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Let me tell you how I found out about this habit: A friend of mine once worked during the holidays as a security guard in a major hotel in a vacation spot. He had the night shift. Quite quiet and boring. But towards the end of his shift there was a mistery: he was doing the surveilance round in the premises. It was 6 o’clock in the morning and all of a sudden, the first rows at the pool were covered by towels. No one at sight. How did they got there? Can you imagine you walk around a hotel as a guard and nothing happens, other than a few drunken guys that need a gps to find their rooms? Then -misteriously- towels appear for no reason and from nowhere by the pool… He decided to observe the scene and found his answer. Germans and towels. At straight 6 o’clock they woke up, walked down, layed their towels and went back to their rooms. 10 minutes later the pool area was dessert again but covered in towels…
Let me make this clear: We Spaniards, we love Germans. Seriously, we really do. There are mainly two reasons:
1. They make great cars
2. They are wealthy loyal tourists.
But this one thing I don’t get. Why do they have to wake up in their vacation at 6 o’clock in the morning (at night if you ask me) and perform this incredible ritual? After breakfast they go to the pool lay on their pre-arranged towels and spend a few hours getting their “free-of-charge-shrimp-costume” under the sun. Seriously: Why on earth do they have to wake up early and “own” the first row at the pool?
It is such a mistery…
Do they really think someone will take away the best spots at the pool if they don’t do it? What, at seven o’clock? What is wrong with them?!?
The best part is: most often we are talking about a hotel or some kind of what I call “vacation machine”, that has – surprise, surprise – identical towels for all guests. That means, if any Spaniard would come down to the pool and find towels laying there without an obvious owner, they would think: “how friendly!” and just lay down on them.
There is one reason why that Spaniards do not “steal” the towels from them: It is holiday. You are not supposed to wake up at any time, just because there are suposedly places that are better than others. This means: when the Germans get back to the pool after breakfast, they find their pre-prepared towels and feel proud to be so smart to own the first row at the pool.üAbout at least one hour later, the rest of all other vacation guests with non-german passports will start showing up at the pool. Oh, and should there be any Spaniards at the same “vacation machine” (quite unliekly if you ask me), they will show up about an hour after this second crowd. This is not out of politeness. For God sake: it is vacation!!!
There is one nation where I would understand that they wake up early on vacation: Americans. My fellow USA-people only have ten days of vacation a year! 10 days vacation… If I had only 10 days vacation I would probably not sleep at all! But that is a separate story.
Back to the Germans and their towels: please guys: you have to stop it. Relax. Easy. Its vacation. Its Spain. We are willing to forgive you for wearing leather sandals with white tennis socks. Also for ordering “dos cervezas por favor” (allthough you know now what I think about it). We are even willing to forgive you for making our restaurants cook you dinner at 18 or 19 o’clock, when we Spaniards just finished lunch and are still recovering from it… BUT please don’t stress people out with your crazy towels in the morning. Its madness!
My recomendation: leave your clock at home, specially your alarm clock. Sit on a nice terrasse and have some tapas along with a chilled glass of “The Spanish Quarter” Chardonnay-Albariño, or your favourite Spanish wine.
Today I start a new series that I hopefully will finish some day (I guess mañana ;-). Not that I thought 10 reasons were difficult to find. I want to make sure I do my homework and research+study them properly.
The first one is easy:
Reason for loving Spain nr 1: HUMOR
We can laugh about everything. Actually we sometimes have to. We love to. I don’t know another culture or country, in which people have such an hability to laugh. We can be serious, but not if we can avoid it.
Jokes are our small talk. I often participate in real joke marathons, where a few crack on jumping from a topic to the other and going on for hours. Seriously.
A few examples:
We are over 90% catholic, we respect Christ and the church. And we believe. But there are a ton of jokes about the last supper, confession, monks and nons… Laugh is a blessing, for god sake!
We are quite liberal in a gay-friendly sense. Barcelona is known to be one of the gay capitals of Europe. But what is so bad about laughing your ass off on gay jokes?
