You Might Be a Yanqui

While many Latin Americans refer to those of us from the United States as gringos, here in Argentina we're known as yanquis [pronounced shahn-kees]. Here are 15 telltale signs that may tip you off as a yanqui.

You Might Be a Yanqui if:

Uncle Sam [image used is in the public domain]1) You smile at complete strangers as you walk down the street. [Oops, I learned the hard way on that one.]
2) You anticipate that public bathrooms will be stocked with toilet paper.
3) You look straight ahead (or even up) as you walk instead of with your eyes glued to the sidewalk to avoid dog poop or broken concrete.
4) You think all Argentines eat, sleep and breathe the tango.
5) You wear your seat belt at all times and generally observe the rules of the road. [Argentine drivers scare me!]
6) You arrive on time or [gasp!] early for an appointment, event or meeting.
7) You show up to eat dinner at a restaurant before 9pm or 10pm.
8) Your spice cabinet contains items hotter than black pepper.
9) You snicker at brand names such as Barfy, McPussy and Bimbo. [Yes, they really do exist.]
10) You expect napkins and other paper products to have some measure of absorbency and utilitarian value.
11) You think you can return items to a store for a refund.
12) You expect to be able to complete simple government paperwork or procedures in just one day. [Silly me!]
13) You extend your hand in greeting instead of proffering your cheek for a kiss.
14) For females: you use tampons. [Yep, I wrote about that.]
15) You expect to both pay for and receive your item in one single, efficient transaction when making a purchase.

Go on, add to the list. You might be a yanqui if…

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What's In a Name?

Toto - nomi | Picking baby girl names by p!o on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]Catalina, Katia, Katherine and even Katu. All of these names appear on the list approved by the Civil Registry of the Province of Buenos Aires. The name "Katie," however, is absent from the list and with good reason: virtually no one here seems to be able to pronounce it.

Although a bit frustrated, I am no longer surprised by the reaction I get from the vast majority of Argentines when I tell them my name. The scene, without fail, follows this script:

1) With a kiss on the cheek, I introduce myself to my new acquaintance. I watch as the official list of names unfurls in her mind; she scrolls through the familiar Argentine standards such as Ana, Florencia, Gabriela, Laura, María, Teresa.

2) After a moment or two – once her neurons return the "File not found" error message – she does a double take, and her face screws into an expression of puzzlement.

3) She asks me to repeat my name at least two more times, as she bends and contorts the English sounds to conform to her Spanish ear.

I've been on the receiving end of many odd looks and responses regarding my exceedingly common English name. For example, the 80-something seamstress who made my choral uniform exclaimed, "¡Qué nombre rarísimo, che!" ("Boy, what a strange name!") when I first met her, while a worker at the immigration office in Quequén recently rechristened me "Chicha" because he couldn't pronounce my name.

I frequently find myself feeling slightly embarrassed and apologetic as a result of my name, and I wonder if it would just be easier to adopt a more Spanish-friendly pronunciation or to simply change my name altogether. Occasionally, in one-off situations where I'll never meet the person again (for example, when reserving a table at a restaurant), I'll give my name as Kati (Kah-tee) to avoid the otherwise inevitable explanations and/or butchering of my moniker.

Other times, I feel a bit indignant and determined to teach people the right way to say those two syllables, no matter how many times I have to repeat myself. After all, a little old diphthong and an American 't' can't be that bad, can they?

Although I wouldn't exactly characterize Argentines as conformists, few people stray from established naming conventions. [Read more about rules for selecting a child's name in Argentina at yanqui mike's blog.] In my chorus, for example, seven out of the 20 women have a name that includes María: María Nelly, María Fernanda, María del Carmen, María Angélica, María Ester, María Teresa, and María Guadalupe.

Names that deviate from the official list prepared by each province must be submitted to the Registro Civil, along with a fee of $50 pesos, for approval. It seems that most parents are content to name their little one Facundo, Valentina, or Nicolás, and they later shake things up with one of the countless nicknames that exist here.

I applaud a bit of diversity and originality in names, and I'm proud of my own strange, yanqui name; however, some days, I admit that I just wish I were a María.

