What to Expect in Argentina for Missionaries

Summary: For the soon-to-be missionary in Argentina, here is a little of what to expect on your mission. For parents and friends, you too can read on to find some interesting information about missionary life in Argentina. Also check out my Rosario Argentina Mission Life Videos.

I remember fondly my days as a missionary in Argentina; I will always cherish the time I spent in Argentina and the friendships I made there. But I also remember that living there was a bit of a culture shock at first, with different foods, a different language, and different customs. Therefore, for the benefit of future missionaries from the US going to Argentina, I thought I would write a little about what to expect in Argentina, some of the unique parts of life there, and other things you may expect to experience. My experience, which will be somewhat different than other missionaries in other cities at other times, was in the Rosario Argentina mission from 1995 to 1997. Though some of these things may seem funny or unusual, they are part of what gives Argentina it’s character. I’ve divided my observations into six categories:

The Food

  • Mild Foods: When I first got my call to Argentina, in my ignorance, I was expecting spicy food, perhaps like you would find in Mexico. On the contrary, though, I found mostly mild foods, with a lot of Italian influence: noodles, beef, chicken, salads, pizza, potatoes, rice, etc. Salads vary, as they do in the US, though a common Argentine salad that may be new to Americans is tomato and onion and that’s all. Salad dressing generally consisted of oil, vinegar, and salt (sorry, no ranch or zesty Italian dressing).
  • Beef and Asado: Argentina is famous for it’s beef and asado is the national dish. Asado usually refers to a grilled steak, but can also refer to a barbecue event. I remember the first time I was ever served asado. I think I ate more food at one sitting than I ever had in my life. Good stuff. I should also mention, though, that during my time in Argentina, I was served just about every part of the cow, many of which I honestly could not bear to eat. I just couldn’t stomach stomach.
  • Pizza and Toppings: Pizza is another common dish in Argentina, which many Americans will be glad to hear, though the common toppings may be different than you expect. Green olives and hard boiled eggs are two of the most common toppings you’ll find on pizza there. Usually, I just got cheese pizza, and it wasn’t bad. In fact, frequently, we just made our own. You could buy a pizza crust, tomato sauce, and queso cremoso (literally translated “cream cheese” but it was more like mozarella) at many corner stores.
  • Sandwiches: A very common lunch (or any time) meal was a ham and cheese sandwich. Most neighborhood stores carried fresh baked bread and deli meats and cheeses. My companions and I would frequently stop and buy some bread, thin sliced ham and cheese, and have a simple but good lunch.
  • Little or No American Fast Food: My brother, who served his mission in Poland, often wrote home about eating at American restaurant chains on a weekly basis (McDonald’s, KFC, etc.), but that will likely not be the case in Argentina. The only American restaurant chain I was aware of in Argentina was McDonald’s, and they were very few and far between.
  • No Cold Cereal for Breakfast: If you are used to a daily breakfast of Lucky Charms, Golden Graham, Fruit Loops, or Honey Combs, you may be disappointed. The only cold cereal I was ever able to find was corn flakes, and still that was a relatively rare find. I did have a companion, though, who improvised cold cereal by using a bag of assorted cookies and pouring them in a bowl with milk. It worked for him. I, on the other hand, ate a lot of pancakes and french toast with dulce de leche. Dulce de leche is a very common caramel spread which made for a decent substitute for maple syrup which was not to be found there.
  • Polenta: Polenta is ground corn meal that is boiled into a thick soup, very similar to grits. Though unlike grits, polenta is usually not served for breakfast. It is served for lunch or dinner, often with tomato sauce, chicken, or other ingredients. Many missionaries I knew dreaded being served polenta, but I actually liked it. My mother is a southerner, so I was no stranger to grits.
  • Water: The water in Argentina, with a few exceptions, is generally safe to drink…once you’ve gotten used to it. And getting used to it generally involves having diarrhea for a week first. The alternative is to always drink bottled water, but that would mean turning down the glass of cold water or “jugo” (literally translated “juice” but it was more like a juice flavored punch) that virtually every member, and many non-members, will offer you. One funny thing about water sources in Argentina, is that most people have water tanks on top of houses. I once asked why this was and someone told it provided more stable water pressure to the house when the city water pressure was sporadic.
  • Mandarin Oranges: Argentina had great fresh fruits and vegetables, often at very good prices. When mandarin oranges (mandarinas) were in season, we could get 20 or 30 for a peso (roughly a dollar when I was in Argentina). Deliciosa!

