Had I kept my mouth shut and my opinion to myself, I would have been spared the loud conversations that followed in defence, which resembled more the imposing of an opinion upon me than a conversation. Talking and explaining a different point of view was never an easy thing for me to do in Spain. Food worshippers that they are, they are also not afraid to talk about it, loudly. When I first arrived there, I didn't understand why they argued all the time so much with each other. But their loudness is just a part of the Spanish characteristic behaviour, which is exactly the opposite of the Brits' approach of having a stiff upper lip attitude towards life.
There are many aspects of food the Spaniards feel passionately about, and rightly so. Most of these are about the animal derived variety.
Engaging in such conversation over food or “la comida” and becoming involved becomes contagious. For example, the time required to consume a couple of glasses of Spanish wine is enough to make you want to learn more about this heavenly product itself. This timeframe was enough for me to start fighting the cause that it is the “mejor vino del mundo” (meaning the best wine in the world); flapping my arms around excitedly and talking about Rioja grape varieties and good vintages.
As food debates progress, the volume tends to rise, accompanied by a substantial increase in speed; there is hardly any time to inhale. If you are a bit shy or less than fluent in Spanish, you might find it hard to contribute to the conversation, as in true madrileño style there aren't any obvious gaps in between words, as the heated debate rages on.
If you did succeed in contributing to the debate, you would most likely have no chance of winning it, but would possibly just be dismissed as 'un guiri' or foreigner that couldn´t possibly understand such a passionate topic.
Should you ever state that you don't like what's being served to you on a plate, you've basically had it. 'Es que los ingleses son muy raros' I heard my Spanish friend Carmen say often: the English are very odd. I can't really blame her, I knew what she meant, especially while commenting on English friends of ours who expressed their dislike of things like croquetas de pollo, empanadillas and who would be more comfortable heading for the closest Mc Donalds. No surprise Carmen thought they were weird.
On another occasion, a visiting friend who fancied a frappè discussed options with the waiter and ended up ordering a coffee with ice, which seemed to fit the bill. Before I could advise her and point out the difference between one of Spain’s popular summery drinks and the varieties of coffees being in the UK, the waiter served exactly what she asked for. This was a standard espresso coffee, but he then poured it over a stack of ice cubes! My friend looked at the waiter and tried to complain, but in broken English he explained that she’d got what she asked for, and added “I bring you English what you want, and then you don’t want it, so what do you want?”. My friend gave up, and I must say, I was with the waiter on this one.
Michaela Rossi was born in the former Czechoslovakia and moved to the UK at the age of 19. She followed her husband on his work assignment to Spain in 2004 where their children were born. In 2011, they moved back to the UK, this time to Hampshire, where they love being outdoors, always admiring the beautiful English countryside and exploring their local area.
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