[Photo credit: p!o]

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Vintage Mar del Plata

The city of Mar del Plata [map], located along the Atlantic coast about 250 miles south of the Argentine capital, was initially conceived of as a summer resort for the Buenos Aires elite. These days, Argentina's rich and famous tend to head to beaches in Uruguay and Brazil; however, Mar del Plata remains a popular summer destination for many Argentines. The city is also home to a thriving port and fishing fleet, which provided jobs for recently-arrived Italian immigrants in the early 1900s.

Let's have a look back at Mar del Plata in its early years.

Foto Antigua de Faro Punta Mogotes | Vintage Photo of Punta Mogotes Lighthouse Mar del Plata, Argentina by rodrimdq on Flickr [Faro Punta Mogotes – here's the lighthouse as it looks now.]

Foto Antigua de Damas y Caballeros Elegantes en la Playa | Vintage Photo of Elegant Ladies and Gents on the Beach in Mar del Plata, Argentina by rodrimdq on Flickr[If you squint hard enough, I'm almost sure you'll find Mary Poppins among this group of well-dressed ladies and gents.]

Foto Antigua de un Paseo en Camello | Vintage Photo of Children on a Camel Ride, Mar del Plata, Argentina by rodrimdq on Flickr [Between 1905 and 1920, camel rides on the beach were offered as an exotic activity for tourists.]

Foto Antigua de Playa Bristol | Vintage Photo of Bristol Beach, Mar del Plata, Argentina by rodrimdq on Flickr [Beachgoers at Playa Bristol – here's what this stretch of beach looks like today. Don't you just love the bathing costumes?]

Lavanderas a orillas del Arroyo del Barco, Zona Puerto, Mar del Plata, Argentina by rodrimdq on Flickr[Reality check: not everyone in Mar del Plata was there on vacation. These washerwomen worked down along the banks of Arroyo del Barco, by the port.]

Foto Antigua de Barcos de Pesca en la Costa | Vintage Photo of Fishing Boats on the Shore, Mar del Plata by rodrimdq on Flickr[Horses dragged fishing boats out into the sea.]

Vintage Photo of Plaza San Martín and Catedral de los Santos Pedro y Cecilia, Mar del Plata, Argentina by rodrimdq on Flickr [Plaza San Martín and Catedral de los Santos Pedro y Cecilia – here's the cathedral today.]

If you're interested in more photos and stories about Mar del Plata's past, take a look at the blog Historia de Mar del Plata [Spanish only], the Wikipedia page on the history of the city [English], or this set of vintage photos on Flickr.

[Photo credits: All photos from the collection of rodrimdq]

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Recipe File: Cornalitos Fritos | Deep-fried Silversides

Freshly plucked from the sea, cornalitos—tiny fish found along the coasts of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil—make for a special wintertime treat. Although commercial fishing boats harvest cornalitos from March through September, the height of the season comes in the coldest months of June and July, when large schools come close to shore. Using various types of fishing nets, including a special net called a mediomundo, fishermen scoop up scores of cornalitos [video]. 

Although tourists eat fried cornalitos by the plateful in summer, at that point the fish have already been frozen for many months. They're still tasty, but nothing beats the flavor of cornalitos straight from the ocean and onto your plate (with a brief stop-over in a pot of boiling oil).

Cornalitos | Silversides by katiemetz, on Flickr [Read more about cornalitos.]

While down at the port on Sunday with Daniel's grandmother Velia, several fisherman were selling their fresh catch, buckets full of silvery bodies with beady black eyes awaiting their fate. We bought two kilos of fresh silversides at $15 pesos per kilo to satisfy Velia's craving for cornalitos fritos.

When Daniel's grandfather Diego retired from farming, he took up fishing as a hobby. He used to bring home all manner of sea creatures for Velia to clean and filet (Diego enjoyed fishing, but he wanted no parts of the dirty work!). Velia became very adept at preparing fish, and their favorite way to eat them was fried.

Frying up cornalitos | Friendo los cornalitos by katiemetz, on Flickr [Velia keeps a watchful eye over the cornalitos.]

