Travel creates many great memories. Sometimes there is just a fun story and sometimes there is a Madrid Dinner Party
Paul The host
From Scotland; met Scott in California; moved to Madrid; invited Scott to dinner at his house.
Scott El Americano
on vacation in Madrid and was invited to dinner at Paul’s house
After Scott accepts the dinner reservation, Paul mentions that there will be others attending who heard there will be an American and want to meet him. Now Scott feels like a carnival side show freak – Ooh. Look at the Americano. Can I get my picture with the Americano? – but apprehensively still agrees to come to dinner.
Now more guests
David The Irish guy. One of Paul’s roommates. David is an Irish-Scottish mix who lived his entire life in Ireland until he recently moved to Spain
Maria The hostess (from Madrid her entire life) and owner of the house where Paul and David also live
Blanca Maria’s friend from Madrid
Christina Another one of Maria’s friends (who apparently wanted to meet an Americano)
Paul invites me to dinner at 9:00.
“9:00? Why so late?”
“That’s what time everyone eats here.”
OK, I am the guest. I will do whatever you say.
Apparently Paul prepared to leave the house at 8:50 to pick me up when Maria asked him why he is going so early. In Spain 9:00 really means closer to 9:30. It’s called Spanish Time. Paul replies that I am an American and that I will be ready and expecting him at 9:00. I don’t know about all Americans, but Paul knows me, as I was sitting outside my hotel at 8:45.
Paul picks me up
As we leave, Paul grinds the gears of the manual transmission and apologizes because he never drives and had to borrow this car just to pick me up. For transportation he has a monthly metro pass (60 euros) that gets him on all trains, subways and busses in Madrid, and that is all he ever needs (up until today).
For some things to do in Madrid, read my post on my top day trips from Madrid.
David is in the car. We all have a polite, informal conversation in English. Now this may not seem like much to others who were not there, but it is super cool to be speaking English but hear one guy reply with a strong Scottish accent and another with a heavy Irish brogue. It appears like we are speaking three different languages, but we all understood each other.
While driving, I ask Paul if there is anything I need to be aware of because I don’t want to do something culturally wrong and embarrass myself. He tells me not to worry about it. I accept his statement, but am still cautious (rightfully so as you will later find out).
Though I originally had no idea when I made the reservation, somehow I booked the closest hotel in Madrid, a city of over 3 million people (only New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are bigger US cities), to where Paul lives. Less than five minutes later, we are at his house.
I walk in and Maria politely says, “Buenos dias. Como estas?”
Oooh! I know what that means and what I am supposed to say! I am excited to use my Spanish. I reply, “Muy bien gracias. Y tu?”
“Fluent” in Spanish
Now, apparently thinking I am fluent in Spanish, Maria starts speaking a million miles a minute in Spanish. I have no idea what she is saying. I politely smile and nod my head.
Maria finally finishes speaking, waiting for my reply. In the awkward moment of silence, I try to think of what to say. I finally say in my broken Spanish, “Gracias tener me en su casa” (I think I said: Thank you to have me in your house) and walk past and ask Paul a question, hoping that she thinks I was distracted trying to get to Paul to ask him an important question, instead of the truth of me not having any idea what she said.
For more about Maria, read about how I faced my fears when left alone with Maria.
Other guests arrive
David, Paul and I continue our conversation in three apparently different English languages. Maria goes off and does something on her own. Soon the bell rings at 9:00 “Spain time” (which is really 9:30 real time). Paul introduces me to Blanca. I extend my hand to shake. Blanca shakes it and in perfect American English says she is pleased to meet me, asks me how I am doing etc. Just listening to her, I would have assumed she lived in America like me.
Whew! That was easy. I feel a lot more comfortable now.
The bell rings again. This time Paul introduces me to Christina. I extend my hand to shake. Christina just looks at me. It is very awkward as we both just stand there looking at each other. Oh no. What did I do wrong? Finally Christina speaks up, “En Espana, dos besas.” I don’t know what she means, but immediately find out. She steps forward, grabs my arms and pulls me toward her, and does that fake kissy thing once on the left, and then once on the right. Oh. Dos besas. Two kisses.
Now I feel like a fool. Paul never warned me about that part of Spanish culture.
By the way, I also learned that two kisses is the standard in Spain, however three kisses is the standard in France (and there is even an accepted order in France – left, right, left). Don’t go to France and kiss right, left, right and look like a fool.
Paul, David and I resume our conversation. Maria speaks with her friends in Spanish. Blanca magically transforms to fluent Spanish.
I look at my watch and finally I inquire to Paul, “So did everyone eat already?”
“Why? Are you hungry?
‘Actually yes. It’s 10:00 and I haven’t eaten anything yet.”
“Would you like me to start cooking?
Start?, I think shocked, but politely reply, “Yes, please”.
Paul starts cooking, while I speak to David for a little while. This is where I learn that he moved to Madrid, simply because he wanted to learn to speak Spanish, and what better way than to move to Spain. How bold is that? How many of us would have the guts to do something like that?
Finally around 10:30 we move into the dining room for dinner. I get offered Sangria from a big pitcher with fruit floating in it. I politely accept a glass, not wanting to make any more cultural faux pas, and drink it slowly. Blanca, obviously eager to speak to an American and practice her English, sits next to me and bombards me with questions. I find out that her American accent is perfect because she went to college at Northwestern University, where she perfected her English.
Conversation switches back and forth between English and Spanish. I do my best to understand the Spanish and catch bits and pieces, more than I thought I would. Paul mentions how they all make fun of him and his “Indian Spanish”.
“Indian Spanish? What are you talking about? “
They make fun of him because his Spanish is like an American Indian in an old Western movie.
I am Paul.
I am hungry.
I want food.
We go now.
If they make fun of Paul, I wonder what they think of me, because Paul’s Spanish is much better than mine. Or maybe we both just speak Indian Spanish.
Christina shares her dream with everyone. She wants to sell her house and buy a castle. She then wants to court guests who want a full immersion experience in Spain. She will offer cultural and historical tours, Spanish cooking demonstrations, dance classes (like Flamenco), the entire Spanish experience. She explains the details that she has been planning since 2009. She is so enthusiastic that she has me excited to want to be her first customer.
Someone mentions Italy and all the women get riled up. They exclaim how all Italian men are besas. I think, all Italian men are kisses? I don’t get it and sit there silently while they all roar in laughter. They must have noticed because Christina finally asked me, “You know pusos?” (I apparently misheard the first time as I thought I heard besas not pusos). My blank stare was probably enough, but to be sure I shook my head and added a simple “No”. She repeats “Pusos” and extends her arms out like she is wrapping her arms around something. “Pusos” she says again. Blanca must have noticed my continued blank stare and interjected, “octopuses”. Oh, now I get it. Italian men are like octopuses, constantly trying to get their arms around women. They all laugh again. At this time my face is probably bright red.
The Madrid Dinner Ends
This experience, wildly different than anything I normally do, goes on until 2 am before someone finally decides it is time to end the dinner party.
Now that I have been educated in Spanish culture, everyone reminds me about dos besas before I leave. On my first attempt I accidentally smash my nose into Blanca’s cheek. Now I am even more embarrassed, wondering what she is thinking of the clumsy American. I make adjustments (come in at more of an angle) and finish with perfectly placed kisses on each cheek.