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Spanish Secrets: Party Etiquette

This is fiesta season in Spain, and the nights are filled with the sounds of fireworks and music. Craig Briggs joins in the fun.

The fiesta season is now in full swing. Hardly a night passes when the noise of fading explosions from large pyrotechnics cannot be heard floating on the evening breeze. On other occasions, fireworks from the larger fiestas burst into the night-sky illuminating the distant horizon and providing a colourful display. Latino rhythms, carried on the warm summer breeze, drift passed the house from parties closer to home.

The larger village fiestas are thriving. Their expenses are borne by the local community who contribute to them on a voluntary basis. The larger the village population the more money is collected.

Unfortunately the reverse is true for smaller villages. Every year their fiesta calendar dwindles. Ever increasing expenses allied to an ever decreasing population, is a calculation which will inevitably equal extinction.

Despite all the glitz, glamour and professionalism of the larger fiestas, small village fiestas give a true flavour of this centuries-old Spanish tradition.

All are a celebration, a time to rejoice. Most commemorate the virtuous deeds of a Christian saint, although others give thanks for the wine harvest or the humble chestnut. Virtually any excuse will do to down-tools, enjoy a glass of wine and dance the night away with family and friends.

Most follow a similar theme. Loud ordnance hurtles skyward disguised as fireworks, these window-rattling explosions summon the partygoers. It’s not unusual to be greeted on arrival with delicious aromas of pancetta sizzling on a communal barbeque, or succulent sardines crisping over hot coals.

A thick slice of crusty bread and a tasty nibble are all washed down with a glass of earthy red wine. The band then commences their evening’s repertoire of Latino music and Samba rhythms.

Although the music is not to my taste, the repetitive beat and sheer enthusiasm of the musicians permeates through body and soul. My feet tap and hips sway in a subconscious reflex action – more Jerry Lewis than Fred Astaire.

At eleven o’clock comes the intermission. The revellers retire to the homes of family and friends to dine. Once fed and watered the party continues. By twelve o’clock all have returned, once again summoned by aerial incendiaries. The festivities are finally brought to a halt at three in the morning with yet another aerial bombardment.

During the summer months, for those who wish, it’s possible to visit a different village fiesta every night of the week. I content myself with one or two a year.

Last weekend’s invitation to our friends’ local fiesta was our first fiesta of the year. It was truly an Anglo-Spanish affair; two different cultures mixing in harmony. But both parties were unable to hide their national identities.

As English children we are indoctrinated in the practice of “please’’ and “ thankyou’’. The absence of such etiquette is frowned upon as being rude, quite a ridiculous notion, but nevertheless English. The Spanish use of both words is far less frequent. To them their use is not a coached habit but a genuine response.

On this occasion the most visual difference between our two cultures was at the buffet. A wonderful selection of tasty bites both Spanish and English. Some people sat around the tables, other stood nearby and still more sat outside on the terrace staring into a star-filled sky. We chatted together, joked together and laughed together.

For some curious reason, not one Spanish guest took a plate and napkin from the neatly arranged stack at the foot of the table, but every English guest did. No doubt a psychologist would have a profound and deep-meaning reason why this was the case.

Personally I think the Spanish were just saving on the washing-up.

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Copyright © 2006 Craig Briggs



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