Maybe this is because it’s a country with fewer than 4 million citizen or maybe it’s because weed is legal, but I found Uruguayans very mellow, friendly, polite, cultivated and welcoming—if you’re Uruguayan, please stop blushing.
It probably helped we were in Montevideo, which isn’t that touristic. Along the coast, during the high season, you’re more likely to be treated as just another customer.
Uruguay is a fascinating place to me. I can’t imagine what it’s like living in a country with a small population. Do you feel everyone is an acquaintance? Are you extra polite because, well, after all it’s the four million of you versus your Argentinian and Brazilian neighbours?
Here are a few more Uruguayan quirks I noted in Montevideo.
- Shops display fruits and veggies vertically, outside, in boxes. It looks pretty and it’s actually easier to reach for produce.
- You shop at Ta-Ta Supermercados and listen to “Super Radio Ta-Ta” inside, playing tunes you totally forgot and didn’t really want to hum for the rest of the day. Note: don’t mix up Ta-Ta (supermarkets) with Toto (shoe stores)—both have a red sign and apparently, two-syllable business names are cool in Uruguay.
- If you’re hungry, you’re never more than a block away from La Pasiva, which is apparently the only chain restaurant where you should eat. The menu revolves around hot dogs and chivitos, the Uruguayan sandwich with eggs, bacon, ham, lettuce, tomato, onions, mayonnaise.
- There’s only one company supplying bread and bread products to supermarkets—Pagnifique. Seriously, this is a bakery empire. In the dairy aisle, you’ll find mostly Uruguayan brands as well, which is fine because products are usually very good.
- It’s legal to smoke and cultivate weed. You’ll get used to the smell pretty much everywhere you go and please, don’t call the police—seriously, it’s legal. I saw many, many smokers but comparatively few drinkers.
- It’s never “just” a bus terminal but always a bus terminal/shopping mall. Is the terminal inside the mall or is the mall inside the terminal? Whatever. Go grab some ham at Ta-Ta, I’m buying the tickets.
- Like in Argentina, pizza and pasta are the main food groups. And like in Chile, Uruguayans have a weird obsession with hot dogs and generally bread with meat in it.
- The number “33” is a national reference. Treinta y tres refers to the 19th-century national heroes, the 33 Orientales, who established the independence of Uruguay.
- Football matters. Two days ago, Montevideo was glued to any TV playing the first Clásico of 2018. This is the most important rivalry in Uruguayan football—Club Nacional de Football and Club Atlético Peñarol.
- If in Argentina, the medialuna was the queen of facturas, in Uruguay it’s the margarita—a small round pastry made with croissant bread and often topped with cream.
And now, the people of Montevideo!