Argentine Hand Gestures

In addition to an arsenal of colorful slang known as Lunfardo, Argentines make extensive use of non-verbal language. With so much Italian blood coursing through the veins of the Argentine people, it's no wonder they have a habit of talking with their hands. In fact, some Argentine hand gestures are similar, if not identical, to Italian ones.

When I stayed with my friend Beatrice Murch last year, I thumbed through a bilingual book from her home library called Sin Palabras: Gestiario Argentino/Speechless: A Dictionary of Argentine Gestures by photographer Guido Indij. I found the book quite entertaining, as it provides loads of insight into the vast vocabulary of gestures employed by the Argentines. It was fun to discuss the different gestures and compare them to those used in the United States. For example, American concertgoers flash the horns as they rock out to heavy metal, but the very same gesture directed at someone in Argentina insinuates that his or her spouse is a cheater.

As a complement to his book, Indij created the website Gestiarium, which seeks to "decipher humankind's gestural genome." Besides viewing hundreds of gestures from around the globe, users can collaborate by submitting their own photos and explanations of non-verbal language. You can read more about Indij and the origins of his book and website in an article by The Argentina Independent. [Update: the Gestiarium project and website have been discontinued.]

Here are some of my favorite Argentine hand gestures and their meanings:

Ojo by Guido Indij [used with photographer's permission]¡Ojo! – Be careful!/Watch out!
[Pull down your lower eyelid with your index finger.]

Vení by Guido Indij [used with photographer's permission]Vení (acá) – Come here
[Extend your hand, palm down, and curl your fingers up toward your palm repeatedly.]

Tacaño by Guido Indij [used with photographer's permission]Tacaño – Cheapskate
[Tap your right elbow with the palm of your left hand.]

Ma sí, andá by Guido Indij [used with photographer's permission]¡Ma sí, andá (a cagar)! – Get outta here!/ F*ck off!
[Throw your arm back toward your head.]

La justa by Guido Indij [used with photographer's permission] Just right/Perfect/Impeccable/The best
[With your hand forming the OK sign, make a short, quick downward motion in front of your chest.]

Speechless: A Dictionary of Argentine Gestures is available online through Amazon [Spanish edition] and Barnes & Noble [dual language edition], as well as at bookstores throughout Buenos Aires.

Do you have a favorite Argentine gesture?

[Photo credits: All images courtesy of Guido Indij/Gestiarium]

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The Other "Filadelfia"

Mennonite Children from Ephrata, Pennsylvania, USA by Wim Mulder on Flickr [photo licensed under Creative Commons] Growing up a mere two hours from Pennsylvania Dutch Country, I was always fascinated by the Amish and Mennonite communities that lived so close yet a world a way. Shunning modern conveniences in favor of a simple life focused on religion, family and community, the Amish and Mennonites live in direct opposition to the modern world.

While perusing Google Maps the other day, I happened upon the town of Filadelfia (the Spanish spelling of Philadelphia) in Paraguay. As a native of the City of Brotherly Love, the name of this Paraguayan settlement piqued my interest, and after a bit of research, I learned that plunked down in the middle of Paraguay thrives a community of German-speaking Mennonites. Although I was aware of the many communities spread throughout the United States, I was rather surprised to discover that Mennonite colonies exist throughout South America as well.

The Mennonites fled to South America at the beginning of the 20th century to escape repression and religious persecution. Lured by the promise of free land, exemption from military service, and the ability to openly practice their faith, large numbers of Mennonites settled in an inhospitable region of Paraguay known as Chaco. When the ethnically German Mennonites first arrived from Russia, Canada, and the Ukraine, they christened one of their new towns Filadelfia.

Despite difficult living conditions, the industrious Mennonites found success in their adopted home. This interesting article details some of the tension that the Mennonites of Filadelfia have experienced with native Paraguayans as a result of their prosperity and cultural differences. For additional information about the Mennonites in Paraguay, click here.

Though Mennonite missionaries (most notably the Hersheys) were working in the province of Buenos Aires since the early 20th century, the Mennonites really took root here in Argentina during the 1980s, establishing a colony in the sprawling, wind-swept prairie of the province of La Pampa. There is also a small Mennonite community in Santiago del Estero in the northern portion of the country. Most of the Mennonites in Argentina relocated from colonies in Mexico and Bolivia. The site Colonia Menonita [Spanish only] features detailed information about the Mennonites here in Argentina, including their history and customs.

Mennonites from Nueva Esperanza, La Pampa, Argentina by Juan Villarino of Acrobat of the Road [photo used with photographer's permission][Mennonite children from Nueva Esperanza, La Pampa, Argentina]

Though there is limited information in English about the Mennonites in Argentina, I did come across this series of posts from the travel blog Acrobat of the Road, which provides a fascinating look at the people of the Nueva Esperanza Mennonite colony in La Pampa. [Scroll to the bottom of the page to read the posts in chronological order.]

View additional images of Argentine Mennonites in this brief video.