You get my point.
Let me tell you one of my many “top-embarrasing-situations-in-Francisco’s-life” (believe me, I somehow collect them) happened to me in Teruel many years ago. It might illustrate it best.
I got to know a group of guys from the area during a summer job. We started a round of jokes. One of the guys had a glass eye. I did not know nor noticed. Just seemed a little cross-eyed. Guess what: Si Señor… I had to do it. I told a joke about a man with a glass eye. And it was long, and it was dirty and it was embarrasing.
I must have been the only one that did not know the guy had a glass eye, since people started getting a bit serious and gave me big eyes. I just thought they were concentrated on following the joke. The only guy that amused himseld and smiled all over the face was my “dont-you-realize-he-has-a-glass-eye-friend”. Everyone else was a bit less easy and very quiet.
Nevermind: I finished the joke and the guy was laughing in tears. Eventually all softened out and the session continued. A few jokes later another guy from the group approched me from the side and revealed to me in whisper the glass eye secret. Ooooops. Embarrasing…
I have forgotten in the meantime how to turn red, but back then I promise I still knew how to. Red-face and glass-eye crossed looks (or look and a half). He came over and thanked me. It was apparently the first time that someone had told him a joke about the topic. He could totally sympathise with the guy in the joke and was gratefull for having made fun of something that everyone seemed to find dead serious. He said a great sentence that became my lesson that day. A valuable one: “If I have to choose between crying or laughing about sad things that I can’t change, my choice is clear!”
Wherever you are my glass-eyed friend: I raise my wine-glass with a wink and drink to your health. My toast: “brindo por ti, en mi ojo un guiño, y en mi copa Chardonnay-Albariño“.
Ah: if you want to know the joke, you know how to: just ask Francisco ;-)
Today you should leave your car home and hope for non-overcrowded public transportation. That is due to the famous “Cabalgata de Reyes” (sort of “the kings ride”. And NO, it is not a special spicy sauce from a famous burger restaurant!). This is a massive event to celebrate epiphany, that consists on:
- Closing down all mayor center roads.
- Dressing up tractors and other bulky, strong, slow and polluting cars (in other words: what in the US standards would be considered a “practical metropolitan vehicle”).
- Handing over to as many people as you can a musical instrument and a weird “did-not-make-it-for-super-hero-costume” .
- Dressing up three adults in the proper kings costumes.
- Putting all of the above in a line
- Making them walk through the closed roads for hours and hours.
If you think this all sounds like a non-rated version of “Christopher’s Day” on Prozac, I admit that you got a point…
Also: I recommend you wear a helmet in the streets. How so? Kids love candy, so each of the many cars/tractors transports a ton of “close-to-expiration-date-sweets”. The candy is usually packed and has a minimum weight, so it can be thrown into the expecting crowd. The heavier the candy, the further you can throw it. As per Murphy’s Law, you certainly will get hit on the head by a piece of candy. Hence the helmet…
Today, millions of kids are fed with free sugar simultaneously in all nation. Parents in Spain have today the toughest mission of the year: get their kids to bed. The kids:
- Are full of sugar after the candy and full of energy after for two weeks vacation
- Have been waiting for their presents for weeks, while bombarded by TV ads of toys that are scaringly big and expensive…
- Know which presents they want: ALL!
- Have seen the kings with “all their present boxes”
- Think that the same parade that made it through town will pass by their living room to drop the presents.
On top of all, you probably had the chance to attend a session of the famous christmas carols dedicated to the three kings (sung by kids, of course, as mentioned in an earlier post)… Anyone who gets them down before midnight is either a hero, or is using Chloroform… Dear parents: you have my fullest admiration!
What I recommend? Make sure you have a bottle of “The Spanish Quarter“, or your favorite Spanish wine, for when it all finishes. Have a glass to the health of the kings, Santa, Rudolph, the elves and the holy cow. And pray to God that your kids figure out the next morning how to open and operate the presents by themselves. At least, you might have a chance to sleep in…
New Year’s Eve: Probably the single biggest party event in the world. Independently of religion or believe, this seems to be the day that the largest amount of people globally have agreed to celebrate.
