Extracts from the best selling book "In the Garlic" 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. You need to be In the Garlic - en el ajo - in the know.
Santo (1) Though Spain is officially a secular state, and most Spaniards would qualify as lapsed Catholics, saints and their feast days are still woven into the social fabric in a curious blend of religious, secular and even pagan ritual. Every town and village, every social group and profession has its patron saint, which can cause havoc. Like March 3, Sant Medir in Barcelona's Gràcia neighbourhood, the day a friend of Valerie's almost had her baby in the car. At 8am the city is shaken by 24 cannon shots (the Catalans are nothing if not punctual), and then horsemen and brass bands parade through the streets, throwing tons of boiled sweets and leaving piles of steaming horse poo. Also expect traffic jams in even the sleepiest mountain villages on July 25, St Christopher's day, patron saint of travellers, when local priests bless all vehicles (and that includes tractors) passing through.
Santo (2) And if these endless festivities aren't enough, you can also celebrate your very own santo, that is the feast day of the saint after whom you are named, which can be as important as your birthday. Never forget to wish your Spanish friends and relatives 'feliz santo' on their saint's day. Which, if it's San José or Santa Ana, can be a sizeable undertaking. A co-worker's santo, though, is always a good excuse for knocking off early to the bar.
Seguro Insurance policy, safety catch, clasp, fastener. El seguro refers to the state health care system as in “Me operé por el seguro” (I had my op on the National Health).
Señor, Señora, Señorita Mr, Mrs and Miss. There's no such thing as Ms in Spanish. Theoretically, you're either young and unmarried (señorita) or older and married (señora). What happens in practice, is that as long as the person (read: male) addressing you deems you young enough and/or good-looking enough, you remain a don't-worry-your-pretty-little-head señorita. Go on, protest at the chauvinism of it all, but when all you ever hear is señora, you start hoping for the odd fluffy miss.
Siesta What can be said about siesta that you don't already know? Perhaps that it comes from the Latin sextear or guardar la sexta as laid down in The Rule written by Saint Benedict in the sixth century. Benedict divided the monastic day into three-hourly periods, starting with Laudes (00.00), Matins (03.00), Prima (06.00), Tertia (09.00), Sexta (12.00), Nona (15.00), Vespers (18.00) and Compline (21.00). After the sexta hora, he ruled, monks should rest and remain in silence. The word sextear gradually morphed into sestear or guardar la siesta, and the practice of taking a nap at midday spread into the daily life of Catholic communities around the world. The correct length for a stretch of 'yoga hispánica', as the late great novelist Camilo José Cela once called it, is said to be between 15 minutes and an hour.
Sudaca A slang word referring to a South American. Regarded as racist and derogatory.
In the Garlic: Your Informative, Fun Guide to Spain is published by Santana and is available at all good book shops
©Valerie Collins and Theresa O'Shea 2008