Jeremy's amazing ability at cranking out an entry per day this last week has inspired me to cough up something of my own. If you happen to pick up a copy of the first issue of Middlebury's very first IPE newsletter, you may realize this post has been 100% plagiarized from an article written by someone currently abroad in Montevideo. However, I don't think it's a violation of the school's honor code to plagiarize yourself on a personal blog, so I think I'll be okay. Sorry for anything you may find repetitious, but I didn't want to upset the "integrity" of this work of literature (that has very little to do with International Politics and Economics). I jest. It's late and I'm going to bed.
The pace of life is one of Montevideo’s most prominent qualities after a month and a half down here in Uruguay. This tiny South American country of just over three million people is nestled in between Argentine and Brazil on the Rio de la Plata, the world’s widest estuary, and the Atlantic Ocean. Commonly confused with the much poorer landlocked Paraguay, Uruguay is another world with one of Latin America’s most stable democracies and a large middle class flush with strong German and Italian heritages.
The beverage yerba mate, a South American infusion of hot water and the dried leaves from the yerba mate plant, is drank through a metal straw from a gourd and is the foundation of life here. People go about their day gourd-in-hand cradling a thermos between their arm and chest. The most popular activity in Uruguay is spending hours on end drinking the bitter beverage with friends on the Rambla, the boardwalk along the Rio de la Plata, to discuss politics (many are following the American primaries closely), socio-economic woes, soccer or just nothing; I had a 45 minute discussion the other day with a friend about the school’s photocopier.
While mate is certainly a very chill activity, the culture of tranquility does not stop there. One of the most common expressions is “todo tranqui” which is probably most appropriately translated as “everything’s chill.” I recently began an internship with Red Mercosur, a branch MERCOSUR, the economic union of South America. Red Mercosur is supposedly a network of institutions dedicated to economic research on regional integration, although my duties thus far have consisted of translating a few pages. I asked if there was a current project I could help with and was expecting to get a stack of TPS reports or something pertaining to economic development, trade or poverty in the context of regional integration. My supervisor’s response? “Todo tranqui.” I took that as a no and took another sip of mate while looking out over the waterfront from my desk by the window. Todo tranqui indeed.
There are certainly some trade-offs to todo tranqui. This country has got chilling down pat, but todo tranqui has probably resulted in a less productive and dynamic economy. Would Uruguayan’s give up some todo tranqui for more economic growth. I think not. People seem content to arrive at work anywhere between 10 in the morning and three in the afternoon to do their thing for a few hours before retiring to some mate. Could todo tranqui have a role in why Mercosur receives a lot of mixed press many people think it is inefficient or useless (many Uruguayans are in this boat)? Perhaps. If I can ever figure out exactly what it is that Red Mercosur does, or for that matter, Mercosur in general, I try and give you a better answer. Before I do that though, I need to take a break to chill and drink some mate.