[Photo credits: Wim Mulder and Juan Villarino of Acrobat of the Road]

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Craving a Taste of Home: Foods That Are Hard to Find in Argentina

For this foodie, living in Argentina has presented a real challenge at times. While the proliferation of expats and changing tastes among porteños have translated into increased demand and availability of ethnic foods and imported products in the capital, most ingredients for exotic cuisines like Indian, Mexican, Thai or American (ha!) remain nearly impossible to source outside of Buenos Aires and other large cities.

Although some Argentines are slowly expanding their palates and learning to embrace new foods, the backbone of the menu here is still rather limited. Take a glance at the Argentine food pyramid if you have any doubts.

The Argentines' dislike of spicy foods, in particular, creates a problem for chili heads like me. Many people automatically equate any cuisine south of the border with spicy, but I assure you that there is nothing fiery about Argentine food. Most Argentines will cough and sputter if you so much as go heavy-handed with the black pepper. They also seem to show a general disdain for sweet and sour or sweet and salty food combinations.

Display Window at El Gato Negro, Buenos Aires, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr [Look, it's cayenne pepper! A display at El Gato Negro, one of the few specialty spice shops in Buenos Aires]

While I've certainly embraced Argentine cuisine and food culture, there's still a definite comfort factor associated with foods from the "old country." Plus, as someone who enjoys variety and experimenting with food, a steady diet of asado, empanadas, and pasta—as delicious as it is—loses its shine quickly.

Given the lack of availability of many products, in most cases I make do without, substitute a similar Argentine product, or make the item from scratch; however, for those ingredients that I simply can't live without, I maintain a private stash more closely guarded than Fort Knox.

In the interest of aiding friends and family who'd like to send care packages to those living abroad in Argentina, or if you need a packing list of your favorite items for an impending move to this country, I have compiled this (partial) list of hard-to-find foods.

Update: Due to import restrictions that went into effect in 2012, it has become even more difficult to find certain specialty/imported foods in Argentina.

American Foods That Are Difficult to Come by in Argentina

**Meats: Italian sausage, breakfast sausage, bacon, pepperoni, many American-style cuts of beef  [Argentine cuts vary significantly]

**Dairy: *cream cheese, *cheddar cheese, *brie, feta, cottage cheese, sour cream, fresh mozzarella, *plain yogurt, buttermilk

Spices: dried dill weed, celery seed, red pepper flake, dried chile peppers, spice blends such as lemon pepper, chili powder and taco seasoning

Condiments/Sauces/Spreads: *barbecue sauce, *salad dressings such as French, ranch, and blue cheese, *Dijon and spicy brown mustards, *Worcestershire sauce, *horseradish, *pickles, relish,*peanut butter, grape jelly, *maple syrup

Baking: marshmallows, brown sugar, shredded sweetened coconut, mint extract, *molasses, *chocolate chips

Drinks: root beer, cream soda, birch beer, ginger ale, Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, bottled fruit juices, apple cider

Snacks: *tortilla chips, *jarred salsa, *pretzels

Miscellaneous: bagels, flavored coffee, cranberries, licorice, corn tortillas, *pecans, rye bread

*Spotted in Argentina (primarily in Buenos Aires) but hard to find and/or pricey

**Please note that customs restrictions and/or conditions during travel prevent many of these items from being brought into the country.

Tips for Tracking Down Unusual Ingredients

Hunt down your favorite exotic and imported foods at the following locations.

» Barrio Chino (Chinatown) in Belgrano [intersection of Arribeños and Juramento], Buenos Aires

» Jumbo in Palermo [intersection of Av. Bullrich and Cerviño], Buenos Aires

» Disco, Carrefour and Walmart (all three have locations throughout the country)

» Dietéticas (health food stores) sell products in bulk including spices, grains, nuts and beans. Many foods that prove difficult to find elsewhere can be sourced at a well-stocked dietética.

» Casas de repostería carry ingredients and supplies for baking, cake decorating, and candy making. Head to one of these shops if you're searching for a special ingredient for your next cake or batch of cookies.

For additional help with your expat foodie mission, peruse this excellent list of shops and food markets in Buenos Aires as well as information on where to get your hands on some unusual cheeses.

Which foods do you miss from your home country?

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Project 365: Coming Full Circle

On March 7, 2009, I embarked on a year-long quest to document the new faces, places, foods and experiences I encountered in Argentina through a digital photography project. Project 365 proved to be exhilarating, frustrating, wonderful and insanity-inducing all at the same time.

What I Took Away from Project 365

» I learned to carry my camera with me everywhere. No matter how mundane the outing, no matter how pedestrian the location, I lugged that camera along with me. Invariably, this practice helped me to capture some great shots, and I wound up regretting it when I left my trusty sidekick at home.

» I became more observant. I was always on the lookout for a photo op, and sometimes I'd find one in a completely unexpected place or situation.

» I learned the ins and outs of my camera. The project gave me an excellent feel for the settings and capabilities of my gear. I picked up some new post-processing tricks too.

