Ilivetolearn's Blog

November 14, 2005

a donde fueres haz lo que vieres

Filed under: Spain — ilivetolearn @ 12:34 am

This translates as “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” (Literally, wherever you go, do what you see.) I’ve been learning fine points of Spanish customs/etiquette…often just too late. Last weekend on our outing with our neighbors, the 12 of us seated ourselves in a restaurant for lunch and there were bottles of water and pitchers of wine on the table. I filled my glass with water for the first round, and when someone proposed a toast to the gathering, I raised the glass of water. Oops. Turns out it’s bad luck to toast with water and I should have chugged it and poured wine just for the “Salud.” Apparently diplomatic relations between some Muslim country and France have faltered recently on whether or not there will be wine to toast their friendship.

When you are a guest and your host offers you something to eat or drink, the polite thing is to refuse, not once but twice. On the third offer you may accept. We have been breaking this rule regularly, thinking that it would be churlish to say no to an offer of hosptality. We have also taken at face value others’ refusals…when in fact those guests in our house may have been hungry and thirsty but too polite to say so until the third try.

When you are complimented it is not proper to say just “Thank you.” You have to elaborate. “That’s a nice sweater.” “Thank you…I bought it on sale last weekend.” “Your haircut is very becoming.” “Thank you…I went to the hairdresser you recommended.” This is a challenge for us, of course, since we only have enough Spanish to stammer out “Gracias,” so we will have to practice some stock responses. “Estos harapos?” (“This old rag?”)

I had already noticed that no one, but no one, eats or drinks on the street or in the car. No cardboard or plastic coffee cups. No take-out containers. Most cars here have manual transmission, which makes it a little more difficult to juggle a coffee cup and a phone, and now I am told that it is illegal to use a cell phone while at the wheel, and illegal to smoke while driving! (That law is almost universally ignored.) Of course, it is not illegal or rude to light up in a restaurant, in a meeting, or anywhere else…so far, none of our guests has asked to smoke in the house, but it will happen. I hope they don’t assume that after two refusals, anything goes.

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