culture

La Comida—Spain’s Most Important Meal

Spanish food, American food. Spanish meals, American meals. Spanish life, American life. How are they similar? How are they different?

Okay, I’m going to stop sounding like a blue-book exam right about now.

In Spain, you may hear people say the following:

  • Salimos después de comer.
  • ¿Cuándo vais a comer?
  • Paramos para comer.
  • Te dieron de comer, ¿no?

I’ve figured it out—the Spanish day isn’t structured around the clock (not really). It’s all about la comida, lunch. (In high school we learned the word almuerzo, which isn’t the same thing in Spain. Almuerzo tends to be a mid-morning snack, whereas la comida is lunch around 2 or 3 p.m.) This led me to tell Mario that people are fixated on eating lunch! It plays such a central role.

In the states, we have morning until 11:59 a.m., afternoon after 12 p.m., evening after about 6 p.m., and night after about 9 p.m.

In Spain, morning is until you eat. After that it’s la tarde (literally “the afternoon”) until you have dinner. After dinner, it’s nighttime. For me, it’s still weird to hear 7 p.m. being referred to as 7 in the afternoon, but I’m getting used to it.

Spanish food

Photo from Hayley Comments

Eating must be pretty important for Spaniards! Of course, you know it is. Most Spaniards I know would not want to spend their lunch hour in front of the computer with a sandwich in their hand. Indeed, this is the antithesis of the traditional Spanish lunch.

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Dad and I eating in San Sebastián, Spain

What is the (traditional) Spanish lunch about, then? It’s about …

taking a real break. Don’t give me any 30-minute lunches, I’m talking at least an hour and maybe two. Of course, if you have a job, it’s shorter. Mario has a full two hours to eat, but since we live in Madrid, going home for lunch would just be silly. In small towns it is much easier to do this. Nonetheless, most Spaniards take a break, even if it is just to sit down with work colleagues in the office.

… first plate, second plate, fruit, dessert, coffee. At least in la casa de mis suegros, this is how it goes, almost always. You can shake things up a bit by having small appetizers for the first course or making the fruit the dessert. My father-in-law has fruit, dessert, and then sometimes a small cookie with coffee. Sweet tooth? Nah.

… the three o’clock news. Unless it’s a special meal, the news tends to be on while we’re eating. This doesn’t mean we always pay attention to it. Before the news comes on, we watch The Simpsons. Because of the timing, a lot of Spaniards end up watching the Simpsons, a fact I attribute to its immense success here in Spain.

la sobremesa. A word with no real English equivalent, sobremesa is the chat after the meal, as people linger over coffee, sweets, and liqueurs. As people are generally content with their bellies full and the wine flowing through their veins, there can be some really intriguing and enlightening conversations that occur.

la siesta. This is not as true as it once was, but many do pause to take a short nap, whether it be on the couch or in a bed! I find that the more I eat, the more I want a siesta! Of course, when we’re having dinner at my in-laws’ house, we generally don’t eat lightly.

La comida, besides meaning lunch, literally means “food,” emphasizing the meal’s importance for many Spaniards. As I live here longer and longer, I am beginning to love the concept and embrace the (outdated?) concept of sitting down with loved ones and pressing pause for a moment.

What do you love about the Spanish idea of la comida?

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Spain Blogger Confessions

You all already know I’m not the starry-eyed Spain enthusiast that some bloggers are. I do like Spain, of course—I just take it in moderation. Some days enough gets to be enough. So I thought I’d confess a few things that you might not have surmised from my posts. It’s okay to be honest—really, we’re better off for it!

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Okay, Kaley, less “Blah, blah, blah” and more fun!

  • I don’t try everything. I don’t care how good you insist it is, I don’t want to try morro (snout) or criadilla (bull testicle) or oreja (ear). I’ve tried orejas already and never again!). If this makes me unadventurous, sue me.
  • I hate dubbing. I refuse to watch TV shows dubbed. In any language. Please, try to tell me that The Big Bang Theory is just as funny in Spanish. No. Just no. So yeah, this means I watch a lot of TV in English, which is bad for my Spanish learning. But I really don’t like Spanish TV or movies. Neither does Mario. 
  • I’m still patriotic. No, I’m not blindly patriotic. I understand the US has its flaws and is not God’s chosen country, but I still love my country and miss so many things about it—barbecues, the openness, the informality, the ease with which I navigated any and all social situations … en fin, so much!
  • I don’t idealize the Spanish lifestyle. Sure, Spain is known for relaxation, sun, and siestas. But the truth is, many Spaniards work endless days and get little to no rest. Nowadays the unemployment rate is sky high. I think that Spaniards definitely get it right with regards to enjoying food/drink, eating healthily, and walking, but they’re not perfect. They’re not inherently less lazy than Americans. They’re human—just like us.

