an anthropology of misunderstandings 193
as to irritate his ‘superior’ as much as possible.” O’Donnell analyzes a set of in-
teractions in which this reciprocal violence “organizes” relations in Argentina:
for example, when trying to enter the main avenue from a side street during
the most congested rush hour, in the United States one proceeds in the order
in which one got to the corner; in Rio de Janeiro it is more problematic, but it
gets resolved as a “favor,” evident in the beneficiary’s appreciative gesture of
thumbs up;
in Buenos Aires we are apparently equal: the rule is that if there are no
police in sight (or, presumably, hidden) everyone should go first. There-
fore, part of the procedure is to prevent the other from passing. . . . The
way to do it, theoretically illegal but universally practiced, is to “stick
the snout” (or “stick the front end”) in the other’s way. The result: the
cars advance until they nearly scrape each other. . . . The consequence
of this is, of course, a monumental inefficiency, fights, insults and, quite
often the self- complacent gesture of thumb enclosed in the evocative
circle of the index finger of the one who managed to stick his end in
front of the other and leaves him flooring the brakes with anger (sounds
like the title of a tango), a couple of millimeters from the car that slides
away victoriously.
The relationship that O’Donnell establishes between these behaviors and the
violence of military repression which I don’t have time to summarize now
enables him to show that Argentina is perhaps more egalitarian than Brazilian
society but equally authoritarian and violent. These behaviors correspond to
an “individualistic society, full of confrontations that do not solve anything
but activate the fury of the most powerful.” The mini- dramas of the individ-
ual confrontations “display an appearance of equality that ratifies the existing
differences, so that it also sows resentment and occludes cooperative opportu-
nities” (O’Donnell 1984: 20–21).
The difficulties we Argentines encounter in adapting to a society like Mex-
ico are understandable in light of the foregoing. To explain it further, I suggest
juxtaposing the phrase chosen by O’Donnell to what may be one of the key
phrases in Mexico: “He who gets angry loses.” It’s a formula that Mexicans
use internally, as in Brazil, in situations where someone challenges the order
and the hierarchy. It is applied or it is explained to us foreigners when we get
impatient and exhibit an improper recognition of these hierarchies, or when
we are pressed to resolve some matter or a conflict performing the usual rituals
in Mexican society. It is possible to interpret this phrase literally, as a symp-
tom of the type of relationships that prohibit getting angry and encourage
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