This post actually deals with much more than just asking for directions, but I learned this cultural lesson by asking for directions…the wrong way. This is a hard adjustment. I catch myself doing it wrong often. I first learned this lesson shortly after arriving in Argentina. I was in downtown La Plata. La Plata is set up as a grid, with each road as a number. So if you are on road 7, the next block will take you to road 8, and so on (to my knowledge, La Plata is the only city that is set up this way in Argentina). The problem is that you can get turned around and even though you are on “road 7″, you are not sure if the next block takes you to “road 8″ or “road 6″. I have been confused like this, especially when walking. This was the case one night, so I walked up to a policeman and said (all in Spanish), “Excuse me, can you tell me if I this is the way to road 8 or do I need to go the oposite direction?” That was what I said. This seems pretty normal at first glance, but this is not considered polite. The officer did not answer my question, only responded to me by saying, “Buenas Noches.” (Good Evening in Spanish). He did not appreciate how I spoke to him. I was very rude. I quickly realized that I asked the question prematurely, asked him to forgive me, and started off with “Good evening. How are you?” That is how you ask questions here, you start off with a greeting, and depending, you may ask them how they are. Here is an example (in English)…
“Good day.” (wait for the person to respond with “Good day”.) Do you know what time the bread store opens this afternoon? (wait for the answer.) Thank you very much. Have a good day.
This is how you ask for any information. This is true via text as well. It is not a bad thing at all, it is actually a beautiful way to converse, but it is quite an adjustment to make and I find myself starting to ask a question, stopping and greeting the person, and then proceeding to ask the question afterwards. Hopefully it will be something with that time we will be able to do without thinking about it.
Some adjustments are made very quickly while others take time. Check back for the next post to learn more about another “adjustment” we are making in Argentina.