The People

  • Language = Castellano: Contrary to what they tell you in the MTC, they do not speak Spanish in Argentina; they speak el Castellano. (Don’t tell the Argentine’s, but Spanish and Castellano are basically the same thing.) The name Castellano comes from the Spanish region of Castile where the language originated.
  • Economics: Argentina has wealthy millionaires and very poor people and every economic living condition in between. As a missionary, you will likely be exposed to more impoverished people, and more extreme cases of poverty, than you have seen in the US.
  • Fútbol: Fútbol (i.e. soccer) is, of course, huge in Argentina. In our mission, we were not allowed to play soccer (too many injuries, I heard). My first companion, who happened to be a native of Buenos Aires Argentina, introduced me to the main soccer rivalry, two teams called “River” and “Boca.” I tried to not pick sides, but most Argentines are passionately behind one of those teams, though there are lots of other professional soccer teams.
  • Catholicism: The overwhelming majority of the people of Argentina are Catholic. “Soy Catholico Apostolico Romano” (“I’m Roman Catholic”) is a phrase you’ll hear multiple times a day, frequently from people trying to get rid of you. In such cases, be polite, but be persistent.
  • The Falkland Islands (“Las Islas Malvinas”): The Falklands are a group of islands off the coast of Argentina. They are a British Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. Yet to Argentina, the islands are theirs, and they are called the Malvinas. In 1982, Argentina invaded the islands, but their forces eventually withdrew in defeat. Still, many Argentines pursue their claim to the islands and, believe me, you’ll hear about it.

Environment and Surroundings

  • The Mosquitos: In my first week in Argentina, one day I saw a mosquito on my companions arm, so I swatted it. Big mistake. Blood splattered all over my companion’s white shirt. Not many days later, we crossed through a field and I ended up with mosquitos completely covering my companions back. This time, my companion taught me how to gently shoo them away. Dealing with the mosquitos was a constant battle throughout my mission. During the nights, in our apartment, we would have gotten eaten alive by the mosquitos if it wasn’t for the mosquito-repellent incense that we would burn.
  • Dogs Everywhere: I have never seen so many dogs in my life as I did in Argentina. They seemed to run wild in the streets, and yet I don’t think I ever saw a dog catcher. Many of the dogs were ownerless and roamed the streets in constant search for food. Many of them were disease ridden. I had a companion who was a hunter who used to joke (at least I think it was a joke) about coming back to Argentina with his gun and taking out all the stray dogs.
  • The Zanja: The zanja (translated: ditch), is the gully along side streets, in front of homes in neighborhoods. In the poorer neighborhoods, the zanja was often deep and filled with disgusting runoff water. Zanjas were definitely to be avoided, and if you are in a hurry, they are only to be jumped over with great caution. (I heard a disaster story or two of missionaries trying to jump the zanja and ending up in the middle of it.)
  • Rain Storms: Many of you, particularly those who have lived in Utah your whole life, may be shocked by the powerful rain storms in Argentina. With almost certainly, you will be caught out in one of these storms, so pray you are prepared. For my first big rain storm in Argentina, I was caught unprepared. Everything in my backpack got soaked, except my scriptures; they came out completely dry. It was a mini miracle. If you are serving in an area with a lot of dirt roads, count on walking through a lot of mud the following day.
  • Flooring: It sounds funny to have a section on flooring, but this is a major difference that Americans will have to get used to. You will find mostly concrete or tile floors in Argentina. Dirt floors are still common in many areas. I also thought it was so funny to see women sweeping a dirt floor, but they did it. You will likely not see carpet while you are there (I didn’t), though some of the nicer places probably have it or throw rugs.

