This is serious. On more than one occasion, I have walked the bustling streets of Madrid, glanced the word “bacon” on a diner window, and clamored to the counter to try it —only for the disappointment of basically thinly sliced ham. Not crispy, lean American bacon. Just marbled ham.
I need a moment. To wipe my tears.
The Spanish pork industry is massive. Spaniards eat as much meat as Americans but with a strong preference for pork. All cuts, especially as thin filets. Stores exist that sell nothing but pork products, with pig legs (literally pre-cut, still hoofed and hairy pig legs) hanging in the windows. And the Spanish language has produced a word exclusively for them: jamonerías (roughly translated, “ham stores”).
But there’s no American bacon.
I’m getting desperate.
Despite their meat consumption, though, Madrileños are beautifully fit. Impossibly fit. Dumbfoundingly fit. How do they do it?! They eat five meals per day! Breakfast, large snack, enormous lunch, modest dinner, tapas late at night. Is it the lack of processed sugar?! Is there a fountain of eternal thinness? On top of that, the past hundred years of limited immigration, in-breeding, and sexual selection has produced the most attractive (consistently, naturally attractive) people on the planet. Gods and goddesses of man.
But back on point: food.
Spanish breakfasts are simple. No bacon and eggs (actually, eggs are rare here), no waffles or pancakes, instead just coffee and fruit or pan de leche (sweet bread). The coffee isn’t drip-brewed either, rather espresso. My host mother maintains an entire pot of espresso, permanently waiting on the stovetop. You just take a shot or two, add milk, and microwave it. And although their national patriotism is subtle, Spaniards are aggressively patriotic about their coffee. Whenever I tell someone I’m American, their first comment to me is frequently: Your coffee is terrible.
“Hola, I’m Nolan. I’m American.”
“Your coffee sucks.”
“Nice to meet you too.”
Then they say something about weak, dark water.
Nobody walks around with coffee either. Or food, for that matter. In the States, every morning hater walks to work or class with Starbucks or muffin in hand (and then consumes it in class). Not here. And despite their lack of any coffee-walking balancing act, Madrileños walk frustratingly slow. As a fast-paced American, I have places to be! Things to do! How are you so slow?! The pace of life is slower all around.
(That said, and my host mother confirmed this, when an American shoves you out of way, they apologize, albeit insincerely; in the unlikely event you’re slower than a Madrileño, they just shove. At this rest stop yesterday, an older woman apparently couldn’t walk around me, so she stiff-armed my stomach to hunt down potato chips.)
Whenever I’m trapped behind slow walkers, though, I do have the opportunity to people watch. Staring is culturally acceptable, so I analyze everyone. Once again, I’ll emphasize their astounding attractiveness. But compared with Americans, Spaniards’ faces are also softer. Less tense. As if their relaxed lives manifest in their facial muscles. Maybe the culture is warmer and more welcoming, maybe it’s the aggressive in-breeding —I don’t know. But whenever my eyes meet someone else’s on Gran Vía, a popular shopping avenue, they seem happier. More satisfied with life. More so than busy Americans. Their faces soften. Maybe that’s what’s so beautiful.
Before closing out, I’ll offer one last choque: sexual slang. That’s right. Sexual slang. My vocabulary is very Latin American, with a Mexican bend, due to my educational background. In Spain, many words have different meanings. For example, here the verb “coger” means “to grab” something: something you’ve dropped, answering a telephone, whatever. But in Mexico —and this is seriously the definition I knew before arriving— it means to f***. Vulgar connotation and all. You can imagine my bewilderment when my host mother told me to f*** the telephone and then f*** the silverware while setting up dinner.
Another: “Leche” is milk. It means milk worldwide. But an online admirer recently suggested that we lie together in bed and drink milk. Which confused me to no end. Why would we drink milk in bed? Incidentally, and this is true, “leche” can be slang for semen.
Bonus: Here is a picture of me legally drinking wine.