I don't have the greenest thumb in the world. Hell, the only green my opposable wonder has ever seen is a crude yellowie brown excuse of a hue painted on from a misguided crack of a hammer. I've only ever really been able to successfully plant a few ideas, some of which I am still trying to weed out and others which I've been able to happily harvest. Regardless of my sub-par sowing abilities, I've got an eye for finely manicured land and respect a seamstress who weaves so much time, effort, and roots into the soil of their social fabric. I do not necessarily agree with Captain Cliché that the grass is always greener on the other side, but I do believe you should incorporate the appealing seedlings you are drawn towards into your own pasture of peace, yielding the most ideal and fertile lifestyle.
Travelling for me is an excuse to clear out the cataracts that have formed from years of looking at life one way. Reading in between the lines of a brand new book of unwritten codes enables me to write my own manual that helps guide me towards becoming a happier soul. I cant stop licking my lips at the sight of greener pastures on the other side of the cultural barricades that naturally arise from generations and generations of traditions. When placed in new greenfield territory, I'm a cumbersome cow, a hyper hyena, and a joyful Jenna Jameson fused together; grazing along haphazardly to satisfy my appetite for growth , running rabid chasing after opportunities that continue to sprout , and shamelessly exposé-ing my natural talents when called upon. That's right,not only does a cow, hiena, and ol jenny jame-o pull together to symbolize the Trifecta de Tim...they also never fail to make me smile when I see them posing proudly on all fours (shout-out to Cowgirl Dreams 2, you kept it real JJ ). As I stumble across a new lay of land, I find myself looking from side to side shifty-eyed as I hop the cultural divide, grab a handful of the emerald energy that makes the uniquely foreign lifestyle so appealing , and slyly slip them into my rucksack of ideals that I intend to seed into my own personal plot for others to freely graze in.
I first stepped hoof in Uruguay nine months ago with the inspiring nuggets of distant societies that I've collected in my spiritual satchel throughout my travels. To my delight, I found a gold mine of sprawling foreign farmland full of new customs and values, fresh for the picking . After spending 75 cents of a year's dollar in exchange for grass-gazing and cultural cultivating, I can't help but embrace the Uruguayo fertilizer that is sprinkled amongst so many facets of their daily lives; communal kindness and genuine generosity.
Here are some prime differences between Uruguayans and what I see in the States (I don't want to speak for everyone) that will help explain the subconscious sharing that I have grown to love and admire.
Beer: Ordering a beer in Uruguay can be a frustrating situation for a cheeky chap who is accustomed to ordering oh say, a 12 oz bottle of Anheuser's finest. Not so much because there are usually only two options, Pilsen or Patricia, but more so because they only are served in liters. Now in the states, the only time I ever bought a liter (40 oz basically) was when I was going to tape them onto my hands for a casual Friday night of Edward 40 hands, and in that case, it was most likely malt liquor that must be drunk within 15 minutes before it warms up. After the initial “Well that's retarded” feeling at the beer ordering station, you quickly come to realize the team building situation that the litro inevitably presents to the wayward beer consumer. I seldom see Uruguayan's having a beer by themselves, the bottle itself is a catalyst for bringing folks together to share a laugh amongst friends or to make new ones. If you sit down without a drink at any bar in Uruguay when someone has a frosty 40ish Pilsen in front of them, chances are they will offer you a vasito. One reason is because he probably doesn't want to look like too much of a drunk, but the real reason is plain and simple; that's just what you do. The vasito is an ingenious idea because it allows four to five people to drink from the same bottle before it is the next person's shout. The vasito also gives you an ice breaker at the bar so instead of doing the “can I buy you a drink” thing (do people even do that anymore?) you are inviting someone to a casual conversation in a communal pursuit to polish off the Patricia. The whole act of beer drinking is based around team drinking, always filling up each other's cup and giving you a feel-good sense of sharing. Team drinking tends to have another context in the States as it is usually associated with bingey bar crawls, case races, and Beer Olympics where the focus is on getting plastered. After your first litro roundabout, you cannot help but to carry on the same tradition next time you feel a bit parched. The only downfall with the litro is the fact that it is not very beach friendly in the fact that it gets warm fast...but maybe it's just because I haven't found a koozie big enough yet. Nothing quenches the throat quite like a crisp naty light 24 pack of 12 oz shooters, but hey the heat just encourages that much more team spirit on the beach front.