Transportation

  • Be Prepared to Walk: Your primary mode of transportation as a missionary in Argentina is walking. You will put a lot of miles on your shoes, so be sure to bring a couple of pairs of shoes that are good for walking. At first, I had a hard time keeping up with my companions, but by the end of my mission, I could speed walk with the best of them.
  • El Collectivo (the Bus): For long distances or when walking was not practical, we would take the local bus. Most cities in Argentina have a really good bus system. In many areas we would buy bus passes, though we had to use them sparingly to stay within our budget. Taking the bus on P-day to the grocery store was common, as was taking the bus to go to zone conference. Taking the bus was also usually a good time to sit down, open your mouth, and talk to someone about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Remises: Remises are basically taxis, though Argentina had taxis too (I never was clear on the difference). In extreme situations where you have to get across town fast, you can call or flag down a remise. A remis, compared to taking a bus, is expensive, which is why you can’t take them often. When you do take a remise, hold off for your life. The drivers in Argentina are not generally known for driving safe and slow. And don’t forget to talk to your remise driver about the gospel; you’ll have several minutes of his attention.
  • Horse-Drawn Carts: From the small towns and even to the big cities, you will see horse-drawn carts in the streets of Argentina. These are not your tourist-type horse-drawn carriages, but real, utilitarian carts being used to transport goods, often fruits and vegetables.
  • Multi-Person Bikes: These bikes weren’t designed for more than one person, but I would often see two or three people only a bike going from point A to point B. One time I even saw a family of five (dad, mom, and three kids) on a single person bike. I wish I had had my camera for that one. Many people did not have cars, so a bike was frequently the way for people to travel around.

Apartment Living

  • Shower and Calefón: A calefón is an appliance found in many (maybe most) homes in Argentina used to heat up the water for a shower. It is usually a metal tank attached to the wall in a bathroom or shower. Be extra careful plugging or unplugging it; I got a shock or two of Argenitna’s 220 volt electric current from the calefón. Most bathrooms don’t have a separate shower area, with a shower curtain as you are used to in the US. Instead, the calefón shower is usually placed right by the sink and toilet with no separation. Yes, water gets all over, and that’s why you have a squeegee and a drain in the middle of the floor.
  • Electricity: As I mentioned above, Argentina’s electricity is 22o volts, double the US standard of 110 volts. So don’t forget a power converter/adapter if you want to plug in your electric devices. 
  • Laundry: In about half my areas we were able to make arrangements to pay a woman in the local ward to wash our clothes, but often times we had to wash our own laundry. I don’t think that’s something my mom really taught me, but thanks to my first companion’s training, I picked it up pretty quickly.
  • Bidets: For those of you who don’t know what a bidet is (as I didn’t prior to my mission), it is a low-mounted plumbing fixture, generally located right beside the toilet, for washing your derriere. I never used one, but I guess a lot of people do because they are found in most bathrooms in Argentina. In one apartment, our land lord came into our bathroom one day to fix the shower and he asked if if the bidet was working okay. We said we didn’t know because we didn’t use it. He was shock and asked us “how do you clean yourself?” We told him toilet paper was enough for us.
  • No Central Heat and Air: I’m sure some people have central heat and air, but no missionary apartment I ever saw did. Depending on where you are in Argentina, the north or the south, excessive heat or cold may be an issue. In the summer, I couldn’t sleep without a fan blowing directly on me to keep me cool. And in the winter, we generally needed to get an electric space heater to warm our bedroom (which we could only afford to run it in the morning when we were getting ready). For my first winter in Argentina, I asked me mom to send me a winter hat to sleep in, and once I had it, I slept much better.