Dinner is of course spectacular. It seems like a revival of the Christmas Eve Dinner that I described in a recent post. Only that this time, mood is generally even happier and everyone has a bit of uncle Antonio. After all, we have had a lot of “dinner rehersals” over the past days.
The big moment comes. We are approaching midnight. You can welcome the new year at home with family and friends or in a bigger party, which we call “cotillon“. But the most fun is to celebrate in the streets.
In most countries the year enters with a countdown. We do it infront of the television, with the twelve bells from the midnight clock. There is the official clock in Madrid at the Puerta del Sol. By the way this is theoretically the exact center of Spain, with its “kilometro 0”. Most roads in Spain count their distances in km from this point. But that’s a different story…
The funniest and most peculiar tradition for new year are the twelve “lucky grapes”. One grape per bell tone. You might have heard about it and thought it was a myth. It is not. I promise. This year, the tradition has its 100 year anyversary, since it seems to have been initiated in 1909. The overstock of grapes of that year was distributed to celebrate the new year with the wish of prosperity. As you can imagine, a day or two before the 31st of December, grape prices sky rocket.
At midnight, everyone stares at the TV, waiting for the clock to ring the twelve bell tones. It would be too simple to just ring twelve times, and you would not need TV moderators for it. We like it complicated: first you have a lot of small bells that announce the four quarter bell tones. Then -surprise- you get the four quarter bell tones. Their are double tones (sort of “dind-dong”) so it is actually 8 tones. Then – FINALLY – the twelve tones of midnight. Everyone puts a grape in the mouth per bell tone. This all happens at high speed amd everyone is excited. Plus: twelve grapes is a lot. That is why, by the time the new year actually enters, 40 million people in Spain have their mouth full, absolutely full of grapes. We will consume about 1.500 tons of grapes in the 36,6 seconds that the procedure lasts all together. This is why “happy new year” in Spain is “fffooellisss aaannniiio mmhuebbbho”. This is more or less how “feliz año nuevo” sounds when your mouth is full. No matter how often you practice, how many times you tried to say Pamplona with a polvoron in your mouth. It is a mess. And it is terribly funny. We love it…
I have enjoyed new year’s eve in a few different countries in the world. No matter where and in what time zone I was: I always had my twelve grapes with me, and I always started the countdown at 12 to 12. And I always got funny looks from those around me. And last but not least, my new year always started with:
“fffooellisss aaannniiio mmhuebbbho”
Maybe this year I will try to have a glass of “The Spanish Quarter” Chardonnay-Albariño to spill down the grapes.
Salud and “fffooellisss aaannniiio mmhuebbbho”
Hope you had a wonderful Christmas eve. I hope you have enjoyed and/or survived your traditions, your alc-punch, the food and the family.
We in Spain also have our traditions. Not better or worse. Like so often, just different. Lets look at a few:
FOOD: No, we will not eat Paella for Christmas. It is interesting, but we do not have a super-standard-Christmas-dinner, like a the USA-Turkey (By the way, it always sounded more like a soccer game than a menu for me… Anyhow). Dinner menu in Spain varies largely by region. But for dessert, we all have the world-famous turron. There are two versions of it: the hard one and the soft one. Both delicious. Selection is purely based on teeth and cheek strength. Other than turron, we have polvorones and mantecados. All of these delicious specities consist on honey and almonds. All are terribly tastefull and full of calories.
