Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Strange Fruit 2

I ended the last entry in this series with a note about a pet peeve-- the infuriating and ubiquitous Spanish bar napkin. So I'll start with another one for this second edition of "Weird Things Spanish People Do That You Probably Didn't Know About."

1) They leave dog poop in the middle of the sidewalk
Obviously, this is a problem in the US, too, and in other countries. But as someone who is hoping to hit 41 countries by the end of this year, I can say that I have never been anywhere where the dog poop situation is quite so bad. My theory is that this problem is due to a lack of green space or bushes (for disposal) and a culture of impunity. Spaniards leave poop everywhere. The river walk in Talavera along the Rio Tajo is like a damn obstacle course. I can't count the number of times during my stay in Spain that I was walking along looking at the scenery -- wrought iron balconies over windows in sugary colors, charming side streets under stone arches-- or even just looking at a map and ... SQUISH. Ugh. It's true that laws exist against such practices, but they are poorly enforced. Gross.

The famous balconies of Madrid. But don't get too distracted...

2)  They say completely meaningless things to fill the silence
While it's true this kind of phrase exists in every language,  the phrase "bueno, pues nada" (which translates directly to "Okay, well... nothing") is surprisingly ubiquitous. It usually pops up at the end of a conversation, when things have more or less finished up and neither party has anything left to say. Where an American would probably stay mum and look around awkwardly (and, let's be honest, pretend to text a friend), a Spanish person is more likely to pull out this bad boy. The phrase is a good indicator that the conversation is now finished; the equivalent of "So, uh... yeah." It is a placeholder. It literally serves no other use.

3) They narrate their actions
This is something specifically that I've noticed since my arrival in Talavera. Maribel, one of my co-teachers here, often will come into the staff room Morgan-Freeman style (that is, doing voice over for her life.) "I'm going to wash my hands," she'll announce to no one in particular. Then; "Well, I guess I'll go upstairs." Similarly, my roomate, Judith, would never dare going to sleep without announcing: "I'm going to bed! Goodnight!"

I'll admit it, my American reaction is: '...So? Why are you telling me? What do I care?' But when I asked Judith about this habit, she explained that it's about being polite. If Maribel merely walked into the staffroom without saying anything, it would be like not acknowledging my presence; similarly, if Judith went to bed without telling me it would be an indication of bad blood between us.

Spaniards: human news tickers

4) They mean something totally different than Americans/British people do when they say "Let's meet this morning" or "I'll talk to you this afternoon" 
You probably know that Spanish people eat on an entirely different schedule than Americans/Brits/most of the non-Mediterranean Western world. Lunch is between 2 and 3; dinner is between 9 and 10:30. What you probably didn't know, however is that the eating schedule affects the working definition of "morning" and "afternoon." One is permitted to say "Buenos dias" until 2 pm and "Buenas tardes" until 8 or 9. Thus, I offer you the following tip when making plans with a Spaniard: keep in mind that meeting "this afternoon" means that any time between 3:30 and 8 is up for grabs. This can be especially confusing when talking to a Spaniard in English. He or she may say "I am only free this morning," and although the language is English, the idea of morning is still Spanish-- leaving lots of potential for misunderstanding.

5) They eat bread with EVERYTHING
Seriously, everything. My favorite story to tell about this habit takes place in Santander, with a couchsurfing host.We were preparing lunch from some leftovers: tortilla de patatas (kind of a quiche with potatoes inside) and arroz a la cubana (rice with peas and meat), plus some pasta we made to finish the meal off. There, amongst this cornucopia of carbohydrates, my host exclaimed in horror, "Oh my God, I'm so sorry! I forgot the bread!" Needless to say, I did not mind.

The classic "tortilla" with potatoes ... and bread

From what I can tell, this only applies to Manchegos, people born in Castilla la Mancha, where I live this year. When asked a question they don't have an answer for, instead of saying "Yo no sé" (I don't know), they say: "Yo qué?"-- "What do I know?" I don't know what it is about that little difference that gets me, but I always enjoy walking around and overhearing people say "What do I know?" What, indeed, do any of us know? That's deep, Castilla la Mancha. That's deep.


Anonymous said...

Muy bueno... Me he reido bastante.

Alissa said...

Gracias! I am glad to hear it