Riche comme un argentin
Recently, as I am trying to improve my French, I came across a phrase that was particularly interesting for me. The phrase was "riche comme un argentin" ("rich as an argentine").
I am from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and you would imagine that it was surprising for me to learn that people in France actually use this idiom to refer to anyone that is extremedly wealthy and ostentacious.
I researched about this in the Internet to find the origin of this phrase. This took me back to the beginnings of the nineteenth century, when the Argentina has one of the biggest GDP worldwide and was known as the "world's barn" ("Granero del mundo") because of its great agricultural exportation. However, this wealth was very concentrated between the big landowners, that formed an extremedly rich aristocracy. Such was the wealth of this people, and their admiration for european culture, that they travelled very often to Europe, despite the journey complications, which consisted in steam boats at the time. They spent great money in those trips, and sorrounded themself with a lot of luxury. They were very fond of French architecture; they even bring entire builidings, brick by brick, back home. It is until today that Buenos Aires is full with gorgeous French buildings from the beginning of the last century (some people even call it "la París de Sudamérica").
Many years have past since that time, many goverments, some were good, some were bad and some were worst. The phrase riche comme un argentin may seem quite unrealistic now in a country with the world’s 52th GDP per capita.
I am a native Spanish speaker, I've learned English when I was a little boy and I started French in February. I never thought that learning another language would teach me so much about my own country, its history and about myself. Merçi Duolingo and all the Duocomunity for everything!
"Cada idioma es un forma distinta de concebir el universo" "Every language is a different way to conceive the universe." -Jorge Luis Borges
That is fascinating! I enjoy learning the background of idioms. Thanks for taking the time to share it.
Very interesting backstory--thanks for posting this. There are analogous throwback expressions in other languages. One that comes to mind is "all the tea in China", echo of the days of the British East India Company when tea was one of the most lucrative commodities in the world.
Lingot given for the Borges quote...anyone who reads Borges is okay by me.
This makes me wonder how that idiom ("all the tea in China") is translated in other languages. I know that in Spanish it would be "todo el oro del Perú" (all the gold in Peru).
Once, with a group of international students, we started collecting versions of the idiom "It's all Greek to me". The variation is amazing: In German, you refer to Spanish, in Finnish, to Hebrew, in some language (I can't remember which one), to Chinese, and so on.
It's so funny how "otherness" is exemplified differently in different languages like this.
I've done this as well! In Spanish it is Chinese. In Italian it's Arabic. I can't remember what a Danish friend of mine told me, but it was something else.
I actually started wondering about it because an Italian friend said something to me (in English) like, "It's Arabic to me," when he didn't understand something. It's interesting what you can learn about someone's native language from the mistakes they make in their second language (or third or fourth)!
Indeed! When I did a bit of Spanish years ago, I was surprisingly good at getting the word order right, and I remember thinking "well, this is how my Spanish friends would speak German"... I just needed to learn the Spanish words and try to speak like they did. :-)
That happened to me with Italian, actually. When I first decided to learn it, the easiest accent for me to understand was my Italian roommate's (and people from the same region as her, even though they talked faster than others I knew), and I swear it was because I had already subconsciously adjusted to her Italian accent in English from hearing it all the time.
In Finnish I couldn't think of any geographical reference, one would say "kuu taivaalta" (moon from the sky) instead.
Merci à vous pour le petit leçon d'histoire. Les idioms m'intéressent beaucoup, peut-être trop ! Même en anglais, les idioms sont une vrai vue vers histoire de la langue et du peuple.
As a native, I have never heard this from someone or some medias. And as you said it is an old idiom so it must have been used many decades ago.
But the story is really interesting ! and many idioms have a good story behind !
Yes, today we would say "riche comme Crésus"; and there is also a story behind this idiom.
A lingot for the history lesson and another for Jorge Luis Borges, who I had to read in college.
Cool. And I love the quote "Cada idioma es un forma distinta de concebir el universo", gracias.
They do have the same Latin roots, though I doubt that's relevant for this saying. "Argent" is used for "money" because it's the French word for silver. "Argentina" also comes from the word for silver, and means "silvery" or "silver-colored" in Spanish.
You are right, both Argentina and argent have their origin in the latin word for silver "argentum". Before gainning its independence from the Spanish crown, it was called the "Virreinato de las Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata".
Nice post fellow countryman. I knew the expression but wasn`t aware that it was still being used. Made me a bit nostalgic, heh.
I (in the US) was recently in a used bookstore and found "America Faces South," an American book from the 1930s about Latin America. The chapters on Argentina stress the wealth and hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires, and the distinctly French feel of the city as well.
The book also had a lot on the threat of the Nazis controlling South America, so it was very much of its time.
The feel and the culture are still here. As for the money... yeah, yo probably guessed it right.
Nazis are long dead thank God.