Dusted in flour and fried until golden brown, cornalitos make for a crunchy, flavorful snack. This basic recipe may be modified to suit your taste; feel free to add herbs and seasonings to the flour such as black pepper, garlic powder or parsley.

[Note: The cornalito's English name is silverside; however, the much larger pejerrey, which is a relative of the cornalito and also common in these waters, takes the moniker "silverside" as well.]

Cornalitos Fritos | Deep-fried Silversides


1 kg [about 2 lbs.] cornalitos
250 g [1 heaping c.] coarse salt 
150 g [1 c.] all-purpose flour
oil for frying
table salt [optional]
1 lemon, cut into wedges


Place the cornalitos in a colander and add the coarse salt. Using both hands, thoroughly mix the salt and the fish together for several minutes. Squeeze the cornalitos' bellies between your thumb and index finger to remove the intestines. It's not absolutely necessary to gut the fish, as they are small, but they may have a bitter taste otherwise. Rinse the cornalitos thoroughly with cold water until the water runs clear. Drain them well and blot with paper towels to dry.

Place a handful of the cornalitos in a plastic bag and add some of the flour. Close the bag tightly and shake vigorously to coat the cornalitos. Repeat process for subsequent batches.

Heat oil in a deep pot. Do not fill the pot more than half full with oil. Fry the cornalitos in batches in the hot oil, until crispy and golden brown. Drain on paper towels to remove excess oil.

Sprinkle the cornalitos with table salt if desired (I find them to be salty enough for my taste without the additional salt). Serve immediately, accompanied by lemon wedges.

Cornalitos Fritos | Deep-fried Silversides by katiemetz, on Flickr [Would you eat the heads like Tomás, Daniel's stepdad, does? Eek!]

Cornalitos taste great with french fries and a cold beer. Pinch the heads off before popping them in your mouth, or eat them whole if you're brave.

Are you looking for more Argentine recipes? Click here to browse the entire Recipe File, or try out the new visual recipe index. Read More......

Happy 2nd Birthday to Seashells and Sunflowers

The second by BékiPe on Flickr [used under Creative Common license]

Admittedly, the mood here is less than festive in the wake of Argentina's 4-0 loss to Germany in the World Cup quarterfinals. But life goes on, so rather than cry into our Quilmes, we're celebrating the fact that today Seashells and Sunflowers turns two!

If you've been reading Seashells and Sunflowers in your feed reader or by email subscription and you haven't visited the blog in a while, I invite you to pop on over and explore the archives a bit. Or zip on down to the bottom of the page and add yourself as a follower – it just takes a moment. If you've never posted a comment, now is your chance to come out of the shadows. Come on, don't be shy.

Thank you to all of you who take a moment out of your day to read, comment and/or email. Knowing that you enjoy my stories, recipes and photos makes writing the blog worthwhile.

Much love to you all from Argentina!

[Photo credit: BékiPe]

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Yesterday I found myself back at the immigration office. Thankfully, I didn't have to resort to a desperate prayer to Mother Theresa like last time, but I did take part in an impromptu christening (or rechristening, as it were).

I was efficiently attended to by the immigration officer at the Prefectura Naval in Quequén, and then he directed me to the comptroller's office to fork over my contribution. There I was greeted by a spunky older gentleman, a real character that I remembered from my previous visit.

Argentines seem to have a terrible time with my name, and this man was no exception. In fact, I recall that he had commented on the strangeness of my name before, and it struck him just as odd the second time he encountered it as the first.

Surrounded by a sea of carbon copies and rubber stamps, he thumbed through my paperwork, all the while squinting and scratching his head. He wisecracked,"What's with this last name?! And, Kathryn? What kind of a name is that? You're killing me here." When he came upon my middle name, one that is eminently recognizable to a Spanish speaker, he uttered approvingly, "Virginia. Ok, now there's a proper name."

He looked up from his paperwork with a roguish grin spread across his face, and he said to me, "Look. This Kathryn nonsense – this is no good. From now on, we're going to call you…Chicha." And with an approving nod from his co-worker, that was that.

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