The social effects of the pandemic regarding coming back to the workplaces are only starting to show and it is difficult to say which one of them will remain afterwards. But while some habits are easier to adopt, some others presented strong resistance. To everybody’s surprise , only one peculiar restriction got remarkably onto people’s nerves.
After several months of home-office, many Argentine businesses announced the progressive return to their workplaces. By guaranteeing hygiene and infection control policies, they expect to provide a secure environment that promotes teamwork as well as personal protection.
What was the reaction of multiple employees around the country? As shocking as it may sound, one of the most difficult changes faced by the people who started going back to their offices is deeply based on Argentine roots: “not being able to share the mate”.
How can a simple drink mean so much to the local people in the country? It is hard to explain but it just happens even with foreign people.
Once, I was on a boat traveling around the glaciers in the South of Argentina with a group of retired men and women who came from all over Europe. I remember one of them came by and asked us about our landscape and culture. As we were speaking and exchanging ideas, we passed him the hot drink that we were sharing. The man whose eloquence had surprised us minutes ago suddenly became clueless: he didn’t seem to like the idea of drinking what appeared to be some herbs with hot water.
After a while, he convinced himself to try this so-called “mate” and the conversation went on. An hour later, he found himself acting like any of us, drinking and sharing not only a “mate”, but a conversation. ‘I got it’, he proclaimed as he enjoyed the “aha” moment of discovering mate’s magic.
Why “mate” can bond people like that? Argentina’s tradition goes way back to the Guarani society, who made a beverage out of some special herbs. In those days, they also used “mate” as a cultural symbol and as an exchange coin. Today, not only is it consumed in 90% of our (residences) houses, but it is also one of the most powerful ways to get to know each other.
It is not an overstatement to say that “mate” is not only a beverage, but also a companion. It is a symbol that unifies friends, family, students, and even unknown people! Whenever you share a mate, you also share a moment. And at work time, it is a non-negotiable deal. Or so it was…
Why were these measures such a disappointment for everyone? Well, actually that response isn’t totally new. Within the months of quarantine, Argentines had to adapt their habits so that they wouldn’t share the mate with their own relatives and friends. The effects of that non-breakable norm represented a huge change in their customs and there were many who rejected to apply it in their lives.
The difficulty to accept this norm was so strong that numerous advertising campaigns had to encourage people not to share it. “Wear a face mask, don’t share your “mate”. Thus not sharing a “mate” became a sanitary measure engraved in Argentina’s DNA.
But, why is mate so difficult to replace at the office? Because, regardless of its health benefits, drinking mate in the office gives a feeling of empowerment, teamwork and productivity hard to be matched.
People always ask the person with the best technique to prepare the “mate” in the office, while some others prefer to take turns. Some drink it with sugar, others opt for its natural bitter flavour. Herbs and ways to make it are always a topic of discussion. But despite the differences, “mate” is by far the most extended sociable drink, ideal for the office environment.
(Among other measures, many businesses decided not only to forbid sharing the mate, but also to ban sharing the thermos, to prevent anyone from touching it and to reinforce the respect for social distance. As a result, most employees decided not to drink mate at all).
The main reason why many employees did not go through with the individual mate is that it became pointless. Yes, the “mate” can still be a good ally for work, but the magical sense of companionship got lost.
So the question that needs to be answered is whether drinking “mate” again is the turning point between the pandemic norms and the hopefully better future? For Argentines, it may be. Because being able to share a “mate” again would mean being capable of wholly socializing without any worries. If old habits die hard, the “mate” for sure will give a good battle to come back once things are settled.