Friday, October 18, 2013

On Saying “Enjoy Your Meal!” to Strangers in Spain

It’s taken me about a year to pick up on this little cultural idiosyncrasy of Spain, but after talking with some fellow expats who have also noticed it, I’ve decided to put together an exposé of this fun part of Spanish culture.

I’m talking about complete strangers telling you they hope you “enjoy your meal!” as they walk by. Yeah, it sounds kind of weird, but it is a Thing here in Spain that everyone from your server to your housemate to casual acquaintances will wish you as you’re chowing down on dinner. Let me give a few examples:

My daily bocadillo from the school I was at last year
1) I’m munching on my chorizo-and-olive oil sandwich during recess/morning break in the teacher’s lounge at my school in Andalucía last year, minding my own business and just chilling out at the table. A teacher pops in, looks around for something, sees me with a foil-wrapped bocadillo, and offers a ¡qué aproveche! before dashing back out.

2) I’m having dinner in the living room at my apartment one evening, just me and Harry Potter, when my flatmate comes home, out of breath from hauling bags of groceries up five floors, but still manages to spurt out ¡qué aproveche! before dropping everything on the kitchen counter.

3) My friend Annie and I were discussing this very thing while enjoying some pimientos de padrón at a sidewalk terrace in Lugo when all of a sudden a lot of traffic built up. A garbage truck was stopped a few tables away from us, and one of the waste collectors was hanging off the back of it. Once the traffic started moving, the truck passed by a table that had just gotten their food, and the man holding on to the back of the truck said ¡qué aproveche! to the girls eating lunch—in true Spanish fashion. In true American fashion, Annie and I burst into laughter.

4) And just two weeks ago I was having breakfast at my hostel in Santiago where I was staying while looking for an apartment, when a new arrival peeked in to the common room, looked around, wished me ¡qué aproveche! while nodding in the direction of my croissant, and went out.

I don’t have any deep conclusions to draw from these fun little vignettes of life abroad in Spain. But while it’s part of good manners in Spain, don’t think that this common phrase is a direct translation of “enjoy your meal”—¡qué disfrutes tu comida! would be that. Instead, Spanish uses the verb aprovechar (to take advantage of, to be a benefit to) with the meal as the subject, rather than the object. The full phrase implied by good-wishers would be qué te aproveche la comida, translated as “that your meal would nourish you.”

Next time somebody sits down with a meal they just prepared, or gets served their next course, be polite and say ¡qué aproveche! to them. You’ll be one step closer to sounding like a native Spaniard!
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