Something I learned quickly upon arriving to Buenos Aires is that political correctness, at least in the way we as Americans understand it, does not really exist. Instead, discourse is largely without limits for most Argentines, whether it’s regarding their distaste for the political status quo or a critique of your fashion choices on a given day (my pink chino shorts have attracted diverse comments, even from strangers, ranging from praise to looks of horror—though that may have been because it was 50 degrees). Becoming accustomed to the directness of discourse here, like having a professor tell you without hesitation that he is an unwavering supporter of the current regime and that any reasonable person should be too, is difficult at first. In the United States, so much is left unsaid in regards to certain topics, such as religion, race or politics, or at the very least subject to an unwritten code we all abide by when addressing these polemic topics.
I learned during my first ride on the subway here in Buenos Aires, referred to as the “Subte” by porteños, that politics in its rawest form is an intrinsic part of Argentine life. As I stood on the platform, watching a city government announcement advertising a program to provide shelters to the homeless during the colder months, I turned to an American friend to note the benevolent program. As soon as I looked away from the screen with my approving look, a well-dressed older Argentine woman interjected forcefully with one word, Mentiras! (Lies!) I learned then that I was in for a semester at the front row of a chaotic and controversial election season, and that my Argentine hosts would not hesitate to let me know where they stood.
There are two issues, as controversial as they come in Argentine life, that Americans (or norteamericanos as we are called here in the rest of the Americas) are best advised to avoid in all but the most intimate of settings: futbol (soccer) and the Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands). The domestic soccer league divides the city and nation into entrenched neighborhood and class-centered tribes, with passions so high that they often turn into riots and have forced games to be played in stadiums devoid of fans to avoid trouble. One club stands out amongst the rest as a center for admiration (or loathing depending on your perspective) among all the rest, the dominant Boca Juniors. In Boca, games had gotten so wild, with opposing fans and foreigners being harassed and beaten in the stands, that games are now closed to all but members of the club’s official supporters group. Noting the sometimes violent passion of the local fans, it is best to stay on the sidelines of these disagreements and instead wear neutral colors, like the always acceptable Messi jersey.
The other issue that any foreigner is best advised to avoid in any circumstance other than in outright support of the Argentine stance, is the question of the sovereignty of the Islas Malvinas. The Malvinas lie off Argentina’s southern Atlantic coast and are inhabited by several thousand British citizens as an overseas territory of the Crown. However, for Argentines, the Malvinas are an example of imperialism and colonization, unacceptably incompatible with trends of decolonization and historical claims. Argentina even once went to war in an attempt to retake the Islands, invading in 1982 in the final months of the military dictatorship; however, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative government quickly defended the Islanders and retook the Malvinas. This issue, seemingly engrained in every Argentine irregardless of political ideology, is so strongly felt and controversial that it is best left off-limits at all times. Though Argentina is often a land of the politically incorrect, it is often best to just be a bystander to it all, so as to better learn and enhance our own individual cultural understanding.