

I don't get what's so disgusting about Starbucks. Is it that they've become a huge conglomerate, so they must be bad? I sat in there once, and they didn't try to rush me out. And their coffee is possibly the best I've ever had. Followed closely, surprisingly, by Dunkin Donuts!

Ken and Helen said...

Boy are you going to get schooled on that one!

Caroline G said...

Ken! Helen! Speaking of Dunkin Donuts, did you hear that the one near FCC burned down last week? That whole little shopping center burned to the ground because some guy in the liquor store set the booze on fire. Yow! The arsonist died in the blaze, but no one else was hurt.

Charley, I don't get what's so bad about Starbucks either. I don't feel rushed there, but it does occur to me that you are served your coffee in a paper cup. That's a definite "to go" function. That's probably pretty unwelcoming service to someone who's from a culture where having coffee is a long, drawn out, sit down event. We're just not used to that.

Ken and Helen said...

Chas and Caroline:
For one thing, there is no cattle chute at the cafés here.

Ken and Helen said...

Chas and Caroline,
I just love you guys. I love your American Spirit. Exactly! What is wrong with Starbucks? People LOVE Starbucks, some people literally spend hundreds of dollars a month at Starbucks. Two coffees per day at $5 per coffee is quite a luxury and people enjoy doing it. I always feel like I am apologizing for being from the nasty old US with our nasty old Starbucks, when really I like both systems. Different is OK. Different is good. But then again, isn´t that just so American of me?

Kat Acosta said...

I like Starbucks because it is the only coffee house where I can get organic milk! Can you imagine? Plus, I love the coffee.

Regarding the meeting on the streets "dance". I found that in Spain and Italy. I actually loved meeting a Brit with the same "move to the right" up-bringing we had!

Enjoy! I love your blog

PS Ken, love your MySpace page. Did you add me as a friend yet?


pedroC said...

About "moving to the right", maybe most people here are just trying to get the bit of pavement that is not uneven, therefore lessen the chance of injury to one of their ankles :-).And that why it a lottery as to whether they'll shift one way or the other.
I have lived in Chile, and people also do the "move to the right shuffle" . I definitely blame it on the dodgy pavement.

Chas said...

Let's face it, gang: Starbucks didn't become a giant by offering something people don't like. But I think I'm starting to see the objection to the paper cup, gulp-on-the-run thing. If someone started a chain of wine shops where you can get the world's most delicious wine in a styrofoam cup with a straw, I'd probably find that disgusting.

Dan said...

It simply comes down to that for those of us who are norteamericanos, we're used to that going to a coffee shop is about having coffee. Here it's about socializing, relaxing, people watching, reading, etc. The coffee is truly secondary. While it's for some reason politically correct to bash Starbucks, I have to admit, they offer the closest thing to a true cafe experience like this that's available in the U.S., anyway. While it's true you pay upfront, you can stay as long as you like without the usual "are you going to order something else, we need the table" that you get in most cafes in the U.S.