By Yasmine Fowler, Third Year Politics and Spanish
The Croft Magazine // Before I arrived in Argentina, I expected the country to be filled with lavish steak, good wine, and the occasional tango. One particular aspect of Argentinian culture which I did not account for was the importance that the act of the ‘merienda’ was about to have in my life. The art of the merendar is not a stranger to many other Spanish speaking and European countries. However, and I may be biased, I strongly believe that one cannot deny the particular beauty of the Argentinian way of doing things.
So firstly, what is the merienda, and what does this word mean? The verb ‘merendar’ literally translates into English as ‘to have an afternoon snack’. As the definition suggests, it takes place in the late afternoon between around five and seven, which could be seen as just before tea or dinner time for some English readers. In Argentina, the ‘merienda’ has its roots in the Italian influence upon the country which so distinctly marks and defines many aspects of Argentinian culture, after the wave of Italian immigration to the country in the early 1900s. At around five pm, as the working day for some is just drawing to a close, cafes across the country begin to fill up with Argentinians of all ages. Many settle down with perhaps a coffee and an alfajor, accompanied by either friends or family, ready for a catch up, or a moment alone to simply reflect upon their day.
Parks often begin to fill up at this time too, as groups of friends descend just before the sun sets with a thermos of hot water and their yerba, ready to share mate, a traditional South American caffeine rich drink. Mate is yet another Argentinian tradition which promotes the art of sharing and the importance of friendship, as the guampa and bombila (flask and straw) containing the mate, which could be tenuously compared to a sort of herbal tea, are passed around among friends exchanging in lively conversation.
If you have got so far as to reach this part of the article, you may be wondering why, out of all the new customs I have experienced in this country, it is this particular aspect of Argentinian culture and tradition which has stuck with me the most. And yet, the merienda is a particular part of the culture which I am most determined to bring back with me and share with my friends upon my return to England. Ever since I arrived in Argentina two months ago now, I was struck with the different paces and values of life which are held here as a contrast to back home. In England it seems that we are desperate to always be busy, and a moment of the weekday which is not spent racing around is precious time wasted. However, upon doing this it is as if we prioritise living to survive, rather than living to live. The merienda represents the passion for life that so many people I have come across in Argentina have, as it allows you to sit back and reflect upon your day with a sweet treat, a friend or two and a good natter. Moments are not rushed in Argentina, this however does not mean that time is wasted, but rather savoured and enjoyed.
My experience up to this point has been incredible, but I will not deny that I have faced many challenges along the way, and who would argue that moving 6000 miles away from home for four months would ever be easy. However, during the more difficult moments, there have been countless occasions where the only viable solution is to go to a cafe and enjoy a long merendar, if only to have a rant if nothing else and enjoy a slice of cake or an alfajor. On the day that the queen died and relentless forest fires around the city of Cordoba meant that our lectures were
cancelled 20 minutes before they were due to start, we decided that the only solution was to merendar. It is in a similar sense that when I return to Bristol and I feel as if I am drowning in deadlines, I am determined to remind myself to slow down, reflect on my day and overcome the stress by partaking in my own little merendar. It might not taste quite as good in the ASS library or without an alfajor in my hand, but the sentiment behind it certainly remains.
Featured Image: Finnuala Brett
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