Mate (parte dos)
In this episode we talk more about the manners, customs and traditions about mate. As we discussed last week, la yerba mate, is the national drink of Argentina. But it is much more than that too… Usually an invitation to drink mate is really an invitation to chat (often for hours!). One person is the designated servador (server), and they make sure that the mate tastes good before passing it around in a circle, usually clockwise. It keeps being passed around (with the server always doing the refilling) until the water runs out.
It’s quite an acquired taste, and can be quite bitter. The first mate usually tastes the strongest, and often isn’t the best one as la bombilla (straw) can fill up with dust; so it’s up to the servador to ensure that it’s a good mate before passing it around. If it’s a larger group, there might be two mates at once – and they might be separated so that one is made with added sugar, and one without (amargo). Although some people do clean it before taking their turn It’s normal to share the same straw (5:00).
When do people drink mate?
Mate can be drunk at any time of day: for breakfast, all through the day, lunch, merienda and right through the night. So much so that the Spanish considered mate a bad influence, in that it took up a lot of time and things didn’t get done! (8:25)
Some people drink it while driving, at work or (very commonly) while studying. While it does contains caffeine, this doesn’t seem to be the main reason for its popularity. People must develop a certain tolerance to the caffeine to allow them to drink so much. It’s also considered good for digestion (10:00).
Customs and traditions
Once you’ve have had enough, you need to learn the magic word: ‘gracias’ or ‘muchos gracias’ and then they will skip you out of the next round of mates. But be careful not to say thanks accidentally as you’ll be left out next time! (13:17-16:13)
If you are drinking a mate in public, it is possible that someone may come and ask to share it with you. Unlike asking for a cigarette, it is returned after use (16:20). Drinking it in foreign places may draw some strange looks. Argentinians outside of their country are quite likely to ask for a mate (17:07). If you drink it in a ‘western’ country, people may wonder what it is. It can look a little bit like drugs to people who have not come across it before (18:09).
As well as being a social drink, it also spans the social classes and is something of a leveller. Everyone in Argentina will drink it, from the poor to the president and even the current (Argentinian) pope (19:00). It has even been said that it can replace a meal for the very poor.
Popularity outside Argentina
Mate is not easy to find outside of those countries where it is popular. Easiest to ask your family or an Argentinian friend to post it to you, although it can be viewed with suspicion by customs (20:10). It is available in different forms: with fruit, with/without the stems.
While it is normally sold loose, it is also available in tea-bag form. As well as Argentina, it is drunk in Paraguay, Urugauy, parts of Chile. Lebanon and Syria; Bolivia and Brazil. In Paraguay it is sometimes drunk with milk, (presumably due to the tropical heat) with cold water (called tereré), or mixed with fruit juice such as orange or grapefruit (pomelo) (22:35). In Brazil, they have developed their own customs which are slightly different, but it is available – though not quite as common as in Argentina (24:40).
So, can you find mate in your country? Have you tried it? Do you like it?
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Note: We are a few days behind with the podcast due to the Easter break, but will be back again soon!
(the podcast, as always, is exclusively in Spanish)