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  • Writer's pictureMartijn

Argentine version of Social Distancing practices

Day 115 and only yesterday did I realize that the local version of Sanitary and Social Distancing recommendations was different! It starts the same : wash your hands often, sneeze or cough into your elbow, keep at least 1.5 m meters apart, don't go out if you have symptoms but it also says "don't share your mate".

In case you are not familiar with it, Mate is a traditional South American caffeine-rich infused drink, that was originally consumed by the Guaraní and Tupí peoples. It is the National Beverage in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay (where it is often made cold and called teréré). It is also consumed in the Bolivian Chaco, Southern Chile, Southern Brazil, Syria—the largest importer in the world—and Lebanon, where it was brought from Argentina by immigrants.

It is prepared by steeping dried leaves of yerba-maté (Ilex paraguariensis) in hot water and is served with a metal straw from a shared hollow calabash gourd. The straw is called a bombilla in Spanish and is traditionally made of silver. Modern, commercially available straws are typically made of nickel silver (called alpaca), stainless steel, or hollow-stemmed cane. The gourd is known as a mate and the water is supplied from a modern thermos.

The maté leaves are dried, chopped, and ground into a powdery mixture called yerba, which means "herb". The bombilla functions as both a straw and a sieve. The submerged end is flared, with small holes or slots that allow the brewed liquid in, but block the chunky matter that makes up much of the mixture.

Mate has a strong cultural significance both in terms of national identity and well as socially. Drinking mate is a common social practice, at work, when relaxing, on the beach, where typically the gourd and bombilla are passed around a group of people who all drink from the same straw.

According to the local press "80% of infections in the province of Chubut come from sharing mate, drinks and greeting with a kiss".

Many foreigners are not super excited about the tradition, either because you don't get your own cup or because of the germs on the bombilla or simply because the drink is bitter! Personally, I quite enjoy the taste but what bothers me is that the metal straw gets awfully hot when the warm beverage travels through it and it burns my lips.... unlike Argentines who start early, I have not had enough time to build the necessary resistance on that particular area of my mouth!

Another reason to stay away from mate could be the strict etiquette around its brewing and drinking: you need to fill the gourd to a certain point, humidify the yerba with a little bit of cold water first, you are NEVER supposed to move the bombilla or stir with it and I think you are also not supposed to empty the cup. A diplomatic incident is therefore so likely that it's better to avoid it altogether....

There are many things I like and will miss about Argentina, but Mate is not one of them (and my apologies to anyone who feels offended). I guess most countries have their local horrors: snails in France, peanut butter and jelly in the US, big-bottom ants in Colombia and "drop" in the Netherlands... foreigners just don't like it as much as we natives do...

Personally, I love drop in all its forms, tastes (especially the salty ones) and shapes!

I wonder what other horrors we will find on our Round the World trip!

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