Skip to main content

Ralsina.Me — Roberto Alsina's website

The tea ceremony in Buenos Aires

cafecito

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.

Andrés / 2010-07-06 14:28:

El manual de Erasmo es buenísimo! Tenés que tener en cuenta que en el siglo XVI cuando él lo escribe, la mayor parte de las reglas de civilización que uno tiene interiorizadas (inconcientemente) no eran comunes. Por ejemplo, el texto dedica algunas páginas a explicarte por qué no tenés que cagar en frente de otra persona si estás teniendo una conversación, sino que tenés que irte a un lugar apartado a hacer tus necesidades. Durante la modernidad este tipo de reglas que comenzaron a aplicarse en la corte (vg. Versalles durante el siglo XVII), se fueron transmitiendo al resto de la sociedad y convirtiéndose en una forma de poder interiorizado. Es un proceso muy interesante que estudió el sociólogo Norbert Elias en "El proceso de la civilización".

Por otro lado, con respecto a lo que decís de los rituales, hay algo muy interesante que dicen Max Horkheimer y Theodor Adorno en "Dialéctica de la Ilustración" cuando hablan de los sacrificios: "La famosa irracionalidad del sacrificio no expresa sino que la práctica de los sacrificios ha sobrevivido a su necesidad racional, ya de por sí no verdadera, es decir, particular. Ésta es la brecha entre racionalidad e irracionalidad del sacrificio que la astucia utiliza como asidero. Toda demitologización tiene la forma de la continua experiencia de la inutilidad y superfluidad de los sacrificios".

Creo que es algo que puede aplicarse a todo ritual. Todos tienen inicialmente un momento de utilidad, donde vos elegís tomar café o leer el diario a la mañana para satisfacer determinada necesidad o lo que fuera. Pero en la medida en que el rito se perpetúa, puede haber un momento en que objetivo y rito, contenido y forma se disocien, entonces vos continuás con el rito más allá de que haya perdido utilidad. En el fondo de esto está el mecanismo por el cual una determinada práctica orientada a lograr la autoconservación se transforma en instrumento (dispositivo, dirá Foucault) de poder.

Perdón por la respuesta extranerd.

Roberto Alsina / 2010-07-06 14:37:

Buenísima la respuesta. Y nada en contra de Erasmus si él convencio a la gente de hacer caca en privado!

Fran / 2010-07-06 14:29:

Esto es exactamente lo que pasa con la religión

Roberto Alsina / 2010-07-06 14:37:

Ja, y mirá que tuve cuidado de no decir nada religioso eh...

John Lenton / 2010-07-06 18:47:

* el permalink de la versión en español me parece que está roto
* enervar no quiere decir lo que vos querés decir
* che, que los escones de mi vieja son ricos :)
* mires, no miers
* me encantó :)

Roberto Alsina / 2010-07-06 18:59:

* Sí, manda a la versión en inglés. Eso me pasa por tocar el template a las 2AM :-)
* Lo usé en el sentido de "me pone nervioso" que es el 3ro en el diccionario de la RAE: http://rae.es/enervar
* Y bueno, traéme dos y corrijo ;-)
* Y día en vez de di
* 'Chas gracias!

Corrigiendo lo fácil ahora, lo difícil dentro de un rato...

John Lenton / 2010-07-06 19:13:

* el link que yo veo es a
http://lateral.netmanagers....
* me traicionaron! hasta hace poco solamente mencionaba lo de “tranquilizar”. A actualizarme, entonces.
* te consigo la receta

Roberto Alsina / 2010-07-06 19:50:

Ahhhh ahí está mal de otra manera distinta :-) Ya lo reviso.

Roberto Alsina / 2010-07-06 20:05:

Creeeeo que ahí lo corregí. El link en la fecha de publicación estaba mal hace 3 o 4 años por lo menos, desde que habilité la traducción!

Julio / 2010-07-07 01:04:

Algunos apuntes casi al azar:
1. Me gustan los scones!
2. Si un desayuno te cuesta $15 considerá que es el costo de vivir en San Isidro.
3. No me fijé que ofrece Clarín (que siendo ya más-porteño-que-si-hubieras-nacido-en-Monserrat supongo que es lo que leés), La Capital de Rosario ofrece (pagando, creo) la "edición impresa" en PDF, que supongo se puede leer de atrás para adelante por más que sea en PC.
4. Fijate porque no se pueden postear comentarios desde Konqueror, el textarea queda inactivo.

Roberto Alsina / 2010-07-07 01:17:

1. Y bueno, yo lepongo mayonesa a la tortilla de papas, no soy parámetro :-)
2. Son $11.50 + $2.75 del diario +$1 de propina, son $15.25 ... el chiste es que esas 3 facturas son como media docena de otros lugares. Tengo que sacar una foto!
3. Comprado en kiosko leía Crítica, que lamentablemente ya no se puede. Ahora volví a página 12. Podría leer el clarín del bar, pero la mitad de las veces no hay libres.
4. No depende de mí, me temo, es un servicio tercerizado a disqus.com

Giacomo Lacava / 2010-07-08 23:08:

I can't believe there's people eating scones (of all things!) in Buenos Aires (of all places!) while obsessing on some weird concept of "European Tea Ceremony" which doesn't really exist outside of England -- and even in England, it was mostly a XIX century invention to fight the commercial invasion of continental-style coffee-houses and it's almost disappeared (although it was recently revamped by big hotels trying to look a bit less empty in the afternoon).
Argentina must be a very interesting place :)
Oh, and I agree on the point of the post, btw. The only thing you don't mention is the effect these rituals have on social composition: people who can memorize a lot of useless and impractical stuff must have a lot of free time, i.e. they are probably "old money" rich or (more often, these days) desperately want to look like them. They are building walls rather than bridges, promoting themselves as elites on absolutely arbitrary basis. I'm sure they'll get their own special place in hell.

Roberto Alsina / 2010-07-09 00:33:

Indeed the whole point is exhibition of wealth, and not only in the leisure involved in wasting time learning arbitrary rules.

For example the reason for the cutlery language is so they wouldn't have to actually speak to servants (hey, the fork position means he's coming back, so let's not pick up his plate yet). And that's so they could act as if the servants are not even there.

Oh, and yes, it's an interesting place, if you ever drop by I'll buy you a cup of coffee ;-)

Andrés / 2010-07-09 00:50:

You could say that this sort of rituals are a way of creating a class identity. They are part of the simbols, ideas and experiences that define the social construction of a class consciousness. These rules are meant to be applied in specific sociability spaces which are associated with a specific group of people. Is not so much about having the time to memorize this rules (because we all memorize stupid things), but about participating in these spaces which define people as members of a certain group. And they are, of course, tainted with the ideology of such a class which includes, for example, the despice for servitude as Roberto described.


Contents © 2000-2020 Roberto Alsina