No No, Por Favor!!

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Welcome to Buenos Aires!When I first came to Buenos Aires I faced a linguistic dilemma unlike any I’d ever encountered. Each time I said thank you, I felt as though I was being reprimanded. “Gracias,” I’d say. “No, no – por favor!” would be the response.

At first I thought it was a one time thing – this person is just being overly polite. But time and again I’d be told “no” and sometimes people would look at me like I was mentally ill – with a look that said, “what are you doing thanking me, please don’t do it again.” One day I came to the conclusion that people just don’t say thank you as often here in Argentina. So I stopped thanking people for a few days. Of course, that proved to be the wrong answer.

Look, it's Alec JrPeople are extremely polite in Buenos Aires, though they manage to compliment the relative formality with sincere warmth. It isn’t that they’re necessarily nicer than people in other places, but Argentines take the time and energy to look after each other more so than in any other big city I’ve ever been to. They refuse tips, they always greet everyone in the room and seem to enjoy the ritual, and they are fantastic listeners. They do, however, love to say no.

Here’s a brief glossary of the use of the negative for a variety of implications:

“No” as is, “Are you kidding?” (okay, that one’s not so remarkable)
“No” meaning “I loved it, I was so happy”
“No” with a raised voice to mean “Wow, I’m so excited”
“No” with a nod meaning “Of course that’s the way it is, I could have told you that.”
“Nooooo” when telling an anecdote, meaning “I really had a great time”

I’ve also been confused more than once by the use of the word terrible. It seems to replace “terrific,” though that’s not it’s literal spanish definition. When I say terrible (“te ree blay”) while describing a situation, friends have to ask if I mean my experience was negative or positive. Maybe it’s like Run DMC‘s lyric explaining New York City street slang: “Not bad meaning bad but bad meaning good.” Obviously, my language classes won’t give me all the answers for lunfardo (slang) or for, as the Argentinians refer to Spanish, Castellano usage here in Buenos Aires.

Che Boludo!In a country where the use of the word “no” is only surpassed by the use of the word “boludo” (fool), it’s surprising to find some of the sweetest, most courteous people you’ll ever come across in an urban setting.

4 Comments

Cherie on September 20, 07

Love this post!

Actually, I’ve only heard this answer to “Muchos gracias” from service people, especially waiters, but it’s totally enchanting.

“No, por favor!!” Delightful!

Marce on September 21, 07

Oh, yeah, I unconsciously do that one too! It´s as if I couldn´t let a “gracias” go by with just a “de nada”, I have to say something like “no, no es nada” or something stupid like that. Oh well, at least it´s something I can blame on culture!

CD on December 23, 07

For any English speaker, it’s a bit confusing because there is no Spanish equivalent to YOU’RE WELCOME! Its also funny to an old guy like me that you remember RUN DMC and not the boxer Mohammhed Ali, who got in a lot of trouble for saying the leaders of the US and USSR were “the baddest men in the world.” This introduced many white Americans to black slang- “bad”- then again with Michael Jackson’s song “Bad!” Ever try “muchísimas gracias” in Argentina?

Lambda DrS on August 31, 08

lol, vert funny, im argentine and i loved ur post. Plz, if theres anything u d like to know, just ask xD

farewell!

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