The Elephant in the Room: Being British in Argentina

The Elephant in the Room: Being British in Argentina

Before coming to Argentina, I had only a vague idea of the history between this beautiful South American country and my country of birth. See, I’m not really in to history. I wasn’t forced to study it at school beyond the age of 13, and so I chose not to, as I found that learning about things in the past out of any kind of context completely irrelevant and basically just boring. Come to think of it, it might be the same reason I never cared for Shakespeare.

Just to give some background if you don’t know me personally: I was born in 1986 so consider myself a 90s child as I have very few, if any, memories of being any younger than five. Also, I’m really not patriotic. At all. Finally, I did know that there had been a conflict between the UK and Argentina, some time in the 80s, probably before I was born. Something about Margaret Thatcher and some islands in the south Atlantic called the Falklands. That was about the extent of my knowledge in this area. Shocking, perhaps.

the Malvinas War Memorial in downtown Buenos Aires

the Malvinas War Memorial in downtown Buenos Aires

Thanks to Wikipedia, I am now much better informed. (I love Wikipedia!)

However, when we first arrived in Buenos Aires three months ago, I knew almost nothing, and didn’t think that a big deal. Being British in Argentina, it was almost inevitable that we would get asked about this. A few Argentinians who we got to know socially eventually asked me and Zab what we thought about the Falklands/Malvinas situation. I said I didn’t have an opinion, that I didn’t care one way or the other, and that most British people (of my generation at least) probably felt the same way: indifferent. Zab, though he knew more of the history (he was nine years old in 1982, in fact), generally agreed with me.

But for many Argentinians, it is still a big deal. They feel cheated by their government which back in April 1982

hoped to mobilise Argentines’ long-standing patriotic feelings towards the islands and thus divert public attention from the country’s chronic economic problems and the regime’s ongoing human rights violations. [Thanks again Wikipedia]

And some people clearly still feel that sense of patriotism towards the islands very strongly. We have seen these words many times and in many places plastered on to walls around Argentina, not only in the capital:

"The Falklands always were, are and will be Argentinian"

“The Falklands always were, are and will be Argentinian”

As well as other, more direct messages:

"English: get out of the Falklands/Malvinas"

“Get the English out of the Falklands”

Now I am not trying to make a political statement. What I am trying to point out is that some people have very strong opinions. And I don’t. Or at least, I didn’t.

Having travelled around southern Argentina, visiting its neighbours Chile and Uruguay and spent several weeks in its capital, I have been asked many more times what I think about the Falklands/Malvinas issue. And what with the Malvinas Day (a public holiday here in Argentina, which happened to fall right after Easter Monday giving us a super long weekend) quickly followed by Margaret Thatcher’s death provoking a flurry of opinion about the islands, I have spent more time thinking about this elephant in the room, and how being British in Argentina has spurred those thoughts.

While I still really don’t care whether the Falklands/Malvinas belong to the UK or Argentina, I have formed an opinion about the war: it was stupid. On both sides. (But then isn’t war always stupid?) A sentiment which I get the impression many young Argentinians share. I have less idea about people of the generations of people who were adults in 1982.

Monument to the veterans of the Falklands/Malvinas war in San Telmo, Buenos Aires

Monument to the veterans of the Falklands/Malvinas war in San Telmo, Buenos Aires

If any Argentinian’s do harbour any unfriendly thoughts or feelings about what Mr. Galtieri and Mrs. Thatcher ordered their militaries to do, they certainly don’t take it out on me as a visitor to their country. Before Zab and I left, I had family members worry about me coming to Argentina as a British citizen. “Are you sure they’ll let you in?” one even asked. No one has even batted an eyelid at my being British in Argentina.

Seems like perhaps Argentinians are among the more enlightened peoples who, unlike some British people I know, don’t hold grudges against a country’s citizens based on its government’s actions.