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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.
People don’t get it! We are a wine nation. Actually I believe we are THE wine nation. Yes we have great beers. Worldwide famous and ubiquous “San Miguel” or increasingly trendy Barcelona beer icon “Estrella” to name a few. But its beer!
Can you imagine two brits coming to spain and ordering (nevermind an eventually perfect accent) “dos platos de pescado empanado frito y patatas fritas con vinagre” (which would be “fish’n’chips’n’vinegar”)? Or two Germans ordering “codillo de cerdo al horno con albondigas gigantes de patata y miga de pan y zucrut” (that would be “Schweinshaxe mit Knoedel und Sauerkraut”. Sorry for the last one, there is no true translation for “Sauerkraut”).
I guess you get my point. There is a famous saying that reads: “in Rome do as the Romans and in Spain drink wine” (few people know this second part of it…)
So today we go for a simple Spanish lesson. Erease the beer from your hard disk and repeat after me: “dos vinos, por favor” (notice I made it quite easy through replacement).
How much do you have to know about wine or Spanish wine before drinking it? Nothing! Wine knowledge is anyways overrated. People talk too much about it and drink too little.
Once again, repeat after me: “dos vinos, por favor”. See? already much better.
Come to Spain and practice. If you can’t right now, have a glass of “The Spanish Quarter” or your favourite Spanish wine and practice with friends.
Unbelievable but true. I continue the series. You must know that we Spaniards are not good at discipline… But we have other qualities. For example:
Let me set this clear: I do not imply that we are superior musicians, composers, dancers or anything (though we do pretty good). What I mean is what a role music plays in our lifes, in our culture.
Music in Spain is everywhere, everyday. Spain in general is quite a loud country. But interestingly, that loudness is seldom anoying. I have noticed and thought about it? I think the answer is music. It is always there, adding a note of acoustic color to the loudness.
Music in Spain is enormously varied. Few countries have experienced such an incredible cultural traffic. We have been invaded/visited by Phoenitians, Iberos, Celts, Romans, Arabs, French… Even today we get invaded/visited, especially by Brits or Germans. We call it now tourism and charge for it, as opposed to die from it (at least most of the time). And yes: we love tourists. Seriously!
Well all of those folks/visitors/invadors have left a tremendous cultural legacy in our peninsula. And musical influences are definetly a great part of it. From the Celt tones you find in the north, north-west, to the obvious arab influences you find in flamenco music. I think its remarkable what an acoustic footprint has been built over the centuries.
We have the Jota in Aragón, the Sardana in Cataluña, the Chotis in Madrid… And this is – believe me – just a small selection. In Andalucía alone we have Flamenco, Soleá, Bulería, Cante Jondo, Sevillanas, Fandago… And that is just one region.
There is a long list of famous Spanish musicians to choose from, but that would deserve another post.
We usually prefer to sing in Spanish. We are not very good in speaking English. We might not have a clue about the words of this or that song or what it means. But we try our best and our loudest…
One of many sayings in Spain that are linked to music is: “Quien canta su mal espanta”, meaning: He who sings scares away his evil. Maybe that is why we tend to be in a good mood?
Or is it our wine? Not sure. I think I will sing out loud, along with a glass of “The Spanish Quarter” Tempranillo-Cabernet and try to find out. Why don’t you try the same?
Based on my experience I have come to clasify taxi fares in three categories:
1. “What you see is what you pay”: Easy. You sit in clock starts. You arrive. Clock stops. Probably the fruit of German engeneering.
2. “What I say is what you pay”: also quite simple. The car has no clock (or its apparently broken). Chances are, the car has no licence. Maybe not even the driver… The fare will be set according to the following factors: (1) how wealthy, travelled, smart and drunk you are. (2) how late it is and (3) how many alternatives you might have.
3. “Spanish taxi”: The most weird fare regulation in the world. It is identical to category 1 (start fee and then per time/distance) with a big “BUT”: the ride finishes and then the driver presses a few bottons. All of a sudden the amount has increased by a couple of Euros. Logically, you think he is ripping you off.
You think there is a “turist-extra-charge” button? There is NOT. Wether it is logical or not, there are three reasons:
A) in Spain cabs charge an extra for suitcases (per piece) if they go in the trunk, and airport or station departure or arrival.
B) they charge them at the end of the ride, despite they had already charged the start fare at the start (that at least sounds logical)
C) drivers never explain this proactively, nor they teach it in foreign schools (though I think they should).
Given most visitors enter a taxi in an airport or station and tend to have luggage, they end up getting the extra-super-charge. Difficulties in language, jet-lag and other components don’t help.
But now you know. I can’t allow your very first impression of my country to be “I am being ripped off…”
Here comes my proposal: schools of the world should offer spanish culture as a topic in elementary schools. Countries with high affinity to Spain should actually make it obligatory for graduation.
Until that happens though, stick to my blog for further tips and spread the word.
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…
The clock is ticking! You have your grapes ready? What do you mean “what do I mean”? Let me recover from the Christmas madness and I will soon tell you. Promised!
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!
The other day I promised to get back to our beloved “tapas” experience. As you have learned, Tapas were tasty small bites you got for free to accompany your drink.
Unfortunately we have lost the authentic tradition of Tapas in many places. Restaurants in most cities have moved on to charge you for Tapas.
How come? Probably one day tourists started showing up and asking at the end how much it was for the bite. Or eventually pushed the Tapa back saying “I have not ordered that and I am not going to pay for it”. After a while of such visitors, owners certainly realized, that they could charge money for it. And they started doing so.
Good news: it is not everywhere like this. My favourite city in Spain for Tapas is Granada. I said it… They still keep up the tradition there.
A truly authentic and worthwhile experience: go “de tapeo” in Granada. Enter a bar, order a drink, enjoy it with your tapa. Notice: if you order a second drink, you will get a second, but different tapa. Go to the next place, order a drink, enjoy it with your tapa… That is to have a real “tapas” dinner. It usually takes many hours of walking, meeting people, trying new things and -of course – enjoying food, wine and talking.
A great place where you get some of the best Tapas in Granada is in the “barrio de la Chana” (the Chana quarter). Tons of bars with authentic Spanish people. Tasty! My overall favourite Tapas bar is somewhere else, close to the univeristy area. It is called “la Papa”. All tapas are made out of potatos. Simple, tasty and very creative.
At this stage I would like to invite everyone to PLEASE submit your favourite cities for Tapas and your favourite Tapas bars.
And don’t forget to enjoy your tapas with a glass of “The Spanish Quarter” or your favourite Spanish wine.
There is a species in danger of extinction. Authentic Spanish bars. They are dying out leaving room for the two big phenomenae in Spains gastronomy: restaurant chains and design bars. They are difficult to tell appart, but they are both missing one little -heck no!- BIG characteristic: they are not authentic.
Nothing against them: they are clean, they are professional… But I guess that is my point: those are characteristics that are key for a hospital. But a bar?
Good news is: there are still many out there. How to recognize them? Simple and surprising: the floor is dirty and it is very loud. Menus are handwritten and still always wrong. “We run out of that, but we got excellent pulpo a la gallega” they might tell you. No-one will speak english, but dont worry, it will be to loud to notice anyways.
Am I recommending you to go to restaurants with dirty floors? Yes I am, but only if they are packed. My reco: if you see a restaurant full of people and the floor is dirty: they serve good and authentic food. Note: if its empty and dirty, the owner is just a lazy bastard. We got some of that too.
Look out for them: a species in danger that we might tell our kids about one day. Enjoy your tapas and don’t worry about throwing anything on the floor when finished: it will increase their revenues.