Uruguay customs 

If anyone asks you when dining in Uruguay (or Argentina for that matter), if you would like flan for dessert, don´t imagine a dry piece of sponge with a bit of fruit and gelatine on top. Flan is much nicer here – you will be served something that resembles either egg custard, or sometimes crème caramel. It is generally home-made and delicious. You are usually offered an option of dulce de leche or cream as an accompaniament, though I prefer it plain.

Dulce de Leche
Again, this is something you will come across at least as often in Argentina as in Uruguay. It is basically a soft caramel spread that you put on your toast or serve with desserts. You will often find pastries filled with it as well (many a time I´ve been deceived thinking I´m buying a chocolate croissant only to discover it in in fact of the caramel variety). It is quite sickly so is best eaten in small quantities. You will find home-made varieties sold practically everywhere you go, but I have to confess that I can never taste any difference whenever I eat it. Maybe I´m not a connoisseur but if I want something sweet and indulgent, give me chocolate any day! Car parkers and museum assistants
When parking your car in town, even on a roadside, you will often see someone sporting a fluorescent bib waving you in to the spot and being terribly helpful even though you don´t really need their assistance. It seems to be the norm that you tip these people to thank them for their help. I can´t quite work out people are paid to provide this service or if it is the Uruguayan equivalent of selling the Big Issue. I get the impression that unemployment must be quite high in the country because everywhere you go, even the tiniest, quietest museums with little more than one room to explore, you will find at least two assistants at the desk, often as many as half a dozen. Their main task seems to be ensuring that you write something in the visitors book. This can be quite frustrating when you have literally stuck your head through the door just to take a quick peek at the handful of fossils and stuffed bird. How can you describe the experience without being rude or insincere. ´Friendly staff´ was a phrase I found myself using a lot, which seemed to please them.
Dodgy traffic police
After having a very enjoyable stay in Uruguay with no sense of unease regarding our safety or belongings, our only moment of unease was when our car was pulled over by a traffic policeman. In Uruguay it is compulsory to drive with your headlights on, which we dutifully did. But the policeman spent several minutes playing with our headlights and trying to explain that there was some fault with them invisible to the human eye unless you were a Uruguan traffic policeman. He kept telling us that we would have to pay a $150 fine in Montevideo, which would be very inconvenient for us, but he seemed extremely reticient to fill out the necessary paperwork.

Fortunately he didn´t speak English so we played the dumb tourists and kept saying ´non entendiendo´. He seemed to give up, but just as he was walking back to our car he came back to give it one more go. Again, we refused to understand what he was getting at, and to his utter frustration he told us that he would tolerate us and let us go - but not until he made us shake his hand twice in gratitude. Some poor soul got pulled over just as we drove off. I dread to think how the person paid for the unfruitful time he wasted on us.

And the rest…
Rather than end on a negative note, here are few more things observations in brief: a hotch potch of different styles of architecture, especially in Punte del Este which seemed to be an architect´s testing ground; lots of birds – many of which I´ve never seen before and will probably never know their names; all the school children we saw were wearing white overcoats and big blue blousy bows that made them look like a cross between very young medical trainees and Little Lord Fauntleroy; extremely cautious drivers – you can walk faster than some of the cars; pink custard and fruit salad for breakfast; horses grazing by the roadside, or plodding mournfully through the streets of Montevideo dragging makeshift carts loaded with the city´s rubbish; lots of stray dogs everwhere, but never any cats; 80s music playing all the time; friendly people offering to give you directions every time you pause to glance at your map; empty gravel roads full of potholes and no road markings at junctions (which probably explains the cautious driving); lots of people fishing – some for sport, others because they need to; and finally flat fields dotted with cows that look like they should be in England.
comments 0 # 06/01/10, 18:10

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