You’ve landed in Argentina for an amazing internship in one of the largest and most diverse countries in the world, ¡felicitaciones! With a population of over 41 million, Argentina boasts some of the most innovative and successful businesses in the world, brimming with opportunity for you to make headway into a passion-driven career.
That being said, even internship-pros know it can be hard to make a splash during international internships; cultural biases and language barriers with co-workers are no docile beast. There’s nothing worse than getting the cold shoulder from your co-workers because you jokingly put down their favorite fútbol team.
To help you keep your foot out of your mouth around the office, we’ve put together a list of eight faux pas to avoid when interning in Argentina:
Not paying attention to timing.
Punctuality is a delicate art in Argentina, and it is very difficult for foreigners to really understand when it is acceptable to be late. Socially, it is customary to arrive 30 to 60 minutes late to an event, but it is an entirely different operation in the business world. As an intern, you will probably be one of the lowest people on the totem pole, which means that you should be punctual for almost everything as a sign of respect.
Arrive on time for your meetings, but expect to wait up to a half hour for your counterpart. The basic rule is that the more important the person is, the longer you will have to wait to meet with them. If you are taking part in a business lunch, be on time, but if it is a business dinner, it is seen as rude to be punctual. It may seem daunting to try and figure all of this out, so take cues from your co-workers who are at a similar level in the company.
Not researching a high-quality program.
One surefire mistake to avoid, even before you board that plane south, is to not adequately research your internship options in Argentina. There are many programs to choose from, and it’s up to you to take an active role in sussing out which ones offer the type of experience (both inside the office and beyond) that you are looking for.
Do you want something more hands-off? Do you want a program that includes local excursions and community events? Do you want to be in a big city like Cordoba, or live in a more far-flung area in wine country?
Not dressing the part.
Argentina is a very fashion-conscious country, and what you put on your body is seen as a direct reflection of how you view yourself. Casual officewear is really not a thing here, and most people in the business world wear suits. Women in particular are expected to dress with style without detracting from professionalism or productivity (leave the chunky, bright colored bracelets at home).
Before you go out and buy a whole new wardrobe of matching pant suits, be sure to take into consideration the type of business and the area that you will be interning in. A corporate business in Buenos Aires is going to be a lot stiffer than an art studio in Salta, so cater your ensembles (after all, Buenos Aires is referred to as the “Paris of South America” for a reason!). Even if you are interning in Argentina in a more casual environment, still put some effort into how you present yourself. Leave your yoga pants behind.
Not getting right down to business.
Even though we were all taught by Disney to get down to business and defeat the Huns, this philosophy does not fly in Argentina. Establishing a trusting relationship is the most important thing in the Argentine business world, and all business meetings or negotiations should be approached like meeting a friend. It is important to engage in small talk and get to know the people you are meeting with, then let the conversation naturally change to business. Jumping right into professional discussions is seen as disrespectful, and most Argentinians are very weary of high pressure sales tactics. The idea that “people do business with people they like” is particularly true here, so slow down and socialize!
Not knowing when “happy hour” is.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that everyone works from nine to five and then hits up the local bar after for some fernet. Due to its heavy Spanish influences, most of Argentina runs on a very late schedule, with typical dinner time around 10 p.m. and bars/clubs not opening until at least 1 a.m. This means that it is not abnormal for people to show up to work at 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. and work until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. Because of this, “happy hour” isn’t really a thing in Argentina, unless you are interning in a very bustling area, like Buenos Aires, in which case only trendy and internationally-focused bars run happy hour specials (usually from about 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.). Otherwise, most people in the business world go home after work to relax with their families and venture out afterward when all the boliches (clubs) are open.
Not refraining from bringing up politics.
Argentina has had its fair share of political issues over the past 60 years, and it is now an extremely polarized country. Between the Perón years, the Guerra Sucia of the 1970s and 80s, and the most recent corruption of the Kirchner administrations, the majority of Argentinians have strong feelings about their country’s political state. Bringing up something political can go very wrong very fast, so try to avoid it when possible.
Just like Grandma taught you, don’t talk religion, politics, or money! So, while it is common to hear locals discussing politics, it is not advised for foreigners to offer opinions, and adding in your thoughts will surely fuel the fire. This is particularly true about the Falklands War (or Malvinas), and to this day the subject is muy sensitivo.
Not using a title.
In most countries, there are certain professions that warrant the use of a title before someone’s name. Throughout the English speaking world, these typically come down to Doctor, Attorney, and Professor. In Argentina, however, basically any professional degree warrants the use of a title, including engineers, nurses, teachers, and architects. If you don’t know someone’s title, stick to Señor, Señora, or Señorita followed by their surname, and only refer to someone by their first name if they have specified to do so.
Not taking mate time seriously.
Mate (pronounced mah-tay) is the drink of choice in Argentina (aside from wine). Typically served hot in a hollowed-out gourd, mate has had a huge cultural significance since the gaucho days and is something that most locals drink daily, if not multiple times a day. Similar to how the Brits have a daily tea time, Argentinians take mate very seriously, and not following their norms when it comes to this beverage will surely give interns a bad reputation around the office.
For starters, don’t ever compare it to tea. Like ever. Second, mate is something that is drank communally, and it is quite common to walk by someone on the street drinking it and have them offer you a sip of theirs. If your co-workers break some out and offer to share it with you, accept it happily. You most likely will not enjoy it the first time you try it, as it is very bitter (think green tea times five), but you will immediately break down any barriers between you and your co-workers by trying it. In reality, it is friendship you are drinking, not yerba.
Not speaking Spanish.
We like to think this is a no-brainer, but there is always that person who thinks the whole world will adapt to them, not the other way around. The biggest mistake that international interns can make is not trying to immerse themselves in their surroundings. Even if the company conducts most of their business in your native language, you will immediately break down barriers with your co-workers if you try to adapt to their language. Plus, it will only benefit you to learn as much Spanish as possible! Kind of the whole point of getting an internship abroad in Argentina, si?
Not speaking the correct form of Spanish.
Utilizing your Spanish skills is half the battle. Making sure you’re using the right type of Spanish is another thing. Castellano, or the Argentine dialect of Spanish, is a very different dialect than what most people learn in school, and nothing will make you stand out more among your co-workers than using Mexican Spanish.
Imagine that you could mix Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese together, and that is basically what Castellano sounds like. Pronunciations are much different than standard Spanish (“ll” is pronounced as “sh”), and conjugations change in the “you” form for many verbs. Along with this, don’t forget to use the correct form of “you” when speaking with co-workers. Friends, relatives, and people on equal footing will use the informal vos (not tu, that’s not castellano!), but co-workers typically use the formal usted. Pay attention to what your co-workers use, and if everyone around you is speaking with vos, it is probably a good indicator that it is acceptable for you to use it, too.
A lot of potential issues can be avoided simply by being proactive, open-minded, and conscientious around others. Do your research depending on your region and job type so you’re not walking into your internship in Argentina blindly, and listen more than you speak in conversations. Most importantly, be sure to get more than your fill of empanadas and dulce de leche, not to do so would be the biggest faux pas of them all. ¡Buena suerte!