» My confidence improved. I don't feel quite so strange asking if I can take a photo of a stranger or in a public place, although I still feel weird when I take a picture in the supermarket (but I do it anyway!).

» I love that I can look at every single one of these photos and be instantly transported back to the day that I took it. As a visual diary, the project was an unqualified success, and it helped me to realize that the little moments are just as worthy of a photo as any other.

» I developed better portraiture skills, though I still consider portrait-taking to be one of my greatest weaknesses. Most importantly, though, is that I challenged myself to take more photos of people.

» I am a perfectionist, and this project forced me to accept that every photo was not going to be a masterpiece.

The Downsides of Project 365

» It took away a bit of the joy of making a photograph. On the days when I really struggled to find a shot, I hated taking a photo because I had to and not because I wanted to. I estimate that at least 10% of the photos in this set would have never seen the light of day if I hadn't needed a photo for the project.

» The project also produced a strong aversion to Flickr, but I know that it's temporary. As soon as I have a bit of a break to recover from the burnout, I'll be back to uploading photos and commenting on friends' shots.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

After reviewing the entire Project 365 set, I selected my favorite photo from each month. Click on a photo to enlarge it and/or read its description on my Flickr photostream.

5.365 The Silver Moon | La Luna Plateada by katiealley on Flickr 51.365 Palmera | Palm Tree by katiealley on Flickr 67.365 El Pintor | The Painter by katiealley on Flickr 92.365 Mery & Her Funky Socks by katiealley on Flickr
144.365 Homemade Gancia | Gancia Casero by katiealley on Flickr 155.365 Golden Afternoon on the River by katiealley on Flickr 194.365 Cherry Blossoms by katiealley on Flickr 237.365 Colonia Courtyard | Patio de un Hotel de Colonia by katiealley on Flickr
247.365 At the Skatepark by katiealley on Flickr 285.365 Feelin' Artsy by katiealley on Flickr 304.365 Buttercup Baby by katiealley on Flickr 333.365 COSTA BONITA A 4 Kms by katiealley on Flickr

Of course, the set also contains a multitude of subpar shots; however, the award for the top three  just-take-a-picture-of-something-will-ya photos goes to these three barkers: 85.365 Fern | Helecho, 157.365 Hope for Spring, and 272.365 Late at Night. All I have to say is thank God for digital photography because I would have hated to have spent money developing those three shots! Well, those three and a whole bunch more.

Last but not least, I leave you all with this video compilation of Project 365 photos set to a sassy Argentine beat.

[Click here if you are unable to view the embedded video.]

I'm pretty sure I won't know what to do with myself tomorrow. I may just have to snap a photo for old times' sake.

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One Year in Argentina

Today marks my one year anniversary of living in Argentina! The following are some highlights and observations from the past year:

» Despite the ups and downs of life in a foreign country, I can confidently say that a year later I'm still thrilled to be here with Daniel. Sorry to go all mushy on you guys, but he is, after all, the reason I moved here in the first place!

» I made several new friends in the blogosphere, and I even met some of them in the flesh including Molly, Fred, Beatrice [Beatrice M's Blog], Deby [TangoSpam], Still Life in Southeast Asia, Frank [Sugar & Spice] and Cherie [tangocherie].

» My translation business is thriving and continuing to grow, and I secured some quality, long-term clients over the past 12 months.

» I received my first visitors here in Argentina back in October, and I'm currently planning an exciting adventure for the end of this month with my stepdad and my sister!

» I haven't driven a car in one year. Reasons: 1) I still haven't learned to drive stick shift; and 2) Argentine drivers scare the bejesus out of me.

» I am less than one week away from successful completion of Project 365 – a personal challenge that turned out to be much more than I bargained for.

» I have always been a fairly heavy computer user, but my laptop has truly become my lifeline. I work, communicate and entertain myself with the computer. I hardly ever watch TV, although I do occasionally watch some American programming on the Internet.

» I've learned to make some foods that I never thought I'd make from scratch, just because I missed them and they're not available here: Philly soft pretzels, flour tortillas (although I later discovered Rapiditas!), ranch and blue cheese salad dressings, and chili powder, to name a few.

» I do miss certain conveniences, but overall my life is simpler (in a good way).

» I feel the absence of my family and friends back home, but I'm extremely fortunate to have a loving and supportive network here in Argentina.

*          *          *          *          *

And now for the moment you've all been waiting for – the winner of the Bueno, entonces… Spanish language learning software giveaway! As I mentioned in a previous post, I joined forces with General Linguistics to give away a free download of their flagship product Bueno, entonces... to one lucky reader of Seashells and Sunflowers. I promised to announce the winner today, so here goes!

The random number generator at did all the heavy lifting in the selection process, and the result was commenter #2. So, congratulations go to Annette D! I'll get you in touch with the fine folks at General Linguistics so you can download your free copy of the Bueno, entonces… software. Thank you to everyone who entered the contest!

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