Spanish Meals: The Second Breakfast or the Coffee Break

At some time between 10 and 12 in the morning, the Spanish stop whatever they are doing and they go for a second breakfast or mid-morning snack somewhere.  They do this because they are hungry, and even when they are not.  This slot in the day, by the way, is the absolute worst time to enter a government agency expecting quick results.  About half of the country’s public servants are across the street ordering a coffee and those little electric signs in the offices that go beep and indicate who is next up and what desk they should go to suddenly come to a near standstill.  This is especially true of post offices.  You are better off taking along a nice book or joining work staff at the bar across the street and returning in an hour.  Unless of course you are at the American Embassy which has a TV screen and CNN running around the clock.  They do this because they want you to be entertained as well as help you integrate better into society by showing you how millions of Americans spend most of their day. 

        So around this time, there is a dip in national productivity, but since this forms a traditional part of the daily routine it is factored into the GNP, or whatever they call that indicator of growth.  Anyhow, the most popular choice is coffee, especially among those who enjoy the drink.  Otherwise they order something else.  In my case, this is the single most important drink of the day.  My first cup two hours earlier had served solely as a way of getting me out the door and to the streets without tripping down the stairs.  I function, but I am not really doing anything.  This second round gets me really going. 

           Other drinks include soda, chocolate milk, water and even beer or wine.  The last two are not commonplace but after I’d say eleven not frwoned upon either…as long as you haven’t had seven.   I avoid the habit because otherwise I start telling my students what I really think of their English and begin to reveal certain radical political views that are best kept to oneself.  Coffee doesn’t do that to me, thank God. 

       People often accompany the drinks with a snack of some kind, like a roll, toast (with the butter and jam), a doughnut, which is pronounced in Spanish as “doe-noose”, trust me, it’ll get you places.  Another classic is the croissant.  This classic French pastry which we so often associate with fine European continental morning fare is quite common in Spain.  The thing is, when left on its own, it’s often terrible when compared to the versions made north of the border (that’s France).  Spanish croissants, which incidentally means “crescent”, are often dry and insipid as if they were made with a mixture of some basic building materials and not enouth water.   The Spanish won’t admit to this but they prove this theory by almost never ordering one in its original state.  They have it done “a la plancha”, which means the cook cuts it in half, smothers melted butter on it, slaps it on the griddle and flattens it with a spatula and it is toasty broan.  Then he puts it on a plate and serves it with more butter and jam which you can apply according to your taste.  This procedure immensely improves the quality of the bun. 

        Other morsels include grilled ham & cheese sandwiches known as sandwich mixto, for your information, and the immortal tortilla española (or Spanish potato omelet) which is this country’s single greatest contribution to fast food, and quite possibly the item of gastronomy that sticks the longest in the memory of the foreigner who likes to eat. 

       Then people return to their workplaces and the nation’s productivity shoots up.  And everything is the way it should be in the best of all possible worlds. 

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