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The Biggest Difference Between Paraguay and the United States
September 30, 2011, 1:47 pm
Filed under: Paraguay

Rapidly increasing spring temperatures (today it is 99 degrees outside) means that the ultimate counter to extreme Paraguayan heat has hit the stands full-force: tereré has now become my new best friend. So much better than merely cold water, tereré’s refreshing yuyos like mint and lemongrass are the absolute perfect counter to the beating sun, stifling humidity, and substandard lethargic ceiling fans that rotate so slowly you’d think they were going backwards. Campesino bold yerba maté blend cools your body down so much that it’s like stepping into a refrigerator. Thank god for tereré.

More tereré means much more ‘water cooler’ talk (as tereré IS the proverbial water cooler in Paraguay), and hence much more discussions with Paraguayans about the hot weather and benefits of tereré. Many Paraguayans ask me if we have tereré in the United States, and I always tell them an unfortunate no- tereré is not something Americans drink. Then usually someone will crack a joke about how I can bring tereré back to the United States for Americans to adopt.

If I stop and think about it, quite frankly, I agree- why DON’T we have tereré? Why are all the kids playing extreme outdoor sports chugging gatorade instead of the obviously better choice, tereré? Why is our selection on a hot day a pitcher of lemonade instead of Kurupí yerba maté with ka’a he’e (a natural sweetener)? I imagine myself coming back to Florida in full-swing summer, my arms laden with yerba maté, my guampa and termo. Let’s do it, Americans!!

Then it hits me: Americans would never drink tereré. Not because it’s a foreign drink, but because Americans would never share straws.

In Paraguay, drinks are a free-for-all to be shared with your mother, your best friend, your neighbor, and that random guy walking down the street. You share your tereré with the workers who come to your house to fix your shutters or clean your drainpipe. Mayor of the town or three-year-old, tereré is a treat to be shared with everyone you know- or don’t. Not only tereré, Paraguayans share all their drinks and food interchangeably. At restaurants it is common to have one glass for all of your friends to share a coke or beer, each taking sips from the pot. This even branches out to food- people share the same forks and spoons, plates and bowls. If a Paraguayan is sick, they merely say gracias and refrain from joining in on the sharing spree.

In the United States, Americans have a- shall we say, germ problem. It would be unthinkable- even downright rude- to walk into a restaurant and be given one glass to share with the table. My friends in high school never shared drinks with each other, instead ‘water-falling’ (the act of hovering a bottle over your mouth so your lips don’t touch it) if they were thirsty, since we believed that sharing drinks are sharing germs. Sharing a drink is intimate, something that you would share with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Within your immediate family, you may have a ‘sip’ of someone else’s drink, but it is extremely uncommon to share a glass back and forth between two people, let alone five or six. Add a metal straw to the equation, and the prospect of sipping the same ‘mouthwash’ as another person is deemed just gross.

When I imagine myself coming back to the United States equipped with my tereré, ready to share with my friends and family, I know they will find this downright strange. Maybe a few of them will indulge me in one sip, but they would never take in the entire ritual- sitting around on some chairs, chilling out and passing around tereré.

When I explained this context to some of my Paraguayan friends, they snorted with derision. ‘America must be a closed culture,’ they say. ‘Paraguay is so open- we share what we have with everyone.’

It’s easy to come into a new culture and hear about little beliefs that are frankly laughable in your own culture. For example, Paraguayans believe that if you drink tereré and then afterwards eat watermelon, you will die. While this concept is silly by American standards, I have to say that after sharing straws with hundreds of strangers over the past four months, I think our own beliefs that sharing drinks spreads germs is a little silly in itself.

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Shri. Sushil Ansal serves as the Chairman of the Board and Whole Time Director
of Ansal Properties & Infrastructure Ltd. (also known as Ansal Properties & Industries Ltd.

Comment by Sushil Ansal

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