A lesson from Argentina - Intercultural Insights
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A lesson from Argentina
July 15, 2016
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Passing through the toll gates for free in Argentina!

Autoroute à peéage_Fotolia_80371802_SBuenos Aires: one Sunday evening.

The inhabitants of Buenos-Aires are on their way home after a sunny weekend in the country. Around 5 PM, the cars arrive in large numbers at the toll booth and begin queueing. The car horns begin sounding ever more vigorously, the barriers are miraculously raised, and the drivers are allowed to drive through without paying! The queues form again after drivers have been allowed through for free. This happens at each tollbooth. Then the car horns stop because the barriers stay open until the queues have gone down!

Before reading the rest, note down your reaction in the comments below.

Some reactions

  • I’ve never seen anything like it. You’d have to see it to believe it.
  • It’s really funny!
  • It looks like the Argentinians get what they want by making a lot of noise!
  • What impatience! What’s the point in getting hot under the collar because you’ll just have to wait again after the tollbooth?
  • If the toll booths in Argentina only work when traffic is moving smoothly, they can’t earn very much!
  • Sounding your horn to have the barriers opened without paying! It’s hard to imagine something so surrealistic happening in France, which is nevertheless a country considered fairly rebellious and where the rules are often bent?

Please also note the reactions from other cultures.

Argentinian people’s reactions

There’s nothing surrealistic about it, on the contrary it’s logical and efficient. When you travel along a normal road there’s no tollbooth. If you choose to take the motorway, and therefore to pay, it’s in order to go faster and to save time. It would therefore be absurd to pay to sit in a traffic jam!

This is a perfectly sound display of logic which Descartes would have no problem with.

To keep traffic moving, Argentinian road regulations provide the possibility to open the barriers when the waiting time exceeds two minutes and the line of cars goes beyond a certain demarcation line. The horn-sounding ritual is to tell the tollbooth staff that this line has now been reached and it’s time to open the barrier.

Two opposing forms of logic

Viewed from the other side of the Atlantic, the same experience isn’t considered in the same way. This anecdote shows to what extent we are influenced by our own culture in the way we approach situations, the way we reason and the way we interpret things. Ethnocentrism influences our initial reactions and then gives way to stereotypes and prejudices. It takes a real effort to imagine that there may be any explanations other than our own.

It’s here that we are getting into the intercultural field, which enables us to view the world through other eyes and to see a larger number of possible options. Intercultural astonishment is a state of mind, a sort of daily mental gymnastics, a particular skill which encourages us to question before judging and which enables us to think Out of the box. All great sources of creativity and good opportunities to widen our horizons!

Laure Rostand, Akteos

About author

Laure Rostand

Displaying a genuine passion for intercultural relations, Laure Rostand founded Akteos to develop intercultural awareness within companies and support them internationally. After her studies at the IEP in Paris and at the Sorbonne in psychology, she worked in the banking sector in Spain, and later human resources before managing training and translation businesses. She is currently focusing her energies on the development of Akteos in France and abroad.

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