An Argentine living in London tells of his experiences in the British capital and what he thinks of the city and its people.
Many people would agree that the best ambassador for the South American nation of Argentina is the tango, a dance full of character that one particular Argentinean has brought to the streets of London.
Cristián Petitio left his country with the hope of finding a new life in Europe.
First, he went to Italy and then the United Kingdom, a country that he describes as a land of “opportunities”.
He is aware that his work is spreading the name and culture of his country across Great Britain. “The tango is not just dancing: it represents the person, the family, a mood, a neighbourhood, or a particular way that we might talk”, he explains.
Although he only arrived in London three years ago, he considers himself very much a part of the thousands of people that make up the city, and is currently considering whether to dedicate himself entirely to his passion: the tango.
For the last eight months, he has been teaching British students at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) how to interpret the sensual rhythm of the tango with their bodies.
What does starting a new life in Europe mean for an Argentinean?
Arriving here is fascinating for many reasons. You take on more global culture, it changes your mentality, you grow up a lot and you learn that in the UK, you have many rights. For example, the taxes that you pay are given back in your salary.
London is excessively expensive, but it is one of the cities that offers you so many opportunities, both socially and for work. There is a lot of help available, but you have to work three times as hard to keep yourself going.
The language is essential in getting to know and becoming part of British society. And it’s very important in finding a job related to your experience. If you don’t know how to communicate you will only be able to work in jobs that are not very well paid. On the other hand, there are absolutely no problems with the Government as long as you don’t do anything bad. If you work, or study, and contribute to society, nobody will disturb you.
Latin American immigration has fallen in recent years. What do your fellow Latin Americans think about this? What are they saying in Argentina?
The new Argentine immigrants arrive in London with a huge desire to work, live and integrate. Others think that work will knock on their door, but you always have to look for opportunities and persevere.
In terms of the situation in Argentina at the moment, there are lots of different opinions. My family and friends are happy with the way that the country is right now. There are still old problems that need to be sorted out, but developments are positive and I am very happy. I may live here, but I am still Argentinean. That will never change.
In terms of racism, have you felt discriminated against for being foreign?
I have never felt any kind of discrimination. Racism is all over the world, even in Argentina. From my experience, I don’t think that the United Kingdom is a racist country, its streets are multiethnic and there are many cultures from all over the globe coexisting here.
Do you know what the hardest thing is? Getting the embrace right. It’s essential to the tango. If they can’t get it, the movements aren’t natural. To start with, they’re lost, but once they get their confidence they really enjoy it. The whole thing of getting close to and touching somebody that you don’t know makes them freeze up. Their initial attitudes reflect the distant British character, but after that, they surprise you. They are just as expressive as other European people.
What do you think about the climate?
If you worry about the climate you’ll go crazy. The most important thing is to concentrate on your new situation. I think my personality is different now. I’m still quite fun and make jokes, but the climate has calmed me down a little.
The warmth that you get from family and friends. In Argentina you go to the supermarket and you can start up a conversation with the cashier. Or you can say hi and chat about anything with the people you’re sharing a lift. Here you do something like that and they just stare at you.
It has been three years since you arrived, what would you try to erase from your memory?
I’ve had some bad moments. When you’re looking for work and you have nothing to do, you suffer quite a lot. Without work you have no money, but you have to keep paying the rent and you start to feel the pressure.