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If this is your first visit to Argentina, you may think everyone is consuming some kind of leafy drug from a fancy bong looking cup. This is Mate and it is not a drug.



Mate (pronounced Mat-ay) is a tea like beverage consumed mainly in Argentian, Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil. It is brewed from the ground leaves and stems of the perennial tree Ilex paraguarensis (Yerba Mate).



Mate tea has become almost pathologically ritualised in a manner reminiscent of coffee and tea abuse in Western and Eastern countries. Among the native Guarani, on the other hand, the natural use of Mate for healthful purposes has persisted. Containing many medicinal properties, Mate is used to boost immunity, cleanse and detoxify blood, tone the nervous system, restore youthful hair colour, and retard aging, combat fatigue, stimulate the mind, control the appetite, reduce the effects of debilitating disease, reduce stress, and eliminate insomnia.



In Buenos Aires it is common to find a close-knit family, two lovers, or a group of best friends sharing a Mate in their home or on an outing to a local park or beach. In all these places, when an individual or group finally offers to include you in their Mate sharing, it should be taken as the highest possibe compliment and entered into with great appreciation as it is an offer of friendship, of acceptance, and maybe even a test of your open-mindedness to their culture.



To avoid offending the offering party, there are a few rules you should follow as a part of a Mate fellowship:-


Don`t ask for sugar

Many people are accustomed to drinking sugar in their coffee or tea, and it is perfectly fine to ask for it. Many people also drink sugar in their Mate. But when you are asked to join a Mate fellowship, you could make the worst sacrilege ever by asking for sugar.



Don`t say that Mate is unhygienic

You may feel that it is unhygienic to put your mouth where everybody puts theirs. Well it probably is, but that is expressly why sharing Mate is such an intimate experience. The offer to share something so intimate is the highest honour of all. If you don`t want to be that close to someone, don`t share a Mate with them. Otherwise don`t say anything about the hygiene of the experience.



Don`t say the Mate is too hot

If everyone else is happy with the temperature it would be considered rude to ask them to cool it down, or to wait until it cools down naturally. Suck it in and be brave.



Don`t leave the Mate half-way

Despite the great similarity between Mate and the peace pipe, there are some basic differences. While everyone has a puff and passes it on, don`t ever do that with Mate. You must sip all the water until hearing all the noise signalling that the gourd is empty. See the next rule.



Don`t feel ashamed of the noise at the end.

If after sipping your hear the gourd `snoring` don`t feel ashamed. It is alright, no-one will look upon you as being rude. It`s actually expected so slurp away!



Don`t stir the gourd

The gourd may get clogged from time to time, due to itself, to the Yerba or to who prepared the Mate. If that happens, you have all the right to complain. But please don`t stir the gourd. Talk to who offered you the Mate or passed the gourd to you. But don`t stir the gourd, don`t stir the gourd, and above all, don`t stir the gourd.



Don`t change the order

A Mate round works much like a clock. The gourd passes from hand to hand, always in the same order. If you are being served, hand it back to the server. If people are pouring their own water, which happens in some places, always pass it the next person without changing the order.



Don`t slow the rhythm

Drinking Mate alone is an excellent way to meditate on the things in your life. You drink leisurely, thinking about whatever drifts your way. To have a Mate in a circle of people is quite different. The essence is not meditation but rather integration. In a Mate round, you talk, discuss, laugh, swear; you are part of a community; it is fraternisation. Don`t forget to sip; the other people are waiting.



Don`t condemn the server for being the first to drink

If you say the server is rude because he or she prepares the Mate and is the first to drink, well, you are the rude one. The strongest sip is the first one, and whoever takes it is seen as doing the group a favour.



No thanks required

When you finish your turn and hand it back to the server, only say thank you if you wish not to continue drinking. If you do, you will be removed from the rotation of the Mate drinkers.
If you really cannot stomach the taste, or it makes your stomach queazy, the Argentines will understand. It is not the Mate itself, but what it symbolizes that is important. So instead, grab your own drink, have a seat and share a conversation with that person to show them you appreciate their friendship and would also like to know them better.


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