Robert McCarville is a CSSC Student Ambassador a senior Professional and Technical Writing major. In 2016, he spent the month of July in Salamanca, Spain through the UA Little Rock Study Abroad program. After attending a study abroad information meeting, he decided that this immersion trip would be a great way to learn the language and the culture. We recently sat down with him and here’s what he told us about what he learned about how culture and food are intertwined:
Meals in Spain
The family meal structure was the first difference I noticed in Spain. Breakfast was the smallest meal of the day. Lunch, served around 2 PM, was the largest meal. Dinner, served around 9 PM, was in between the two. This tradition reflects the vibrant, diverse culture that is Spain.
Spain begins meals with the Primer Plato. This soft entry into the meal is categorized by the food served. A dish of pasta (like spaghetti) or salad eases the diner into the meal experience.
Easing into the meal compares to how the Spanish perform initial greetings. A hello and a handshake lead into conversations of where you are from, and areas of interest – especially sports. After a soft entry, the meal moves on to the next course.
The second dish, often simple, now arrives. This is generally the meat course. Chicken, fish, omelet, or sandwiches are often served. When the host mother made spaghetti and meatballs, the baked spaghetti in a red sauce was served as the Primer, followed by the meatballs in a gravy served as the Segundo.
After getting to know someone, things change as well. The handshake is often replaced by kissing cheeks and a hug. Personal space shrinks or disappears entirely. Spaniards talk freely about any topic. As the dishes are cleared away, the meal moves on to its conclusion.
Dessert for the Spanish is simple. A scoop of ice cream (helado), or a piece of fruit such as an apple, peach, or whatever is in season is served. Silverware is used to cut away and eat the meat of the fruit. Fruit is seldom a dessert in America unless it is part of a cobbler or pie… with the ice cream on the side.
As dessert clears away the palate, the lines between family and friend disappear as well. Excuses for getting together again soon wind down the conversation. The courses of a Spanish meal flow with ease, just like their culture.
Spaniards have heart. They care deeply for family and friends. Stranger could be defined in a Spanish dictionary as a friend not yet met. The host family opened their home and their hearts to total strangers and made us a part of the family. In some ways, I feel I know them better than some members of my own family. Thanks to my experiences, this is something that will soon change as I incorporate more Spanish culture into my own. I am so glad I went. I gained much more than just the language; I also gained a new family.