It is Monday morning and as per usual of my life in Barcelona, I went to bed too late and woke up too early. I am in desperate need of a café. During my first few weeks at work I continued my same morning routine from New York in Barcelona. I would arrive at the office, turn on my computer and go get a coffee from the break room while I waited for my computer to boot. Then I noticed that everyday around 1030 am my co-worker would stand up and say – chicos, vamos a tomar un café – guys, let’s go have a coffee. Having already had my morning cup of joe, I would politely decline the offer. Sometimes they’d leave the office, sometimes they’d just go to the break room, but they’d always leave as a group and come back to work twenty minutes later laughing and smiling. Clearly I was missing out on something. So one day out of curiosity, I finally decided to abandon my routine and accept their offer to go tomar un café.
Like at my office in New York, there is a Starbucks downstairs from my office in Barcelona. I had been there on occasion with my coworkers to grab a “quick” lunch (“quick” meaning sitting down to eat for 20 minutes rather than the typical one hour 3 course meal – but I will get to that in a later post). I was amused that no one I was with ever ordered coffee. I thought they must have had their fill in the morning during their coffee break. Thus on my first coffee excursion I was surprised when we walked in the opposite direction of the Starbucks and around the corner to a small café/bar.
The crowd was a mix of old men having a beer (yes at 1030 am), business men reading the paper, and groups of young professionals talking over coffee. It was group of about 10 of us, we walked to the back, grouped some tables together and settled in. The waiter came round and took our order – since we’d never been given a menu – I figured I’d just order the same as the person next to me -a café con leche and a medio fuet – which I learned is half a baguette filled with a type of Catalan dry pork sausage, a typical breakfast in Barcelona (though to this American it looked more like lunch). Not everyone ordered a café- some people ordered a freshly squeezed orange juice others even brought their own sandwich from home! To tomar un café it turns out didn’t alway imply actually having coffee.
Once we sat down began the real treat – the conversation. They discussed everything from the economy, to fútbol, to Catalunya’s independence, to the latest celebrity gossip – all in the most quick-witted and humorous way. I say “they” rather than “we”, because that first morning I will admit I sat there in silence completely lost. I knew absolutely nothing about these topics – not to mention that they were talking a mile a minute using vocabulary I’d never heard before. I realized that day that having a café in Spain is much more than just a caffeine fix. It is more like a 20 minute crash course in Spanish and Catalan culture, as well as a nice mid-morning break from work. Its an integral part of life – a way of socializing. No wonder they were all smiling and laughing when they got back to work. I decided that morning, that the best way to learn about my new city, its people and its culture was to tomar more café. When in Spain I encourage you to do the same.