They are crying for Argentina.

"We are in grief," said Lidia Ferrer of herself and the other Argentines in this area as their country battles Britain for the cold and blustery islands they call the Malvinas.

In their suburban homes, in their offices at international agencies and in their small shops and restaurants, Argentines here have watched with sorrow and intense patriotic fervor the faraway war on which their country's honor rides. They have sent money and medical equipment home and some have volunteered to go and fight.

Grief is only half the story. Argentines here are experiencing something resembling shock at the U.S. decision to abandon neutrality and side with Britain. The move left them angry -- more angry, some say, than they are at the British refusal to give up the islands.

"The fact that American weapons are being used to kill Argentines is not something that is going to go very well," said Miguel Bomar with a sharp edge in his voice. Bomar, a longtime resident here, runs a Spanish broadcasting service.

For Americans, Washington's choice was not surprising given the longstanding ties between Britain and the United States, and this country's often strained relations with Argentina, ranging from the World War II years when it harbored Nazis to the more recent controversies over human rights violations.

The Argentines see things differently, and the U.S. decision challenged their most fundamental perceptions of themselves, their country, and its relationship with the United States -- perceptions they feel most Americans care or know little about.

For Argentines, their country is not pro-western -- it is western -- with a history and culture that are more similar to that of the United States than any other South American nation.

"Argentines are taken aback at the world reaction that they are some sort of ragtag Third World country," said Georgette Dorn, a Library of Congress researcher who grew up in Argentina. "The news coverage implies they are not on the British level. This hurts them since they consider themselves European," she said.

"We are close to the U.S., aggressive, enterprising, well-educated, with a clear concept of our own cultural identity. We had a Metro in our capital at the turn of the century and we have had four Nobel Prize winners," said an Argentine employe of the Organization of American States, who did not want to be named.

Argentines like to compare their founding father, Jose de San Martin, whose statue stands in Washington's Judiciary Square, with George Washington. They remind Americans that Argentina is the "whitest country" in Latin America -- another reason they feel the United States should have stayed neutral.

"You know this is the first war since World War II in which two western countries are fighting each other," said one Argentine who has worked here for 20 years. "Argentina is not Bangladesh, or Vietnam or some other faraway unknown country. Britain and Argentina are both western and white," he said.

Argentines' self-image has been reinforced by the community's life here in Washington. You are not likely to find Argentines living in Washington's Hispanic barrio of Adams-Morgan or running afoul of immigration authorities. Many are well-educated and worldly and have fit easily into the upper reaches of Washington society, living in the suburbs of Virgina and Maryland or the up-market neighborhoods of Washington. They ride hard in polo games and their maids shop in the supermarkets.

The community, generally estimated at a few thousand members, is rooted in a steady immigration during the 1950s and 60s as Argentines sought out economic and professional opportunities in a country they admired.

Unlike the large Argentine communities in New York and Los Angeles, Washington's has a large subgroup of diplomats and bureaucrats working in such international agencies as the OAS, the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank.

The rest of the community is made up of doctors, bankers, businessmen, teachers, shop-owners, car mechanics and hairdressers. Many of them now are U.S. citizens but, like Ines Pulisic of Greenbelt, still talk as if they belong to two countries. "I love this country, but I'm sad about my country," says Pulisic, a cafeteria worker at the OAS and mother of a 24-year-old son now serving in the U.S. Army.

This sense of dual loyalty comes easily to Pulisic and other Argentines because, up to now, they had felt a kind of family relationship between Argentina and the United States. "Argentines see America as the older brother, an old friend, so they cannot understand the response they got," said Fernando Barbero, a man with rosy cheeks and a grey Chaplinesque mustache who owns the Buenos Aires Export Corp. on Connecticut Avenue.

"I feel very depressed because we are all Americans, so I feel it's like treason, I feel discriminated against once again," said 24-year-old Roxana Ruiz, who runs the basement coffee shop in the OAS building with her mother. "I don't believe the U.S. did the right thing because it should be neutral. I didn't expect they would be with us, but never thought they would be against us. Britain is strong enough, it has enough ships without the U.S. helping them. I thought they won't be against us because we live on the same continent."

Argentines feel they are victims of American hypocrisy. "You Americans harped on the Monroe Doctrine for so many years. It was your idea first, that we should all stick together, keep the Europeans out, but that was in the War of 1812 when it was to your advantage to keep the English out," said Dolores Martin, a Library of Congress employe whose father was Argentine and who lived there until her 20s.

Many also believe that if only Americans better understood them and their feelings about the Malvinas, the United States would have responded differently. "Does any British child know the name of the men who seized the Malvinas from Argentina in 1833?" asked one OAS official. "I'm sure not. But every Argentine child age 6 or 7 knows who was the Argentine governor in charge of the islands when they were taken."

"My great grandmother and many other Argentine women were named Malvina in honor of the islands," said Martin. "It's deeply ingrained in all of us that the Malvinas are Argentine; it's like an Argentine fever."

The fever still runs high. "Even my son, who was born here, feels strongly about the Malvinas," said Mario Blautzik, a barber in the National Press Building who came here in 1964. Fourteen-year-old Mario Jr. has had heated discussions with his junior high schoolmates in Silver Springs about the Malvinas, his father said.

The small group of political dissidents here, opponents of the junta led by Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri,support Argentina's claim to the Malvinas but not the war.

Their stance is reflected by Juan Mendez, a 37-year-old lawyer forced into exile after 18 months in an Argentine jail, who says, "The Malvinas are Argentine. We have every right to be there. But I don't agree with the motivation [for the invasion] which was to reverse the government's trend of unpopularity. And it was not done by a government that is representative of the people."

The vast majority of Argentines, however, make no such distinction and have reacted with both financial and moral support. The Comision Esperanza Damas Argentinas (the Hope Commission of the Ladies of Argentina), a 14-year-old charitable foundation here, so far has raised $25,000 to provide medical equipment to the war effort, one of its officials said.

And coffee shop manager Ruiz says, " . . . If they need me, I'll go home to fight." Smoking a cigarette and shaking her shoulder-length platinum-blond hair, she says she called her consulate to offer to enlist because, "I love my country. If I have to die for my country, even if it is wrong, no doubt about it, I would go and die. I always say, a mother and a country, you have only one."

Collectively the Argentines feel isolated, overwhelmed by the pro-British sentiment of the American people and what they regard as biased press coverage. There is disappointment that the average American has not been more supportive. "The American people have been, well, polite," is how one Argentine woman puts it.

But many say their neighbors have come over to express their personal support, and at the Argentine embassy, a large gray brick building with wrought-iron doors at 1600 New Hampshire Ave. NW, there has been some consolation in sympathetic letters and even a few checks from Americans.

One letter came from an Irish-American who wrote "God Bless Argentina and her courageous people in this war against the British tyrant Thatcher and her supporters."

Argentines' feelings on future relations with the United States are mixed. Some say the damage is "incalculable," in the words of barber Blautzik, and that "the basic trust which existed will never exist again," according to an embassy employe.

Others take a longer view. "We still believe the U.S. will understand Argentina and we will be friends again," said one OAS official. "A small mistake in diplomacy can be pardoned in a country with 500 years of history."

As to the war, Argentines say even a humiliating military defeat will not end their quest. "You know the case of the general who won all the battles but lost the war -- we will recuperate the Malvinas," said one OAS official.

Besides, said Argentine journalist Ary Moleon, "they have a woman's name; we cannot abandon them."