Daily Life: Cultural Similarities and Differences

An exploration of daily life habits such as making coffee and drying laundry, illustrated with photos of some of the Uruguayans most important to me.

Oscar demonstrates good mate technique

Oscar, one of the teenagers I hang out with at La Obra, demonstrates how to serve yerba mate (pronounced share-ba mah-tay), the beverage of choice here. Everywhere (bus, park, walking down the street, at the pool), people can be see with a thermos of hot water tucked under their arm and a mate full of tea in their hand. Yerba mate is loose leaf tea that is drunk from a special straw that serves as a strainer. It’s almost the equivalent of our image of coffee in the States – not only is it a pick-me-up (there is community yerba at La Obra so anyone can get a refill during the work day) -but it’s also a social affair. Friends sit and talk and pass the mate around the circle, refilling with water after each person’s turn. Every staff meeting at La Obra involves mate (as well as our field trips to the park and the pool and sometimes while we are waiting outside for parents to come and maybe when we are waiting for the food to cook….)

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Nahuel, my co-worker, also demonstrates the popularity of yerba mate. He shows off his mate (in his right hand – that’s just a stick in his left hand) as the Club de Niños team takes a stroll together.

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Asado is another social bonding event in Uruguay. An asado is very similar to a barbeque. Meat – and lots of it – is slowly cooked over hot coals. This photo is from the weekend that the Club de Niños team spent hanging out together (eating, taking walks, eating, playing games, eating, making jokes, eating) at one worker’s home near the beach. Can I digress a moment to comment on how cool it is that these employees have such a strong bond that they would choose to spend the whole weekend with each other? At the top of the photo Ana Soledad (purple shirt) and Silvia (white shirt) prepare the raw meat for the asado while Nahuel (bottom) cuts the blood sausage (yup, just like it sounds) and patê.

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Silvia knocks some hot coals from the fire so she can pull them under the meat to begin the asado.

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Clothes are not dried by a machine, but rather by hanging them on a clothesline. This photo demonstrates the clotheslines at the house of a friend. The clothesline that I use at my home in Montevideo is situated on the roof and can be accessed by a little door (maybe 2 feet high by 3 feet wide) in the wall.

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I think I’ve used a microwave once the last two months. Water for mate or coffee is better boiled in a teapot on the stove. The gas stove that is. The gas stove that goes along with the gas oven. And the gas heater that is used to warm the room during the winter (read: no central heating, appreciate it folks).

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Coffee pots are not a household staple here as they are in the United States. That’s not to say that Uruguayans don’t drink coffee though, it’s just much more common to drink instant, powder coffee than the perculated sort. As a coffee junkie, I began by drinking instant here, but it left me missing waking up with the aroma of the coffee beans themselves. Problem solved with this little diddy: A small filter that I drape over a glass jar. I fill the filter with coffee grounds and then pour hot water (heated on the gas stove, of course) into the filter and the coffee (plus aroma) drips from the bottom of the filter and into the jar.

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