The Surprising Generosity of Porteños

Hostels in Buenos Aires

A grimy destitute man enters the bar and begins to approach tables, selling that homeless-person newspaper. Due to both habit and a hardness of heart from years spent living in cities, I wave him off before he even begins his pitch, keeping my eyes firmly locked on my book. But as he moves throughout the restaurant, I notice something startling. Most of the other people are purchasing a copy, and even engaging him in conversation.

Where Jürgen and I come from, the USA and Germany, such a scene would never occur. A flutist playing inside a Berlin train would receive nothing more than looks of scorn. But here, people generously dig into their coin purses. Dirty old homeless women asking for cigarettes will nearly always be ignored in Boston, but here they frequently meet with success.

Buenos Aires is the only city I’ve ever visited in South America, so I have no idea if this spirit of generosity extends to the rest of continent. But it’s definitely more pronounced than in the USA or Europe. And it’s nice to see. The other day on the train, a group of rowdy and obviously affluent teenagers quieted down while a indigenous group played guitar and sang, and then gave copiously when the hat was passed around.

I probably shouldn’t draw wide-ranging conclusions, but it’s hard to imagine that Argentina’s recent financial troubles aren’t related to what I’ve observed. In the 1991 crash, middle-class families became poor overnight, and the poor became destitute. Perhaps Argentinians have a stronger appreciation for the fact that poverty can happen to anyone; and those who are fortunate enough to have spare cash should help out whenever they can.

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Diane

    Argentina is a Catholic country, and, one of the key good beliefs of Catholicism is charity for the poor. Whatever else might be said about the Catholic church, their emphasis on helping the poor is ingrained in the religion. I cannot help but think that this spills over into daily life in predominantly Catholic countries.

    1. Alex

      I totally agree with Diane: not every generous person is Christian but every true Christian is generous, and Argentina has a lot of them both.It’s not because of the crisis Argentina went through, nor any other psychological motivation. (Never to forget that Christianity shaped our morality and our sense of what is good and what is bad, if not it’d even be hard to identify generosity as a positive thing).

  2. Maite

    I don’t agree with Diane. I don’t think it’s a catholical thing. I think it’s most a feeling of pity, or I don’t know, maybe you just feel bad about the person. But it’s a bit difficult to distinguish the people that really needs money and the ones that just do it as an easy way to get money.

  3. Débora

    Maite: Oh, how much can you really even get in a good day? It’s not worth the time, I think.

  4. Maite

    I don’t know, but a lot of people just act as if they were ill, for example, they say they are blind and they aren’t. They walk as they have a problem in their legs and, as they leave the bus they walk just normal. There are a lot of people here just acting. I don’t say they don’t need the money, but they lie to get it.

  5. Angela

    This is a favorite topic of mine. I first visited Argentina in 2002, just after the crisis. Came back in 2004 and moved here in 2006. The changes were drastic in terms of quality of life for most people. Talk about a comeback. But then in 2008 my own country went through a “crisis,” which in reality can’t compare to what happened here. Anyway, I remember thinking that it’d be great if people in the States felt more compassion and solidarity. That led me to think that since Argentina has suffered a number of economic crises and most people alive today have lived through more than one, they know that money comes and goes and that it can happen to anyone. There’s a little negative to that, as well. Some people would prefer to make a buck today than offer a great service that will make a bunch of bucks tomorrow. So here’s what the world should do (I’m kidding, but still):

    Adopt the Argentine view of community and solidarity while practicing good customer service like delivering what you promise and building a solid reputation so that your business continues to grow.

    Am I a dreamer?

  6. Olivia

    I love your observations of generousity. What a civilized way to live!!

  7. Avi

    Argentina might be a Catholic country, but not all argentinians are Catholics.

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