“Everybody drinks mate. As long as I can remember, since I was a kid, my mom and her friends used to drink mate. I think it’s made out of coconut or something. Everybody drinks it out of these cups made out of wood that basically look like coconuts. They put tea leaves in it, and drink out of a strange straw made of metal. The straw lets the liquid through without letting the tea leaves through. Basically, whoever is serving the mate has a bowl of yerva, which is the herbs, and they put it in the mate, and once you have all the tea in, you pour in hot water and sugar. The person serving drinks first because it’s usually very bitter but gets sweeter. You pass it around, adding more sugar and hot water, and everybody gets the mate out of the same container and straw.”
Background Information and Context:
According to the informant, her parents drank mate every morning and throughout the day, and her cousin drinks it by himself by the river, but the particular ritual she described is meant for a social gathering. She’s not sure if any of this is symbolic. “People will share with complete strangers. It’s really strange,” she remarked, “My cousin will be down at the beach and meet some strangers, and they’ll drink mate together.” In Argentina, kids drink it too, but with warm milk and lots of sugar. She remembers drinking it as a kid all the time, and remarked that shMare was sad that she didn’t make it for her kids when they were little.
Traditions reveal a lot about social relations within a culture. Based on this tradition of sharing mate, one can see that hospitality – moreover a deference for one’s guests – is an important aspect of Argentine culture and that being friendly and welcoming, even to strangers, is expected. The first time I came to the informant’s house, I was so confused by the extent to which she’d welcomed me into her home and wanted me to make myself comfortable because it was such a different experience from my own more conservative Vietnamese upbringing. A good way to see the differences between these two cultures would be to compare this mate tradition to what I’d consider a typical Vietnamese social interaction, like greeting each elder individually and bowing, a representation of the strong sense of hierarchy in Vietnamese social groups.