Sociology is what they wanna give me!

Even though I took it in high school and it wasn’t even a honors or AP class, I love love loved my Intro to Sociology class from senior year. This might be because I finally felt not weird being the person who would look at human behavior and think, “Why they do that?” And I have slowly come to notice that my life almost every day here in Spain has become a very similar exercise.


For example, although people here are just as polite and considerate as in the US (and depending on who you are interacting with, often more so!), the lack of obvious verbal politeness is a little foreign. I have heard many people say that Spaniards just don’t say “thank you” as much as Americans, but really I haven’t noticed that so much. Maybe people are saying thank you to me more often than they normally would because I just keep saying thank you to them, who knows. But what I HAVE noticed is the lack of “Bless you”s after sneezes. I ALWAYS say “Bless you” (or, if you’re a member of my family, “Knock it off!!!”) after someone sneezes, and it is very surprising not to acknowledge a sneeze, or to have one of my sneezes acknowledged.


So, I thought, ok, maybe in Spain they just don’t say these sorts of pleasantries. Just because they don’t say “salud” when you sneeze doesn’t mean they’re thinking, “You disgusting pig, how dare you sneeze in public!” And I have done favors for Spaniards who were perfectly appreciative without explicitly saying “gracias”. That is until I was reminded of one of the strangest (to me) conventions of the Spanish language: the Hispanic “bon appetit”.


I noticed this first in Mexico, and then amongst my co-workers when I worked at the Smithsonian Latino Center, and once again I’m seeing it here in Spain. No matter where you are, in public, in your home, walking to work, and whether you are alone or in a group, if you are eating something, people will come up to you and say “Buen provecho” or (more commonly here) “Que te aproveche(s)”. I guess it isn’t so weird when you know the person saying it. It’s kinda nice to have a friend or colleague say “Enjoy your meal!” But things start moving into the weird territory when 1) the person wishing you a good meal is a stranger. When you eat at an outdoor café in Spain, people who don’t know you from Adam will come up to you to wish you a good meal. One time, I had just finished eating lunch with my colleagues, and a stranger wandered over to our table and said, “Oh, I guess I can’t say ‘buen provecho’ . . . you’ve already finished eating . . .” 2) Weirdness also ensues when you are in your own private space or, even worse, your home. My landlords are constantly wishing me “buen provecho” as I’m sitting on my couch in sweatpants eating cereal. 3) But the worst is when YOU ARE NOT EVEN EATING A MEAL. People will say “que te aproveches” when you are eating an apple and nothing else. Uh . . . thanks? I will enjoy my apple, thank you. I mean it borders on a compulsion when you have to wish out loud that a stranger enjoys eating a single piece of fruit.


I am always polite when people wish me a good meal, don’t get me wrong. It is wonderful that Spanish society has this mark of politeness. . . . I just don’t know WHY . . .


6 Responses to Sociology is what they wanna give me!

  1. AlcalaBob says:

    Alcalá is full of these curious expressions. When someone is leaving you and saying “see you later”, they’ll say “Venga” (subjunctive of venir – to come…) and when they meet you in the street they’ll say “Adios”, then stop and have a chat. The adios doesn’t come from “a Dios” which was thought to be a rejection of the anarchist atheism which was widespread in the fifties around here, it’s just a local mannerism. Similarly “¿que hay?” is indistinguishable from the local pronunciation of Cádiz – “cai”. But one of the nicest things about this town is that everyone says hello. When we visit the UK, we do it as well and are widely regarded as insane :)

  2. Claire says:

    When you sneeze round here, they say “Jesús” rather than “Salud” – even total strangers are concerned that your soul might be attempting to escape your body through your nose!

  3. Mike says:

    Wishing you a good apple-eating experience makes about as much sense as politely warding your soul from sneeze-based doom. Culture is weird like that.

    • See, and this is a thing that bothers me about Chinese actually. There is no “bless you” or “gesundheit”, or anything! I have a very limited vocabulary and it bothers me that one of my stock phrases has been taken away. I always say, I’m gonna start saying “Hey, you sneezed” in Chinese whenever someone sneezes.

  4. That’s something I love about Spain, the aprovecho! We don’t really say that in English….enjoy? Nah, it’s not the same. Something nice about someone telling you to enjoy your apple, like a reminder to enjoy the simple things in life!

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