SQUIZ THE WORLD (1400 × 700px)

Squiz the World goes to… Uruguay


The Uruguayan national anthem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jc6L_0NZlqk
Arriba la Celeste! (Uruguayan soccer highlights): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNDddyXDbrs&t=22s
Recipe for chivito: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/12580-chivito-steak-sandwich

Each week, we give the world globe a spin, and see where we land. Then we take the kids of Australia on an audio excursion to visit that country and its people.

I’m Amanda Bower, and today on Squiz the World we’re visiting Uruguay – the second smallest country in South America, with the world’s longest national anthem, a free laptop for every kid, and a rockstar reputation for soccer.

Quick! Let’s strap ourselves into the Squiz Kids Super Fast Supersonic Jetliner so that we can take off and take a squiz at Uruguay.

Uruguay is a tiny country on the east coast of South America, with enormous Brazil to the north, and Argentina to the west and south. Its name comes from the indigenous Guarani people’s name for the river that forms its boundary with Argentina… the Uruguay River.

About three and a half million people live in Uruguay, with 1.3 million calling the capital, Montevideo, home.

Like most countries in South America, Uruguay was colonised by Spain. It was also ruled at different points by Portugal and Brazil, but finally became on August 25, 1828. But – it hadn’t quite organised a national anthem. A poet named Francisco Esteban Acuña de Figueroa (I promise that name won’t be in the S’Quiz) offered to write one, and the government loved it. It originally had 11 verses, but many of them were a bit rude about Spain, Portugal and Brazil, so nowadays only the chorus and first verse are sung. Even so, it’s STILL the longest national anthem music in the world! I’ve popped a link in your episode notes.

Uruguay also leads the world in a couple of other ways—more than 98% of its electricty comes from renewable resources – thanks to wind and hydro power, using the water flowing along the Uruguay River to generate electricity.

Uruguay is also regarded as the most democratic country in South America, and one of the continent’s few “high-income countries”… Although my favourite story about income comes from Uruguay’s former President, Jose Murica, known as the world’s most humble president. He refused to live in the President’s mansion, choosing instead to stay with his wife on their farm—and he donated about 90% of his monthly salary to charity!

Whenever you travel, it’s important to learn a few words in that country’s language. It’s a great way to show respect. So, let’s….

Like 20 other countries in the world, Uruguay speaks Spanish … although there’s a strong Italian influence on the accent. A lot of people moved to Uruguay from Italy between 1870 and the 1960s… it’s estimated that 45% of Uruguayans have Italian ancestry—and 65% of people in the capital, Montevideo)

We’ve learned Spanish before, visiting Argentina and Costa Rica. Do you remember how to say hello? That’s right, it’s Hola. Now, you spell that h-o-l-a, but the h is silent. So if you’re visiting in summer and need an icecream – and let’s face it, who doesn’t need an ice cream every now and then – make sure you ask for “helado”, not “h-elado”. Do you remember how to say thank you to the person who gives you the icecream? That’s right, it’s “Gracias”.

Now that we’ve covered the most important exchange you can have in any language – buying ice cream – it’s…

Do you have a “bring your own device” policy at your school? Even if you don’t right now, it’s pretty likely that by the time you’re in high school, you’ll all be packing a laptop or tablet in your backpack each day. I’m also going to guess that at most schools, it’s parents who are paying for those devices.

Well, not in Uruguay. In 2009, it became the first country in the world to GIVE a laptop to every schoolkid. Fast forward to 2022, and those laptops (which are replaced every few years) now have computer programming apps, to teach kids coding, and a program to help them learn English from teachers in Britain. Cool, huh?

And there’s one other thing…. how many kids are there in your class? In Uruguay, the ratio of students to teachers is 14 to 1. A ratio means how many of one thing, compared with the other thing – so for every teacher, there is a maximum of 14 students. That is one of the lowest ratios in the world, and means that kids can get a lot more one-on-one attention from their teacher.

Hmmmm… free laptops, lots of teacher attention, coding, foreign languages… I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that Uruguay’s students do pretty well at school!

You know what else Uruguay does really well at? Soccer. I think it’s…

Have you heard the expression “per capita” before? It’s Latin, and it literally means ‘per head’. It’s a way of taking into account the number of people involved when comparing something. So if you look at the country that has won the most men’s international soccer championships of all time, it’s far and away Brazil… with 62.

But Brazil has a population of 212 million people! Uruguay, on the other hand, has 20 international soccer titles, including two world cups, with teams drawn from a population of just 3.5 million… meaning that its men’s team has won the most international championships PER CAPITA in the world.

I’ve put a link in your episode notes to a video that is basically a love letter to La Celeste, the name of the national team… let me tell you, there is a LOT of passion for La Celeste in Uruguay.

So why does this country have a rockstar soccer team?

It’s called “El Proceso,” Spanish for “The Process”. Uruguay’s clubs and coaches know that, because it is a small country, their very best players will probably leave at some point to play for clubs overseas. So, starting at a very young age, all players are coached using the same process. They all speak the same football language, they use the same tactics so when they turn up for a national training camp – say, before the World Cup or the Olympics – they all know what to expect.

And in a sport where big personalities can make it hard for teammates to get along and work well together, “El Proceso” emphasises respect from an early age.

When 13 year olds report to training camps, they must not only treat their teammates with respect, but everyone around them. It’s a rule that they have to greet and thank the people who take care of the grounds… the people who serve them food… the cleaners… everyone. The coaches aren’t just looking for players who are physically strong and talented at soccer, they’re looking for athletes who will listen to their coaches, and use their brains along with their bodies. Hmm.. food for thought.

Speaking of food, I’m always starving after playing soccer. I think it might be…

Remember how I said a lot of Italians had moved to Uruguay in the first half of the last century? Well, their influence is strong on the country’s food. The 29th day of each month in Uruguay is officially called Dia de Ñoquis, or gnocchi day. This used to be the day before payday when people ran low on money, so the Italian pasta was the perfect filling meal, as it is made from inexpensive ingredients like potatoes and flour.

But the national dish of Uruguay is called chivito. It’s an epic sandwich consisting of a thin slice of steak, mozzarella, tomatoes, mayonnaise, olives, bacon, eggs and ham, served in a bun with hot chips on the side. A chivito is to Uruguayans what a hamburger is to Americans, so you’ll find them EVERYWHERE. And they’re pretty easy to create in your own house, too! I’ve put a recipe in your episode notes.

The fun part? You get to smash the steak flat before you cook it.

This is the part of the podcast where you get to test how well you’ve been listening.

Question 1. What is the Spanish word for ice cream?
Question 2. Uruguay became the first country in the world to give every school kid what?
Question 3. What do Uruguayans traditionally eat on the 29th of each month? Bonus points for explaining why.