I’ve never been one for talking. I’m not sure if that has to do with being a writer and being very particular about the words, both written and spoken, that I use, but I never feel especially compelled to contribute to a group conversation unless my words have some weight to them and my ideas have something of value to add to the topic at hand. That doesn’t stop me from enjoying listening, however. I enjoy learning about other people’s ideas and characters as they share.
One of the things that I was first annoyed by, but then began to love, about Spanish culture is their uncanny ability to talk for hours on end, and to do it happily and calmly. There is no rushing a conversation in Spain. The words and stories take you where they will, winding their way through the past, present and future as they link together in the process of forming even more memories.
Enter a phrase that some of us foreigners living in Spain have adopted of being “Spanish kidnapped.” That Spanish level of hospitality is another incredible thing that I miss when I’m away from it. You will be invited to eat with, or have a coffee/drink/vermouth with, a Spanish person/family/retinue, at least a dozen times in your stay in Spain. It’s a beautiful thing, really. If you come to Spain looking to immerse yourself in the culture, and make it known, Spaniards welcome you with open arms. And then they won’t let go!
Often, when you share your plans of eating lunch with a Spanish family, it goes unsaid that you have no idea what time you’ll be finished, and that you’ll more likely than not be with them for at least four or five hours. Same goes for a cup of coffee. That will generally take up about two to three hours of your time. It’s not just about eating delicious food or drinking coffee, it’s about reveling in every second of it, and sharing your entire life’s history. Anytime I eat in a restaurant with a Spaniard, we don’t leave before at least two hours have passed. And when you go to eat in someone’s home, it’s not just eating the meal. After the meal it’s tea and dessert, followed by getting comfortable in the living room for even more conversation, maybe even some television.
After more than a year of living here, it’s something that I already find quite natural. When I was back in NY for the summer, it blew me away that no one had more than an hour tops to have a cup of coffee. Maybe it’s just the nature of New York and the rat race, but I think we miss out on something really special when we forget to slow down and live the conversations, savor the food, and for at least one portion of the day, not worry about the relentless ticking of the clock. Being able to simply sit, relax, and enjoy good company for the sake of enjoying it, without the pressure of having somewhere else to go, something else to do, is pure bliss. It’s a custom that I’ve readily adopted, and hope to continue, even after I leave Spain.
The same goes for drinking in Spain. While the people here drink often, and a lot, it’s again a way to pass the time happily and with great conversation. Groups will sit in bars for hours on end, taking their time through rounds of cañas as they converse about everything from music to politics to silly hypothetical questions (Would you rather go up against a polar bear or a crocodile?). Of course there are times when a lot of drinks are had and people get pretty drunk, and stuff turns funny, but even still there’s no rush to get to that point. You get there gradually, enjoying the ride in the meantime.
The Spanish appreciation for a long meal and good conversation speaks a lot to the Spaniards philosophy of life. Being appreciative of a simple way of life, one in which good food and good company are the main component of happiness (as opposed to money or material possessions) is a way of life to be admired.
And so, next time your in Spain, try to get yourself “Spanish kidnapped,” and enjoy the journey.