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Spain + America = Success

  • I have a love/hate relationship with blogging. Sometimes (most of the time), I love blogging. I love the relationships it has created, the opportunities it has given me, the wonderful feedback I get from it. At others, I feel intimidated by other bloggers, worried that no one likes me, afraid that what I say will cause someone somewhere to become angry with me. I’m often envious of other bloggers’ success because I wish that I could achieve that same level of success without compromising any of my principles.

So, what about you—anything to confess? C’mon, spill it.

So You’re Dating a Spaniard—Cat

Cat has been a blog “friend” of mine since 2010. Being the nosy blogger that I am, I found a lot of my now-favorite blogs by clicking on links from commenters on other blogs. Once I found Cat, I thought I’d found a kindred spirit. She’s the kind of blogger I hope to be: dedicated, funny, irreverent, full of life, amazing at Spanish (with an Andalú accent, of course). Blogging from the south of Spain since 2007, you can learn a lot about Spain, Spaniards, and Spanish in general from her blog. Welcome!

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Please introduce yourself (name, age, why you’re in Spain, etc.).

My name is Cat, and I’m a Chicagoan living in Seville. After studying in Castilla y León, I came to Seville to participate in the Language and Culture Assistants program at a high school. Not six weeks in La Hispalense, my partner Enrique and I met.

How did you meet your significant other and how long have you been together?

I wish I had a great story of how I met Kike, but it’s not: a mutual friend invited him over to my house for dinner. We went out for a drink later and she left us alone. We didn’t hit it off right away, as he was dating someone else, but after a few weeks, we were exclusive. We just celebrated our fifth anniversary. I had promised him a Thanksgiving dinner a few days early, but he’s a military pilot and was sent away on a mission – I invited his mom instead!

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Do you feel that your significant other is a “typical” Spaniard? If not, why?

Yes and no. Kike is very sevillano in many ways: he loves Feria, gin tonics, and horses. At the same time, he speaks several languages, has traveled extensively and loves heavy metal. For whatever reason, we’ve found a way to make two very different people from two different worlds make it work!

Which language do you speak when you’re together? Why?

When we first met, I was intimidated by how good Kike’s English was, as my Spanish was poor. When my parents came to visit a few weeks later, I could barely order a meal in Spanish well, so I decided we needed to start speaking to one another in Spanish. Now, speaking in English is what we do if we’re around my family or someone who doesn’t speak Spanish. His skills in my native tongue have definitely diminished, whereas my Spanish is now pretty solid.

feria 2012 cat enrique

How do you deal with the “in-law” issue? Have you met them? Do you get along?

I fell extremely fortunate to have my suegra so close, especially because I am so far from my own family. Carmin and I get along tremendously well, and she and I met and got along from the very beginning of my relationship with Kike. I’m also extremely close with Kike’s younger brothers.

What is the best part about dating/being married to a foreigner (and especially a Spaniard)?

There have been numerous advantages to dating a foreigner, particularly at the beginning. I had someone who would help me deal with the bank, my cell phone company, etc., and Kike was willing to bus me around nearly all of Spain. Now that we’re five years into the relationship, having a bicultural relationship has morphed into a really wonderful way to experience twice as much as I might have if Kike were also American. I feel that I get twice as much out of it because we are different and have that much more to share with one another. What’s more, we did pareja de hecho, which is similar to a civil union, so he helped me get my work and residence papers!

What is the most difficult part?

Now that the language barrier and the cultural differences have been practically erased, the hardest part about dating Kike is being able to plan for the future. I sometimes feel like I have to sacrifice a bit more because of his job – he’s gone a minimum of three months during the year and will likely be transferred in the next three to five years. This has been the cause of several arguments as we try and decide what will be the best for us in the coming years.

What advice would you give someone who is considering starting a relationship with a Spaniard?

Not to take it too seriously. Dating someone different from you has so many advantages, but there’s no reason that person the only one you hang out with. I think that Kike and I have survived because balance has always been important to us. He understands that I have friends, that I need alone time, and that visiting Chicago at least once a year is necessary. As a matter of fact, we’ve never spent either of our birthdays together, because they both fall in the same week, and I’m often back home!

Do you plan on living in the US or in Spain long term? Why?

At the moment, I think we’re staying in Spain. We’ve talked more seriously about what to do with all of the things that will happen when we’re more than two, but I think it would be much harder for him to adjust to living in America than it will be for me to adjust to living in Spain forever. I moved quite a few times when I was young, and I like the challenge of starting from scratch. Plus, his job as a military pilot means we have at least five years more so he can get his pension for all of those missions abroad!

Do you plan on having children? If so, do you plan on raising them bilingual?

Kike and I have always, always planned on kids, and I admire his fascination with them. Right from the beginning, he told me he’d name his three sons Enrique, Santiago and Rodrigo. When I couldn’t say the name correctly, he chose and Anglo name, Connor.