Ah! Don’t forget to practice Spains favourite Christmas sports: say “Pamplona” with the mouth full of polvorones. Quite a funny sports I must say…
DRINKS: Guess… yes of course we drink Spanish red and white wine with our dinner. But not that many people know about the outstanding sparkling wonder of spanish cellars. “CAVA”. Easier to pronounce than “Champagne”, at least half as expensive and equally tasteful. You don’t believe it? Find out yourself! Check out a bottle of e.g. Codorniu Cava. This is Spain’s oldest producer, and the inventor of Cava method (which is exactly the same than Champagne, but in Spain). I bet with you you won’t tell the difference. And if you do… boy, you missed a career as somelier, or you are just too posh for this world…
MUSIC: You will hardly hear me say anything negative about Spain. Not that I am biosed, there is just little negative to say;). But Christmas songs… Yoy have to know, that the ones in charge of carols in Spain are exclusively the kids. Don’t get me wrong, I like kids. But with the amount of sugar they get, and the fact that they have already been on vacation for a while by the time they get there, it can get a bit too much. Let me see if I can find an example for your -ehem- “enjoyment”. We should let them grow up, learn how to sing, come down from sugar and try again.
PRESENTS: Everywhere in the Christian world kids are now coming down from hyperactivity after an overdose of sweets and the excitement prior to the opening of the presents. Not in Spain! Yep: probably as a remainder of the dark years of sadistic Spanish inquisition, we keep them suffering a few weeks more. Until the 6th of January, to be precise. The three Magic Kings from orient (which indeed sounds like the party menu of a famous burger restaurant brand) are the ones in charge of the presents. That gives us Spaniards a bit more of time to get our presents.
BUT WHAT I HAVE LEARNED:
Some things though, seem to be definetly common to all of Spain, but also the parts of the world that I have the pleasure to celebrate Christmas in:
1) There is too much to eat and to drink
2) Dinner lasts for hours and hours
3) Uncle antonio gets terribly drunk and starts telling dirty jokes
4) Aunt Maria breaks up in tears because grandma used to love so much these reunions, and now she no longer here
5) Whoever has brought the most kids acts and feels the most important and is actually the most anoying
6) It is impossible to agree on music or which television program to watch
7) There is always someone who mentions, that we should enjoy each other and forget about TV/music (and he/she is right, though nobody listens).
But most importantly: great moments are shared, great feelings are in the air and something special covers the night when we all finally go to bed.
That is what we say in Spain these days. Or “Felices fiestas”, which my favorite politically correct american fellows call “happy holidays”.
I have had the pleasure to enjoy Christmas in many countries in the world. Something truly incredible is how many little funny traditions and habits gravitate around Christmas in any particular culture.
Germans, with their Avent calendars that hide a little something everyday on the way to Christmas Eve. Or their delicious obsession about baking cookies. A minimum of 50 different cookie-cut-out-shapes belong to every standard German home. NEVER accept the invitation to stay overnight in a German home with less than 50 cookie-cut-out-shapes in their kitchen. Something is for sure wrong with them. Run and don’t look back!
Americans, with their Carrols and the abusive use of colors and lights. Everybody knows that the Chinese wall is the one construction that can be seen from outer space. At night, that certainly applies to the average american home in its X-mas decoration (with a minimum of 15 reindeers + Rudolph in the frontyard). This might be one of the traditions that I am not sure if even mr president Obama will be able to change in his crusade against global warming (don’t worry Barrak, there is still plenty else to do).
Brits, with their socks by the chimney and the house full of candles, making sure that fireman are kept well busy over the holidays. Maybe Americans (i.e. Coca-Cola) invented the current image of Santa Claus. But one thing is sure: the country keeping alive the believe is the UK. How couldn’t they, if their kids get to see everyday the huge red noisy cars full of lights driving around their peacefull burning homes. This is not meant as an accusation, but I think someone stole the idea of oh-so-famous-Rudolph from the UK’s hyperactive fireman.
These are just a few examples. We will get to Spain. Mañana, of course. Meanwhile, I invite you to enjoy a glass of “The Spanish Quarter” or your favourite red wine. And no, I will not be offended – rather honored – if you pick a Spanish wine to be part of the famous traditions of “Christmatizing” red wine. Be it the Swedish “Glog”, the German “Gluehwein” or the Polish “Roz Grozaniez” (sorry for the spelling). It is always a pleasure to be invited to be part of your Christmas traditions.
Salud y felices fiestas!