The Church

  • Church Buildings and Units. The first area I served in was a small branch called Gazano on the outskirts of a city called Paraná, and there we only averaged about 25 or 30 people a week at Church. Later I served in the big city of Rosario, where we had a beautiful building downtown and a large ward with hundreds of members. All told, I served in eight different areas, ranging from the big city to small towns, from large wards to small branches. About half of the areas had Church-owned buildings and half used rented building for their Sunday meetings.
  • Outdoor Baptisms. In areas without a Church-owned building, we would often have to drive long distances to use the baptismal font in another ward building. Or, in some cases, the wards/branches had gotten an above ground pool to use as a make-shift baptismal font. These fonts worked just fine to perform the saving ordinance of baptism, though it could be quite chilly if the weather didn’t cooperate.
22 replies
  1. Radz
    Radz says:

    I wish i could be called to Argentina- it seems amazing. do you know how much money i need for mission in south africa

    Reply
    • Jimmy
      Jimmy says:

      As you probably know, mission costs are equalized for young men and young women. In the US, it’s $400 a month. See more information on my post about the LDS Mission Cost. But as for the cost for someone from South Africa, I just don’t know. You’ll have to talk to your bishop or stake president. Good luck and God bless.

      Reply
  2. Heidi
    Heidi says:

    My family and I are leaving in 2 weeks to Parana Agentina! We are LDS, our son in on the USA fastpitch softball team and that is where they are hosting the Worlds Championshif. So, We are wanting all the information we can get. We are wanting to get in touch with the members there so we can do a service project while we are there and also attend church. Is this something you can help us with? Is there anyone you would reccomend us getting in touch with?

    Reply
    • Jimmy
      Jimmy says:

      Very cool. I served in a little branch on the outskirts of Parana back in 1996. I think that is great if you could do a service project while you are there, but I wouldn’t know anyone in particular who you should contact. You may try looking in the Church directory for the stake president’s name and contact info. Good luck and God bless.

      Reply
  3. Grant
    Grant says:

    I am going to the Buenos Aires South mission in about a week! Do you think it will be the same experience as your mission?

    Reply
  4. Lorraine
    Lorraine says:

    This was extremely helpful. I just was called to the new Argentina Comodoro Davia mission. I’ve never been outside of the United states in memory (I’ve been told I’ve been to Mexico as a child to visit family) so I was super nervous about what to expect. This eased my fears a lot. The weather, food, and other such things are quite similar to where I live (Arizona Monsoons are pretty intense), so I am relatively prepared for that. I am worried about the mosquitoes, however. Is the gentle shooing and incense at night really the only thing that you could do? Was the spray-on insect repellent not available there?

    Reply
    • Jimmy
      Jimmy says:

      Good question about the mosquito repellent, but unfortunately my memory is failing me as to why we didn’t use it. I’m guessing it was either too expensive or not available. I don’t know which was the case, but regardless, things might be different now. Maybe someone who’s been to Argentina more recently than me can tell you the availability of spray-on insect repellent.

      Reply
    • Jimmy
      Jimmy says:

      I’m not sure what to recommend on shoes. It is VERY important that you get good shoes because you will be doing a lot of walking. I had a pair of Dockers brand shoes, and they worked well for me. So many missionaries that I knew, though, had problems with their feet because they had stylish, yet uncomfortable shoes. Go for comfort and durability, not style, when it comes to shoes.

      Reply
  5. Anna
    Anna says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. My son leaves next month for the MTC and then will be going to the Posadas mission. I will remember to get him a hat, I read you slept in yours. I was thinking that would be something not very necessary but just changed my mind. His list of things to bring mentions “boots”. We aren’t sure what type of boots to get, any ideas? Also, did you learn any Guarani? I heard there are many people that speak Guarani around Posadas.
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Jimmy
      Jimmy says:

      Posadas is about 1,000km (600 miles) north of Rosario where I served. It will be much warmer there, and the need for a winter hat may be less, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have it to sleep in, just in case.

