Now that I’ve gone back to school, I seem to have been immerged into the mate-culture. Of course I have seen people drinking mate before (in cars, in shops, my cleaning lady, some of my friends…) and occasionally I have been offered to join them. Sometimes it is impossible to refuse, as it is a sign of hospitality, it is impolite to say no. Mostly though, they know that foreigners aren’t too keen on it, and I am excused. I am not too fond of this bitter tea.
Drinking mate is extremely popular around here. In many places, next to vending machines with soft drinks, there is a machine that provides hot water -for free. At gas stations you see people filling their thermos.
You don’t just drink mate, it is a kind of ceremony, in a way similar to the Japanese tea ceremony, but then a lot less formal. There is always a ‘cebador‘, someone who prepares and serves the mate to a group of friends. The word mate stands for both the tea and the gourd where it is served in. The cebador fills the mate with the yerba mate (the tea), he shakes the mate gently until the tea is all on one side, he then inserts the filtered end of the bombilla (metal straw) into the bottom of the mate. He gently pours hot water into the mate and sips from the bombilla until all the liquid is gone, and fills it up again. Tastes it again, and when he thinks the taste is good (and the tea is not too hot), he passes it on the the person sitting on his left side, with the bombilla facing into the recipients direction. Yes – everyone drinks from the same straw/bombilla! This person drinks the entire mate and then gives it back to the cebador who fills it up again and hands it over to the 2nd person and so on. You can refill the mate about 15 times, then the taste is gone.
At first, in class, there was just one mate going round the room, but soon there were 2 or 3. After all, we are with 15, and there is not enough water in the thermos for all of us. One teacher brings his own and does not share. The majority drinks it, however some refuse. I can imagine I could get used to it, and as soon as this horrible cold I am having is over, I am going to take part in this mate culture! The next step in my Argentinising process.