Life in Culebrón

Friday 22 September 2017 - When in Rome

I'm not a big Google+ user. The other day I came across something called Communities, which seem to be collections of items around a theme. So I posted some blog entries there. At least one person read some of the blog because he commented on it. So I read his blog back and then I pinched his idea for this post.

Antonio's piece was about how to recognise tourists by their non Spanish behaviour in restaurants. For instance by eating lunch before 2pm, drinking large beers, ordering sangria or having paella as an evening meal. It made me think about the things that I do, that my British pals who live here do or our British visitors do that aren't quite Spanish. In general I stuck to foodie variations rather than commenting on hats, shorts, sandals and walking in the sun type differences.

Obviously eating too early is something that sets us apart. You know that lunch in Spain is anytime between about 2pm and 4pm and dinner anytime after around 9.30pm but maybe we breakfast too early as well. The Spaniards are a bit out of kilter with most other nations by taking their breakfast mid morning. Most Spaniards don't really have the cereals and toast type start to the day breakfasts that we Britons do. The majority just bolt from their house soon after rising, maybe grabbing a quick coffee. Although it's nowhere near as odd to ask for toast in a bar at 9am as it is to try and get dinner at 7.30pm it isn't quite right either. The busy time for Spaniards getting their toast, often topped with oil and grated tomato, will be an hour or two later.

There's no problem with ordering a coffee or a tea to go with your breakfast but generally Spaniards only drink water, beer, coke or wine with lunch or dinner, with savoury food in general. Years ago I was in a bar with someone having a mid morning coffee. The bar had several hams hanging from the roof and we succumbed. As the barman served the ham he whisked our coffees away and asked what we wanted to drink. Beer and ham is fine but coffee and ham is a bit Pet Shop Boys - It's a Sin. Oh, and getting milk in your tea is an enormous effort and prone to failiure. And, oh again, and this is pretty new to me, gin and tonic seems to be a post-prandial rather than a pre-prandial drink in Spain.

Butter on bread is another odd thing. The last time I was in the UK, in a decentish restaurant, I was a bit surprised to be served a bread roll, on my side plate, along with a little pat of butter. I'm pretty sure it was always dry bread, to go with the soup, in restaurants in my youth. Eating bread and butter with the meal was something you did at home but not when you ate out. Bread is an essential element of any Spanish meal but "nobody" uses butter. Britons often complain about the lack of butter or ask for some. Spaniards don't put oil on bread either, at least in public. There's normally salt on a restaurant table because salt goes with the oil and vinegar to dress a salad but it's not as omnipresent as it is in the UK. There is very seldom any pepper. Asking for pepper is very British.

The bread is usually served in a basket in the centre of the table. This idea of things for everyone is something Britons don't seem to take to either. If you go for a set meal, el menú del día, then whatever you order is yours but, if you go for something that you order a la carte, the usual thing is that the group of diners order a bunch of things go in the middle of the table and you take your choice. Only the main course is yours and yours alone though, even then, it's not unusual for a couple to put their mains in the centre and share them. If Spaniards go eating tapas those are nearly always for sharing. Someone at the Spanish Tourist Board must have mounted a brilliant campaign to promote tapas in the UK because everybody who comes to see us seems to know the word and be dead keen to try what are, after all, just a bunch of bar snacks. Some are great, some are boring.

Back to bread for a moment, well to sandwiches or rolls. We have lots of very traditional British sandwiches that are something and something. Ham and mustard, cheese and tomato, chicken and lettuce, egg and cress, beef and horseradish. Spaniards sometimes put two elements in a sandwich and there are lots of trendy sandwich places with plenty of variety but, in most bars, the traditional choices are still quite fixed. Ham, cheese, ham and cheese, ham and grated tomato, tuna maybe, lomo, chorizo, salchichon, maybe anchovies. In Malaga, years ago, I was refused a cheese and onion sandwich - the man just couldn't bring himself to sell me one despite having both ingredients. Nowadays Spaniards still think it's an odd mix but if that's what I want then that's what I get. Bacon sandwiches are available too but every time I ask for just bacon there is an "are you sure?" type question and, of course, there's no butter.

The fixed price set meals are served at lunchtime. This is not invariable but it is normal. Evening meals are a much simpler affair and whilst you may go out to eat in the evening to celebrate Valentine's or somesuch, it's really at lunchtime that you eat the main meal of the day. Lots of restaurants don't even open in the evening except at weekends and nowadays we're often a bit surprised when visiting Britons automatically think of going out for a meal equates with going out in the evening.

It's not at all unusual, if you order a glass of wine to go with your meal, that the server will put a bottle of wine on the table. It probably won't be particularly good wine but it will be a full or nearly full bottle. Britons don't like to leave alcohol, particularly when they think they've paid for it. When someone asks me how to say cork in Spanish I find that I suddenly need to just pop out to get something from the car. The shame of my compatriots wanting to carry off the dregs of the bottle is too much for my wannabe Spanishness. Doggy bags aren't a Spanish concept either.

And when the meal is over it's tipping time. I tend to tip, I tip on coffee even but most Spaniards don't. They may do but there is no moral imperative to tip. If the service is good, if the price makes it easy then tipping it is. So if the meal cost 47€ then the fifty note will do nicely but if it's 50€ and the service was as service should be then lots of people won't add anything. It can be a bit embarassing as Maggie and I put in a euro each towards the tip and one of our visitors throws a ten note down worked out on the British Imperial Standard.

There are more but I think that's enough ammunition for my "you British" critics for now.

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Day to day life in the Spanish village of Culebrón in inland Alicante


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