If you’re in the United States and you want to spend some time with a friend, you may meet up at a restaurant, walk around the mall, or even just go to your house. If you’re in Spain, however, things are a little bit different. Restaurants are more expensive, malls are crazy during rebajas time (kind of like Black Friday every day for two months), and homes are just for immediate family (and, of course, adopted study abroad students). Because of all of these things, if you’re in Spain and you want to hang out, you go to a café.
Going to a café with friends is such a cultural norm here that the café atmosphere has developed differently in Spain than in the US. If you visit some of the smaller cities in Spain (like Oviedo), you aren’t going to find any major coffee chains. There are no Starbucks or Tim Horton’s, and Duffin Dagles (the Spanish version of Dunkin Donuts – I promise, I’m not making this up) is usually completely empty. That’s because – much to the horror of some of the most avid caffeine-consumers studying abroad here – getting a cup of coffee isn’t really about the coffee. What I mean by that is you’ll rarely see someone stop by a café for only a few minutes, or even order a coffee to go. Instead, ordering una café con leche is something social, and something that often lasts quite a few hours.
You may have heard that in Spain, a waiter in a café will never bring you the bill once you’ve ordered – you have to ask for it. I’ve found that to be completely true. People here don’t often entertain guests in their homes, and so they need a place where that can chat and catch up without worrying about being rushed. Cafés fill that “entertainment gap” nicely. When you walk into a café in Spain, it’s not at all like walking into a normal coffee shop, but rather like finding an extension of your home. You’re free to talk as long as you like, even after you’ve finished your drink (something that took us quite a while to get used to). When you finally find “your place” – that one coffee shop that everyone knows you’re talking about when you call it “the usual spot” – it’s even more like home.
There are what feels like hundreds of cafés in Oviedo, each with its own personality and atmosphere. I’ve been here for almost an entire semester and I’m still not even close to discovering them all. That’s crazy to think about when you consider how much time I’ve spent in cafés with my friends, but it also makes each search for a café con leche a bit of an adventure 🙂
Until next time,