Quirks of Southern Spain

Little things we’ve noted with interest during our travels in Andalucia:

  • Traditional meal (and restaurant) hours: breakfast between 10:30 and noon, lunch sometime after 2 p.m. (often as late as 4), and dinner at 10 p.m. or later. As a result, you can show up in a nearly empty restaurant at 9:45 and be asked anxiously whether you have a reservation (because the place will fill up in another hour).
  • The late hours often extend to museums and sites as well—we could stop to look in museums while strolling around town before dinner.
  • Restaurants in smaller cities and towns tend to have largely the same menu. The difference is in the quality of the ingredients and cooking.
  • The extent to which life is lived outside, in plazas and parks and cafes.
  • The lack of herbs (and often of salt and pepper) in most of the food.
  • The popularity of fried dough in various shapes.
  • Cages with canaries or finches hung on balconies so the birds can get some sunshine and fresh air.
  • Big partridges in small cages hung on the outside walls of houses (unlike the canaries, these are being raised to eat).
  • Lollygagging is raised to an art form. No one is in a hurry to go anywhere, and Spaniards frequently walk arm in arm three or four abreast, sometimes pushing baby strollers, and then look surprised and slightly put out when they have to get out of someone’s way (such as a woman with a crutch).
  • There are children everywhere, and everyone adores them, while not being hyperconscious about their safety.
Two boys we watched playing pirates in a park
  • Nothing happens exactly on time; schedules are just there as guidelines. In Grazalema, for example, the town clock in the main plaza is 45 minutes slow.
  • No sycamore tree—no matter how stately—is allowed to make it through the winter without having most of its branches cut off, leaving a weird, alien-looking trunk.
  • Although generally lacking what Americans would consider a customer-service ethic, people can be surprisingly helpful to strangers when you least expect it.
  • Spaniards tend to wear very good leather shoes and boots and some awful clothing. In the cities, the American hiphop fashion of very low pants barely clinging to one’s bottom has been adopted by teenage girls. Surprisingly, it doesn’t look any better on them. In the smaller towns, 1980s-style leggings are all the rage among many women.
Andalucia’s specialty: more kinds of ham (jamon) and sausage than you can imagine.
  • Unlike some Europeans, Spaniards are not a particularly thin race, despite the fact that they smoke incessantly and walk a lot. A diet full of cheese, eggs, bread, and fatty ham and sausage is probably to blame. Makes us Americans feel better.
  • The lack of toilet paper in public restrooms we can put up with pretty easily, but some region’s restrooms also lack toilet seats, which was more annoying.
  • Jobs are just jobs. One does it, but doesn’t really go out of one’s way for it. Examples include taxi drivers who can’t be bothered to change lanes or turn around to get a fare (how unlike Washington!), city bus drivers who stop in the street to run into a store and buy some breakfast (why not, we ended up stuck in traffic anyway), and tourist- office workers who will answer if you ask the right question but will never volunteer information on their own.
  • People aren’t afraid to laugh at themselves or make fools of themselves (this goes double for men).
  • Religious celebrations and heavy-duty partying can be combined in odd ways.
  • Dogs tend to be small here—too many bad memories of Franco’s men with German Shepherds.

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