The tea ceremony in Buenos Aires


I sit on a window table at La Farola de San Isidro and the waiter will bring me a cortado en jarrito with three facturas surtidas without being asked. Then I will read the newspaper (always back to front), pay and go back home to start working.

I would start every day that way if I could. It makes my day start great. I get to work relaxed. It puts a definite boundary between me being dad taking my son to school and me being at work, even if I am doing it at home.

Ritualization is comforting. Rituals are good for most people. On the other hand, rituals suck, are a waste of resources, and hurt you.

Sure, my coffee+newspaper is nice, but it would cost me $15 a day, which means over $5700 a year, which is more than half of what my son's school costs. So I ony do it once a week, and the rest of the time I just buy the same damn facturas and take the coffee at home, while reading the newspaper on my netbook (BTW: there's just no way to read newspapers back-to-front on the web).

What I did was realize I had fallen into a ritual, decide if it served a useful purpose, estimate the costs, and decide against it. That means I acted rationally, and the choice I made seems correct to me. The best part of doing that is not even saving money, but knowing that I am paying attention.

I was reading yesterday a newspaper I shouldn't read [1] and ran into a fluff piece about teaching tea protocol to kids about girls, ages 6 to 13, at a party in the Alvear hotel.

It's meaningless nonsense, but it's the kind of nonsense that can piss me off. Here are some choice quotes, translated:

"A girl asked for sugar, even though the right thing is not to sweeten the tea."

"When it's time to put jam on your scone or toast, you should never cover it. 'Smear jam only on the piece you are eating, and never from the jar, always put some in the plate, then from the plate to the toast"

"... the belly of the fork should be at the bottom if you finished eating cake, or at the top if you ate a piece of meat."

"Even if it may seem a novelty, protocol for children has 500 years of history. A precursor was the dutch humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam who in 1530 published a treaty on civility aimed to all children, specially those of the court, where he presented a common code of behaviour..."

Where can I start... how about this is all made up nonsense? The belly of the fork aiming down or up? Put the jam in the plate first? Bitter tea for 6 year olds? Erasmus of freaking Rotterdam in 1530?

Here's what this is, it's ritual. It's meaningless ritual. We don't live in the dutch court in 1530, why should we feel it's "right" to act like they did? Why should we not act like 20th century moroccans and eat with our right hand instead?

At least moroccan food tastes good, unlike scones!

Of course I am not against things like using a napkin instead of sucking on your fingers (but hey, I am not going to call you names if you do it, and I will bloody do it if there's no napkins), but all these random rules without any explanation are the exact kind of things kids should not be exposed to.

Yes, sometimes you have to put your feet down and say "it's done this way and I can't explain it to you yet", but that's the exception not the rule.

Why should you use a napkin? Because if you don't your fingers are sticky and leave marks. Why your fork should stay on the plate after you use it? Because I don't want to wash the tablecloth today if I can help it. Why you should put the jam from the jar into the toast? Because I don't want leftover jam in the plate, thank you.

If you teach your kids that there are arbitrary rules without reasons, even in silly things like tea, you are forming the wrong thing in their brains, you are teaching them that authority is right, that habit is truth, that tradition is law.

And if you do it, allah forbid, then maybe they will do it too, and rituals ossify, and you get a country full of morons that have echo chambers instead of opinions.

The ritualization of everyday things is a sign of decadence in society. The more ritualistic the simple things get, the more those people are not thinking complex thought, the more they waste their mind in the trivial.

So make my day, leave the fork belly up after eating cake today. Even better: don't look and don't care.

[1] I have high blood pressure. This newspaper drives me mad, so it's bad for me.


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