Blog 4: What is that stuff?

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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The first day I arrived in Buenos Aires, I was invite to join a group living in the room next to me in a daily mate session. A circle was form around the room and hot water was poured into the strange looking container filled with what seemed to be ground leaves. Each person would take his or her turn sipping the straw until the water was gone. It would be refilled and passed to the next person. When the drink finally each my hand, I took a sip. The taste was hot and bitter like strong tea without any sugar. I honestly did not like that first taste. The next day however I was once again invited to join them, and for some reason I was intrigued to have another try. This same pattern of events happened to the next two days, and now I can honestly say that I am hooked.

            Yerba mate is its official name. Its name literally means “herp cup” from yerba meaning herb and mate meaning cup. The herb itself is actually the leaves of a species of holly. While the mate is a hollow gourd that is often decorated. A metal straw or bombilla with a filter at one end is inserted into the mate. With the addition of hot water, a highly caffeinated herbal tea is formed. This tea however is not just a drink it has its own culture behind it. For example proper preparation of the herb is crucial to the taste of the mate. Once the herb is prepared it must be placed and arranged in the gourd exactly the correct way. Next, by following a specific series of techniques the bombilla is inserted. Once prepared water is poured and the first person drinks. That person holds the mate until he or she has completely consumed all of the liquid contents. The next person follows and so on. This process is continued until the mate becomes flat or lavado. It is proper for a person for no longer wants anymore to say gracious while taking the last desired drink.

            The specific social process of drinking yerba mate is important to the everyday lives of Argentines, especially students. It is a time of day to sit and relax while reflecting on the day with friends. I have never seen any one drink or food in the United States have such a great impact on all of those who participate. I now can say that I have been captivated by mate, and I will be leaving this country will a gourd, bombilla, and yerba.
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As I was riding the usual 68 bus route to class the other day, I made an obvious but interesting observation. In fact I saw not one or two but 9 Marlboro stands on the way to class. The citizens of Buenos Aires love to smoke, and it seems that there cigarette of choose is Marlboro. Phillip Morris International Inc, Altria Group, Inc. who owns the Marlboro brand was able to take advantage of Argentina’s smoking habits and take hold of Argentina’s market. In fact according to a 2005 report this one brand of cigarettes hold 67% of the market share in Argentina.

            I believe after talking to some of the locals that culture pays a big role in the continual longing for a smoke. One girl said that she smoked to fit in. Another person said that he almost had to smoke because everywhere you go you see people smoking, so why not? Argentina is in fact a country that definitely loves its cigarettes. In fact it ranks third in Latin America to Brazil and Mexico and accounts for 15% of the cigarette consumption in Latin America as well as the Caribbean. Argentina also has one of the highest per capita consumption of cigarettes in Latin America. In fact over the past 10 years the average monthly rate of sales is 160 million packages of 20 cigarettes. The country of Argentina is just now do what it can to put halt to the obsessive smoking of young teens. A survey was conducted in 2001 and it found that 94% of young teens who smoke buy the cigarettes in stores and are NOT refused because they are underage. I also found out that of these people surveyed, 9 of 10 saw a smoking ad within the previous month and only 3 of 10 saw an antismoking ad. However steps are just now beginning to be taken in order to slow down the smoking of young teens and shift toward more education of harmful effects of smoking.

            Argentina is looking to the United States as well as other countries in order to see how to combat such a problem. I feel that until the culture takes a shift in its attitude toward smoking the young teens will still feel like they need to smoke to fit into the social world. I am anxious to see what will happen in the world of cigarettes in Argentina.