      That’s interesting that it says to bring boots. I imagine that would be because of the many heavy rain storms and the muddy roads that result from it. I’m not sure what boots to suggest. I never had boots. I just let my shoes dry over night, and I scraped the dried mud off the next day.

      As for Guarani, I never came across anyone who spoke it, but again, that may be different in Posadas.

      Good luck to your son. He will have a great time.

      Reply
    • wade baird
      wade baird says:

      sister. I went to the Buenos aires north mission. but after returning home I was able to return and live in argentina for another 25 years. when they speak of boots you need to verify with the mission president who should have given you his phone. they may be referring to boots for mud and water or they may even be referring to boots for riding horses. in the north there are a lot of areas where that is the only type of transportation. youmay also give your son enough funds to be able to cover this kind of expense once he is there. shoes are the most important thin he can have and if they give out on him before the 2 years are up he will have a problem.

      Reply
    • wade baird
      wade baird says:

      with reference to learning guarani. there is a large population of guarani Indians in the northern region of argentina along the border with Paraguay. he may have to learn some of that language but so long as he concentrates on Spanish he will be fine. they will generally speak either guarani or quiche but guaranteed all will speak Spanish. as far as the hat is concernes… a beanie for his head if it gets a little chilly at night might be ok but most likely he wont need it. missionaries don’t use other types of hats there in argentina. when I was there they wouldn’t allow them for daytime use at all and in 27 years I never saw a missionary with one on and I travelled extensively through northern argentina while living there. tell your son to love the people. embrace their culture and enjoy his time there. all too soon it will be over and only memories. but it is a vital platform from which he can jump in to his with the strength he will need in life. I surely wish him and his companions the very best in all their endevours.

      Reply
  6. Nate
    Nate says:

    wow, what great advice! I’m not a Mormon but have stayed in Rosario for some time. Your advice is excellent! Great work

    Reply
  7. Frank Long
    Frank Long says:

    Elder Smith! It looks like you’ve done a good thing here. I will have to go through the website a little slower to soak it all in, but it looks great.
    I did read, however, your comment on the pizza. Of course we all have our opinions and how everything comes to us from our viewpoints, but I thought the pizza was nothing like N. American pizza. I thought it wasn’t very good. Again, that’s my opinion. Good to see your face again! Que Dios te bendiga ya a tu familia!
    -Elder Long (1996-1998)

    Reply
    • Jimmy
      Jimmy says:

      Hey Elder Long. I’m glad you found my website. It’s good to hear from you. I’ll reach out to you on Facebook so we can connect there. Thanks.

      Reply
  8. Kevin Bell
    Kevin Bell says:

    Thanks for sharing this Jimmy. I served in the Argentina South and the Buenos Aires North Missions from 1973-1975 and your article brought back a lot of memories.

    Reply
  9. Kim
    Kim says:

    My son was just called to the Argentina Rosario Mission. In the paperwork it states not to send packages because they will either be destroyed or sent back. Do you know anything about that?

    Reply
    • Jimmy
      Jimmy says:

      Hi Kim. Thanks for writing. When I was on my mission in Rosario Argentina, 20 years ago, our parents would send packages through the mail to the mission home, and then the mission home would get those packages to us missionaries, but not through the mail. If I were you, I would try sending something through the mail this way. Send something inexpensive and see if it gets safely to the mission home or not. If it works, great. If it doesn’t work, then you will know not to send things through the mail anymore. Regardless, I would avoid sending anything valuable this way. My mom would send candy and other tastes from home, and they all got to me. Good luck, and let me know how it goes.

      Reply
  10. Scott Bynum
    Scott Bynum says:

    Great article! I served in la Misión Argentina Rosario in ’79-’81, & was able to return with my sweetheart in ’08. It was wonderful to experience Argentina’s “constants” along with the changes. Thanks for sharing the wonders of a marvellous land, people, & calling.

    Reply

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