Mate: There's a reason that you can't find a Starbuck's or Caribou Coffee anywhere in Uruguay. The barrier to entry for the Uruguayan market is made impenetrable by the country's crack, Mate. The raw herbal tea runs deep through the veins of each city dweller, fisherman, or goucho in the country and it's consumption can be traced all the way to the top of most family trees. Mate is essentially tea that doesn't come in fancy little packets with dippie-strings attached. In order to join the mate ranks, you need a starter set of a mate cup (imagine a mini coconut hollowed out), a metal straw with one closed end and holes in order to sip the tea without getting the particles in your mouth, and a fully accessorized thermos with your personal flair, full of hot water. Uruguayans take their mate preparation very seriously and have all sorts of rules like only the keeper of the mate may fill the mate cup along with differing mate packing and maneuvering best practices. These unspoken rules are for real...I once got blacklisted for a month from a fellow employee's mate cypher for filling up my own cup without permission. My gringo street cred' was tossed out the window with one fateful sip and took months of counseling to stop from freaking out from sheer nervousness every time the mate was thrown my way. Similar to the litro, drinking mate is a ceremonial activity that always involves offering a cup first to a group of friends or strangers, and then to yourself. If someone wanted a quick pick-me-up they'd consume their caffeine with a mad scientist concoction of redbull, double expresso, 8 hour energy, but that contradicts the core communal reason of why mate is sipped in the first place. For example, I was just at a town meeting yesterday for all of Punta del Diablo (my first town meeting ever, I was hoping to see some good ol fashioned mob rule put into action, but came away slightly disappointed) and was offered a cup from two separate strangers merely because... that's what you do. I've seen this psychology in action in the past when I've passed a few dutchies pon dee left hand side. Again, the underlying theme is sharing something everyone relates to that transcends race, language, jobs, or age and brings people together,... as opposed to smoking sheerly to get stoney bologni by yourself. Mate is an all day activity of team caffination that you can't help but to join in on and before you even think “man I could really go for a cup o joe” you'll find a steamy stimulant in your hands before you can say “Frappacino.”
Asado: I've touched on the magic of an asado in my last blog but I feel as though this Uruguayan tradition is also a perfect example of some of the greener grass I've peeped across this country's fence. The asado is similar to an American barbecue in the fact that the point of the event is to bring people together, the eating part is just a plus. This might be the reason that most Uruguayans embrace their typical cuts of entrails, random tendons, and stringy shin meat, but hence, the focus on a good time. Chorizos (sausages) are a staple as well as a huge rock salted cut of meat (somewhere from the stomach area..take your pick) and the occasional potato. Side note: Most Uruguayans hate vegetables; when asked why they don't eat vegetables a common reply is “No como pasto” or “I dont eat grass.” When the chorizo and cut are ready to serve, the grill master throws it on a huge plate that gets passed around continuously until you're full. There is something more fluid and natural about this way of team dining that warms my tummy. Now that's the way to eat, no ADD portion system, no “Well I like mine medium, mine well done..” even though many foreigners still don't get this. Everyone wants to make sure each other eat first, no “seconds” rule needs to be put in place, the group just gets it. Sharing is caring...yeah I said it, but the Uruguayans take it to a whole new lax level that characterizes their humble generosity.
Uruguay, you've got some aerating to do on your side of the fence, but you better believe I'll be germinating my land with your deeply seeded values of sharing, generosity, and community. For now, 'm off to get my Johnny Appleseed on, planting ideals along the way and continuing to work on my side of the fence. Remember, if the grass looks to be greener on the other side, chances are you are not seeing the whole yard. Learn what you can from the plots that please you and smile as you continue to watch your own lifestyle-lawn blossom and mature.