“Whatever you do, don´t mention the Falklands,” my Dad warned as we sat in the airport, running through mental checklists and discussing the ins and outs of my trip to Argentina.
I soon realised, however, that I would have no choice in the matter; the topic is inevitable for an English traveller in the Republic of Argentina. On letting slip the words `English´or `England´the floodgates are opened and it´s only a matter of minutes before I´m quizzed on the Islas Malvinas. Dad got one thing right; Malvinas are a safe bet, but don´t even think about uttering that F-word.
The first morning, I´m introduced to my host´s parents and I´m caught off- guard with the direct interrogative, “What do you think about the Malvinas?” Thinking on my feet, I manage to tackle the question without causing offence and am even relieved when their friendly chuckles break the awkward silence, assuring me that they did not intend to grill me, like meat on the Argentine Parilla.
Later that day, and out of the blue, my host hits me with a harsh reality: “You know, many people won´t be happy that you are here, because of the Malvinas”. I wondered for a moment if she could possibly be referring to herself too, or whether her parents really had seen the funny side earlier that morning. After a slight panic, I reasoned that I would not have received so much hospitality and warmth if it had been such an issue but was still somewhat nervous about meeting the people who would resent my decision to come to Argentina.
When I started work at Serrana FM, the local radio station I had come to volunteer for in order to adorn my CV, I began to understand the general sentiment in the country on the issue. On establishing my nationality, the team jumped at the chance to exploit my English perspective in terms of cultural differences, our terrible performance in the World Cup and, of course, the Malvinas.
Flavia, the Area Production responsible of the team was keen for me to voice my opinion on the phenomenon: “See, it will be really good for everyone to learn that not all English are in agreement with the war,” she professed. I was taken aback by the `I told you so´intonation in her voice when she reported to the team that I was against the English branding of the islands. Do all Argentines really think that all Brits back the decision made by Maggie nearly thirty years ago? The war itself took place seven years before I knew the wonders of this world, and I´m doubtful that those who were around had any say on the matter, let alone agreed with the invasion.
Sure enough, my debut of speaking on the air concluded with such a discussion. I felt intimidated and unnecesarily guilty when a listener sent a text to the radio phone exclaiming, “The Malvinas are Argentina´s!”. I empathised with his frustration and anger but could not understand why my nationality should make me any more protective of the windswept islands than those surrounded by the same waters as the Malvinas. Was the listener expecting a retalliation? If so, he would have been greatly disappointed with my response and insistence that we are not all Thatcherets, eager to stick our Union jack where we please. Luckily, the radio presenters backed me up and even admitted to Argentina´s clumsy attempt to defend what was theirs.
Less than a week into my two month stay in the Republic of Argentina, I´m somewhat bewildered by the immediate reactions and the eagerness of locals to quiz me on the islands, fully aware that the whole event passed me by and my limited knowledge has been gained in retrospect. Bizarrely, I find myself playing, “Eeny-meeny-miny-mo” with European nationalities -and more shockingly- with those North of the Atlantic- when asked the question, that up until now was the most simple one imaginable, “Where are you from?”.