The Spanish way of life and customs are particular and even strange for foreigners. In general, the Spanish culture emphasizes family relationships, high contact and friendships. Therefore mealtimes are periods for friends and family to get together, share experiences and memories, laugh and bond. In Spanish restaurants, there are a couple of customs, however, that foreigners might find quite curious. Below are some Spanish restaurant customs that are likely to surprise or draw your attention:
While most parts of the world eat their lunch rather early starting from noon, Spaniards prefer to postpone their lunch to enable them to have get-togethers during lunch. The average Spanish lunch doesn’t start till around 2:00pm and may stretch until about 3:00pm for office workers or even later for others. The secret behind this late lunch is that the Spanish see lunch as an opportunity to connect and reinforce bonds and friendships. So, before lunch, the Spanish already open the conversations, and the banter is kept light. All through the meal, the conversation is kept alive, and even after the meal, most Spanish patrons still wait behind for Sobremesa, which usually involves more serious conversations that might last another hour. At the end of an unusually late and lengthy lunch to the foreign observer, the Spanish disperse with agreements to meet again soon for another bonding lunch experience.
In Spain, a piece of bread is used as a ¨third cutlery utensil ¨ after the knife and the fork. This means that Spaniards eat bread or accompany it with a wide range of unusual foods or condiments from rice ,olive oil and even their dessert. Bread is such an integral part of the Spanish culture and diet that any meal is simply incomplete without it. The average Spaniard is likely to stop eating the moment you remove his bread from his dinner table; they take their bread seriously. One fun way to enjoy bread in Spanish restaurant is to eat it with a piece of chocolate.
The Spanish are obsessive with their love for napkins, and the average Spaniard is simply incapable of finishing a meal without a napkin at his table. They use napkins to dab their mouths all the time during their meal. As Spaniards eat, you’ll notice them using their napkins to clean up even the tiniest speck of a stain that the food leaves on their mouths. The Spanish obsession with napkins might be hygienic, as some locals claim constantly wiping the mouth during meals helps to prevent unhealthy smudges on glassware used for drinking. However, the primary reason why napkins are such an integral part of Spanish eating culture is simply because most Spaniards have just gotten used to the idea of using a napkin always and now, simply can’t do without one at a meal.
Water (Agua del Tiempo)
It is not uncommon in most parts of the world to find people eating without water. In most cases, a lot of people still drink water over their meals, but a significant amount of the population enjoys eating meals and combining them with drinks like orange juice or chilled beer. They do not do that in Spain. Virtually everyone eats with just water, or in other situations, wine could also be present. Most Spaniards do not like their water too cold either, so they mix water that comes straight from the fridge with water of ambient temperature to give the infamous Agua del Tiempo or room temperature water.Its also good to know that you can ask for Agua del Grifo or Agua en Jarro and the water in a glass from the tap or in a jug is free of charge(NOTE: Tap water in Madrid is perfectly potable)!
Unruly Ordering Process
In most Spanish bars and restaurants, the ‘First come, first served’ rule is not practiced. The fact that you arrived and politely joined the queue doesn’t mean that you’ll get served before the person behind you. As a matter of fact, if you stay silent and decide to wait your turn, you might likely wait a long while to get served. Once again, the whole frigid conservatism idea and strict rules of order and organization are not really the Spanish style. They prefer the natural, primal order, they prefer to allow people to be free and express their personalities, struggle for things and just have fun while doing whatever they want to. So, while visiting a Spanish bar, it is advisable for you to come prepared to insist to be served. Mere eye contact won’t work either, so be ready to look the waiter straight in the eye as he’s making your coffee and confidently make your order. Don’t be caught slacking!
In this article, we have examined five curious customs practiced in Spanish restaurants and bars. Therefore, the next time you visit Spain, don’t be so surprised with the marked difference in restaurant culture. Simply immerse yourself in the fun and warmth that these food outlets provide and don’t forget to create lasting memories.