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.
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.
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.