When I arrived in Buenos Aires a couple of years back, I got off the plane thinking that my experience in other Spanish speaking countries and my rudimentary high school classes would allow me to get by, and they did. But it is one thing to get by and quite another to play truco like a native. This came home to me on my first visit to the market to buy some basics for the apartment. My shopping list, with the words I used to order them:
strawberries – fresas
pineapple – piña
butter – mantequilla
bananas – plátanos
Instead of a basket full of tasty fruits, all I received was a smirk from the greengrocer; all of these words might work just fine in Mexico City or Havana, but here the Argentines pride themselves on being just a little bit different from the rest of the Spanish-speaking world.
Now my shopping basket is full of:
strawberries – frutillas
pineapple – ananá
butter – manteca
bananas – bananas (that one was easy!)
So as you get ready to take a big bite of Argentine culture, here are some a basics on how to talk like a porteño:
Long before there were Che Guevara t-shirts on every freshman’s chest, there was a man called Che Guevara; but long before his Cuban co-revolutionaries called him Che, his mother called him Ernesto. Ernesto, being the incurable Argentine that he was, addressed everyone, (even guerillas with M-16’s) as “Che”. For you language geeks, this is what is known as a “second person vocative exclamation” and it is somewhat translatable as “Hey”.
The mystique of this peculiar linguistic quirk is that no one is quite sure how it weaseled its way into rioplatense Spanish. But just as there is no lack of Argentine political parties, likewise there is no lack of theories of the origin of the word “che”. Since most Argentines can point to at least one ancestor having come from Italy, there are those who point to the Italian word “Che”, meaning “who” or “what”. Others say it comes from the Mapuzungan word for people. Still others claim it to be a shortening of the spanish “escuche,” or “listen.”
Example: “¡Che flaco, no me hinches las pelotas!” Hey slim, don’t bust my balls!
OJO! Che is for friends: using it with others might be overly informal.
While everyone else in the spanish-speaking world will informally call you “tú”, Argentines, once again establishing their linguistic independence, have substituted “tú” with “vos”. Now, first it is important to note that if you come down here addressing people as “tú” you will be understood; as an interesting sidenote, even though I have long ago adjusted to the “voseo” (addressing people as ‘vos’), on more than one occasion I have had an Argentine switch to addressing me as ‘tú’ upon hearing my (still somewhat mexican) accent.
The problem that you will encounter is that changing from ‘tú’ to ‘vos’ also means fun new verb conjugations!!! Hooray! A few examples:
you are tú eres vos sos
you want tú quieres vos querés
you come tú vienes vos venís
It may seem like an additional headache, but it’s actually quite easy to slip into if you have a bit of Español under your belt. And once you catch the hang of it, you be able to blurt out previously unintelligible sentences such as:
¿Che boludo, vos venís acá para chupar, morfar, y buscar minas o para laburar?
(Translation to follow)