Mate (Mah-Tay) Culture
Argentina, South America
So, Argentina – I am in love with this country. From the fact that strangers wish you good luck and give you a kiss on the cheek for each goodbye, to the amazing looks and warmth of the Argentine women…I mean, the Argentine people…I could describe for you the beautiful Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil, Patagonia’s plentiful peaks/rivers/valleys/hikes, Bariloche’s lake region beautiful for skiing in the winter and world class fishing in the summer, etc. – but I will not. The following made a bigger impact on me personally than the gorgeous terrain.
In Argentina, they have a tradition of drinking a drink called mate (mah-tay). My first exposure to mate was on a 5 hour bus ride in Patagonia’s (area of southern Argentina) wild. It turned out to be one of the most amazing bus rides of my life – sitting next to this incredible Argentinean who was helped me out with my Spanish while I was being mesmerized by the landscape – then the moment arrived and I was asked if I liked mate. I had never heard of it so I answered accordingly. You should have seen the smile that this answer produced. Immediately my newfound friend went up to the front of the bus, asked the bus driver for some of this drink (of which he promptly prepared like they were old schoolmates), and my friend brought it to my seat in the back of the bus. I honestly didn’t like it too much on the first go, as it tasted like a very strong tea but more importantly, I didn’t trust my system while sitting on a bus driving in the middle of nowhere with no bathrooms (sorry for the visual if you got one).
My friend was visibly disappointed when I told them it was not for me, after which they went back to the driver and sat down on the floor, drinking this drink, and passing it back and forth to the driver. Then another passenger (Argentine I presume) went to the front to drink some. It took about 2 minutes and there were 5 people all in the front sitting in a circle-like fashion just talking and passing around mate. Complete strangers, but hanging out like they were close friends. I had the thought immediately of ‘this would never happen in my hometown as people would be too worried about using the same straw from others and be having germ/bacteria issues’. But there in Argentina this was not a concern as these people were having an apparent great mate session with stories and smiles; sharing a pastime of the country together like old school buddies. Mate: a beautiful custom in an equally beautiful place.