While there are many things we don’t see eye to eye on, raising bilingual children and their education has always been something we’ve agreed on. Maybe it comes from our values system, or from the way we were raised, but I would be honored to raise children with someone who is attentive and loving, yet firm and grounded.

If you could import something from the US to Spain (and vice versa), what would it be?

After being in Spain for so long, I have grown accustomed to not having certain things, or to replace them with a Spanish equivalent. It’s sometimes irritating to pay a bit more for certain products, but Kike travels to the US more often than I do, so I always send him a list of what I need. If I could import American efficiency to Spain, I would, but if it had to be a product, I would love to have kosher-style hot dogs!

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How has being in a relationship with a Spaniard changed you?

I don’t think I would have stayed in Spain for as long as I have if it weren’t for Kike. Between not having the right to work and the uncertainty of the financial crisis, Kike has been what has anchored me in Spain. Through it all, I’ve found my own place in Seville and am thankful to have a job and a great group of American friends, but it’s nice to come home at the end of the day and be where it feels right.

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Thank you so much, Cat! I am so glad you’ve found what feels right at the end of the day.

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Interested in being a part of my Dating a Spaniard series? Email me; I’d love to have you!

 

 

Spanish Weddings vs. American Weddings

I’ve never had an American wedding. But I have had a wedding. And I’m American. I just got married in Spain to a Spaniard, so I suppose I might know quite a bit more about Spanish weddings than American ones. Yet there are so many wedding-related movies, and I’ve been to my share of American weddings, that I think that I can point out some of the differences.

Whenever I tell my relatives about my wedding, they always want to know the same things—Did you have bridesmaids? Where was the rehearsal dinner? Why haven’t you changed your last name on Facebook yet?

So, after relistening to this old Notes in Spanish podcast (I used to listen a lot in college), Una Boda Multicultural, about a Spanish man who got married to an American woman in Sevilla, I thought I’d write about what I found different (and the same!).

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  • Engagement rings and lack thereof. I have an engagement ring, but it’s not the norm. My husband asked me to marry him back in November 2011, and he presented me with a precious ring that I still wear on my left hand. In Spain, the engagement isn’t quite so popular; in fact, none of the married Spanish women I know had one. Surely, some women do it, but it’s certainly not popular. Don’t even get me started on women thinking that the man has to spend a certain amount on a ring just to show you he loves you. Just … no. Ugh.
  • Las arras. Loosely translated as “unity coins,” las arras are coins that the bride and groom exchange to symbolize that what was now one’s own property is now communal. It’s a nice gesture to symbolize the unification of a couple’s financial goods (and therefore debts as well).
  • No rehearsal. There is no rehearsal! I know, are you scandalized yet? I understand that the rehearsal is pretty useful if you have a large bridal party and don’t want to look a fool, but in Spain there’s none of that. It made my dad pretty nervous, though, so we met up with the priest on the Thursday before the wedding to go over what was going to happen. Naturally, my dad had never been in nor seen a Spanish wedding, and now he was playing a central role, as el padrino.
  • El padrino y la madrina. In the US, the father walks the bride down the aisle; in Spain, the mother of the groom walks him down the aisle, and the father of the bride walks her down the aisle. Then they stay up there with the bride and groom, seated beside them for the whole ceremony.

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  • No bridal party. There are no bridesmaids or groomsmen, no best man or maid of honor. This actually means a lot less stress, because bridal parties are hard to coordinate!

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As a bridesmaid in my friend Hilary’s wedding, August 2010

  • Wedding bands. From what I (thought I) knew, a woman’s wedding band was a bit thinner, more “feminine” than a man’s. In Spain, I found they often showed us two of the same wedding bands. There were usually broader and more masculine than I was expecting. In Mario’s parents’ time, a lot of wedding bands were very flat, and the jewelers presented those types of bands to us as the “traditional.”
  • Ring finger. In most of Spain, you wear your wedding band on the third finger of your right hand, not your left. (However, in Cataluña, they wear it on the left.) Yes, believe it!
  • My last name. Women do not change their last names. Shocking? I don’t know why in this day and age, but it nonetheless seems to shock people. How do last names work in Spain? Here’s how:
    • Everyone has two last names. For example, María Pérez López. María got her first last name, Pérez, from her father. (For example, Marcos Pérez Medina.) María got her second last name from her mother. (For example, Laura López Castro.)
    • Traditionally, the father’s last name has to go first, and the mother’s last name has to go second. However, they’ve recently changed the law to be more egalitarian, allowing parents to decide whose last name to put first.
    • It seems confusing at first for many, but it actually makes a lot of sense, and is a lot more egalitarian than our patriarchal naming system.

Of course, there’s also the whole after-the-wedding party that’s really different, but that’s for another post, another day.