Hey y’all! It’s been a few weeks since my last post, but life has been moving along since then. I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who reached out to me after reading my last post. It was almost jarring to see the immediate responses I got, and I guess I sometimes forget how routine my ups and downs have become for me. Dealing with mental illness doesn’t stop just because you’re having a fabulous adventure 5,500 miles away from home. That said, I can sincerely promise you all that I’m in a much better place now that classes have started again, and I am more than happy to speak with any of you privately if you have any questions about the topics my posts have touched on.
Like I mentioned last time, I’ve been keeping track of some of the most interesting and occasionally humorous cultural and lifestyle differences here in Montevideo. Overall, there hasn’t been anything super difficult to get used to. (Wait, that’s a lie. Kissing everyone on the cheek in both greeting and farewell even if you have never met them before in your life will never be normal to me. So I guess that can be number 0 on the list. Anyway.) Because of its swift and violent colonization, Uruguay is predominantly influenced by European culture (particularly Italian). Additionally, since modern day Uruguay didn’t exist as we know it now until 1828, it shares a clear, vibrant connection to the larger Rioplatense culture, which is usually associated with Argentina. With this in mind, here’s my very under-detailed but hopefully illustrative guide to my everyday life in Montevideo!
1.) Coffee (Lack Thereof)
Before I came to Uruguay, everyone mentioned almost jokingly that I better get used to mate. You’ve probably heard of yerba mate, but I don’t think anyone is prepared for the level of fidelity Uruguayans have to their beverage of choice. In its authentic form, yerba mate is a tea (the yerba) that is placed into a special cup (the mate). The mate is filled with warm water, and the resulting beverage is sipped through a steel straw (bombilla) that has a filter in the bottom to keep the leaves out of the straw. Uruguayans drink mate all day, anywhere – even the beach, while sunbathing in full sun, when it’s 87 degrees Fahrenheit outside. When I got to campus for my first day of class, I couldn’t believe how many students were toting along a mate and thermos of water. (If you mentally replace every mate with a Starbucks cup, it starts to make more sense.) Mate has a pleasant, floral scent, and to me, it’s most similar to a strongly brewed and slightly bitter green tea. Many Uruguayans have their own mate, but it’s extremely common to share among friends. (Mom, ignore that sentence. I promise I won’t get mono while studying abroad.)
These photos come courtesy of my friend Sam, a Texan from Ole Miss who’s in my program. I don’t own a mate, so I had to outsource some of the imagery here. According to Sam: “Alright, here’s my mate. I like the ceramic ’cause it’ll last longer when I get back I feel like. But ya know, you can always go all natural… And then I got my nice bronze bombilla. The nicer the metal the less hot it gets #science. Which is nice, but they’re a little bit more pricey.”
Wait, you’re thinking. That paragraph was all about mate! Where’s the coffee?
That, my friends, is the point.
Since I’ve arrived, I think I’ve had two shots of espresso and maybe one cup of decent coffee. Oh, and the whiskey-infused Irish coffee masterpiece I had a few days ago at a cafe in the beautiful Ciudad Vieja. When made at home (and probably in smaller restaurants), almost all non-espresso coffee is instant. (Did you hear that? It was the sound of my heart breaking into a million pieces.) Most restaurants offer espresso options, and while my withdrawals are real, the biggest adjustment has been replacing the social role of coffee in my life. There aren’t really coffee shops here, so I’ve pretty much been flying blind in terms of figuring out how to, you know, hang out with people. It’s definitely been hard to get used to coffee-less mate culture, and no matter how much I like it here, I refuse to commit to carrying around both a mate and a thermos at all times.
2.) “Andrea… Odra… Ow-dra… ¡Tu nombre no existe acá!”
Okay, this one is slightly more personal, but it definitely holds true for my roommate and friends with distinctly non-Spanish names. Most Uruguayan names are Spanish, and fit better with the language’s basic rule of phonetic pronunciation. A diphthong is just too weird to handle, which I totally get. My host mom calls me Adri, “because it sounds more Spanish.” I think I’m going to start introducing myself this way. It’s like when you admit defeat and give the cashier an easier-to-say fake name at Starbucks. But not like that, because there are no Starbucks.
3.) Running on Uruguay Time
I’m not always a punctual person. I’ll be the first to admit that. I used to be hyper vigilant about time, and considered arriving 15 minutes early “on time” and actually on time to be “late.” I’d like to think I’ve loosened up a bit in my old age (thanks, antidepressants), but I still try to be considerate of others’ time and at least provide a general idea of what’s going on when. Here? Not so much. In some ways, I have to acknowledge that it does serve me when I want it to – being a few minutes late to class usually isn’t a huge deal, and it’s not expected to be exactly (or sometimes even remotely) on time for parties and other social functions. However, it generally drives me nuts. The bus gets here when it gets here. If you miss it, the next one will come in 16 minutes. Finally hearing “Okay chicos, vamos” when moving from one location to another just means that we will be vamos-ing sometime within the next half hour. Restaurants become an hour-and-a-half long experience, with everything from the food to the check moving at an extremely leisurely pace. Patience is a virtue. Or something.
And of course, when things start late, they end late. Being a university exchange student in Uruguay is a test of stamina more than anything. Here, previas (pregames, but in reality more of a pre-party) start at 11:00, and the actually party usually starts around 1:00. It’s completely common to stay out until 4:00 or 5:00, sometimes even later. I think the latest I’ve made it is 3:00, but considering my usual bedtime at home is midnight, I think that’s pretty good.
4.) Having a National Religion
Did you think I was talking about the Catholic Church? That’s old news here. The number one national obsession in Uruguay is fútbol, and honestly, I’ve gotten pretty into it. The mob mentality and hypermasculinity of sports fans is still a little scary to me, but going to the Uruguay vs. Peru game with friends was a blast (even if I’ve never heard more swearing in my life). Uruguay has two club teams, Peñarol and Club Nacional de Football (yes, the team spells it that way and no, I don’t know why). My host mom is a Peñarol fan, so naturally, I am too. I also found out that they’re the team sponsored by Pilsen, the cheapest beer in Uruguay. I’m valiantly pretending to like beer here, and Pilsen is so weak that I can actually drink it and thus it’s my favorite. Wait, what were we talking about again? Right. Football. Being surrounded by South Americans when your team scores a goal is a pretty awesome experience, and I definitely want to go to another game while I’m here.
So there you are – my extremely brief introduction into my life here in Uruguay. I’ve been messing with this list for a while, and there are so many little things that I wish I could explain. I want to tell you all how distinctive the Uruguayan accent sounds, moving yo and calle and playa through my mouth with a sh-jh sound where the y’s and ll’s are. I want to take you to try tortas fritas, which they sell from carts on the sidewalk when it rains. (Only when it rains. Where do they go when the sun is out? I still don’t know for sure.) I don’t want to forget to mention the folks who gather around fires at the edges of the streets at night to play their tambores, filling our apartment with an already-familiar rumble. It’s strange to realize that there are a thousand little pieces of my life that will only ever exist here, and the more I write and the more I share, the more I will remember. Thank you all for helping me remember.