Garlic Bites Nov 2007



By Valerie Collins and Theresa O'Shea

Stay a while in Spain, and beyond the sunshine, fiestas, Rioja and laidbackness you may find yourself drifting in an uncharted ocean of unwritten laws, linguistic minefields and mysterious quirks. Where is everyone at ten o'clock in the morning? Why will you pay more for an ático than a regular flat? What should you do when asked for your “second surname”?

You need to be In the Garlic - en el ajo - in the know.


Almuerzo From the Arabic article al and the Latin for “bite”, morsus (morsel). It has two meanings: lunch, and substantial mid-morning snack - also known (by us, at any rate) as el segundo desayuno: the Second Breakfast. Ah, so that's why from around 9am to 11am all the bars and cafes are chockablock with bank clerks, blue-overalled workers and government employees tucking into double cafés con leche and toasted rolls the size of small torpedoes.

Ático You’re looking for a flat, and they tell you it’s an ático, and you freak out when you see what they’re asking. But no, you don’t have to pay 1000 euros a month to enter your home via a stepladder and a trap door and share your life with cobwebby old suitcases, broken lamps, and bits of bead curtain. Ático is a false friend. It’s the top floor, the penthouse, and áticos are sought after and expensive because they often have big terraces and fabulous views. On the downside, they get damp and leaky, and boiling hot in summer; to say nothing of what happens if the lift breaks down.

Apellido Have you ever had to fill in a Spanish form or provide the authorities with info, and been asked for your segundo apellido (second surname)? There’s no point in getting into un-winnable arguments about how Brits have only one surname (which incites incomprehension and, often, deep, wordless pity), and these days, with the influx of assorted immigrants and ex-pats from all over the world, form-fillers are in fact getting more accustomed to people only having one. If pressed, or if the computer refuses to process your form without it, just fill in the box with your mother’s maiden name. Or at least put a dash, unless you want to end up like an acquaintance of Valerie’s, Jeffrey Barton, aka Jay Barton Barton as Vodafone christened him.

These answers are from our book In the Garlic, a fun A-Z guide to life in Spain which we’ll be sharing with you over the coming months.

Between us we have lived in Spain for over 50 years, Valerie since the tail end of the Franco era, in Barcelona, and Theresa since the early nineties, in Galicia, Catalunya and now in the Axarquía. Valerie’s late husband was a Catalan lawyer, and she has two grown-up sons. Theresa is married to a gardener from a large Cordobese family, and they have three slack cats.

In the Garlic: Your Informative, Fun Guide to Spain is published by Santana and is available at all good book shops (ISBN 13:978-84-89954-59-5)


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