With a Side of Nosiness
So there’s this phrase in Spanish, “que aproveche,” and it is currently the bane of my existence. It means, más o menos, “enjoy your meal,” which is fine. Like what a waiter would say after bringing you your food. Ángel says this to me when I order my tomato and cheese sandwich in the school cafeteria.
But it doesn’t stop there. “Que aproveche” is also what you say basically any time you see anyone eating anything in Spain. So if I’m sitting there eating my tomato and cheese sandwich, maybe working on my lesson plans, and all the other teachers are coming in and out of the cafeteria and drinking café and shooting the shit, they’ll stop at my table to wish me a good meal. “¡Que aproveche!” “¡Que aproveche!”–like, three times. At least.
I CAN’T SEEM TO EXPLAIN TO NON-AMERICANS WHY THIS IS WEIRD.
And annoying, because it reflects this larger trend of commenting on other people’s eating habits that we really don’t have in the US. If I dare to get hungry at the American lunch hour (noon) and scarf down a bocadillo with tortilla in the teachers’ lounge between classes, it’s guaranteed someone will remark about how “early” I’m eating. Same goes for if I eat dinner before nine pm.
And that tomato and cheese sandwich? “How strange!” “Don’t you eat meat?” “Why don’t you try some tortilla with tomato?” Or, worse yet, “¡Que rico!”
“Que rico” means, literally, “How rich!” Except that it really just means “Yummy!” So my roommates will say it about my vegetable stir-fry with brown rice, and this is one language barrier I have not been able to hurdle. No, my salad is not “rich”–it’s a salad. No, Life cereal is not “rich,” I don’t care how much you like cinnamon.
We just don’t do this in the US, Europeans, please believe me! We don’t interrupt co-workers whose names we don’t even know to wish them enjoyment of their mid-day meal. We don’t tell people that what they’re eating is weird or rich, or unhealthy (because it doesn’t have meat in it–this coming from a people who will deep-fry potatoes or calamari at home for lunch, like, four days a week). We definitely don’t take our lovely, steamed vegetables or sautéed peaches, season them up, and then BLEND THEM INTO A UNIFORM LIQUID (I finally snapped on this one–Marta thought it was weird that I always eat my vegetables whole; I told her that pureed fruits and veggies are for babies. In the US, that is), and we don’t say shit when we pass by a complete stranger eating something on the street (another typical occasion for “¡Que aproveche!”).
Maybe this is why Americans are so fat–because we can eat whatever we want, whenever we want, without fear of scrutiny or judgment. The other day I heard one teacher say to another “You’re too fat to eat like that. You need to watch what you eat.” THIS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN IN THE US. (Point in fact: the fat teacher responded, “I know, you’re right.”). It’s like how we are about smoking in the states–free to chastise those who make unhealthy choices.
So maybe it’s not such a bad thing, after all. Maybe Americans, as a people, would be healthier if we took a note from our Spanish friends and started taking an interest in our neighbors’ eating habits.
OR MAYBE I WANT TO EAT MY GOD-DAMNED BOCADILLO IN PEACE, THANK YOU.