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April 24, 2014
Monday, February 24, 2014

Eating late can be great!

By Pablo Toledo
For the Herald

Spain shouldn't change its mealtimes. We should change ours.

The most emailed story on The New York Times website is about a campaign to change Spain's time zone. I suspect the story's popularity has much to do with its clever headline — "Spain, Land of 10PM Dinners, Asks if It's Time to Reset Clock" — which invites readers to gawk(1) at Spaniards' tendency to eat meals a few(2) hours later than people in the US do.

The article, by Jim Yardley, is a classic example of the way US publications tend to cover foreign news stories. Consider the opening paragraph, which presents Spaniards' typical dinner time as a devastating twist(3): “Dipping into a bucket filled with Mahou beers, Jorge Rodríguez and his friends hunkered down(4) on a recent Wednesday night to watch soccer at Mesón Viña, a local bar. At a nearby table a couple were cuddling, oblivious(5) to others, as a waitress brought out potato omelets and other dinner orders. Then the game began. At 10pm.”

To his credit, Yardley does a good job establishing the stakes of the proposed move to bring the Spanish workday more in line with the rest of Europe. Apart from possibly, supposedly improving economic productivity, a change would affect work-life balance for parents, television programming, and, more broadly, the "culture and customs" that comprise the Spanish "way of living."

A typical Spanish day goes something like this:
8am: sweet pastry or churro with coffee or hot chocolate
11am: savoury(6) pastry
2pm: two- or three-course meal
6pm: small sandwich or tapas
10pm: light dinner

In other words, if you like to eat, Spain is the place for you, because Spanish customs encourage you to eat as often as possible. Even better, if you're not a morning person, Spanish customs will ease you gently into the day with two small, delicious snacks that wake you up and pique(7) your appetite for the midday meal. Not interested in taking a long break for lunch in the middle of the afternoon? Come on — everyone knows it's impossible to stay focused for 8 hours straight.

And if 10pm seems like way too late(8) for dinner, keep in mind that the sun usually doesn't set in Spain until 9 or 10pm. In other words, the land of 10pm dinners actually knows what it's doing. Spain shouldn't change its routine. We should change ours.

Adapted from a story by L.V. Anderson, Slate.

(1) Gawk
We've defined this one before, but in case you forgot: to gawk is to stare (look fixedly at someone for a long time) in a rude or stupid way.

(3) Twist
No, this is not Chubby Checker's dance fad of the 1950s... a twist is an unexpected change in a story or situation, one that alters everything.

(4) To hunker down
To hunker down means to squat (which, in turn, means to sit on your heels with your knees bent in front of you). It also means when you stay somewhere for a long time.

(5) Oblivious
When you are oblivious of/to something, you are not aware of it or you decide not to pay attention to it.

(6) Savoury
Savoury food has a salty taste.

(7) Pique
When something piques your interest/curiosity, it makes you interested. When something piques you, however, it annoys or upsets you – so make sure you are not oblivious to the difference!

(2) (8) How much did you say?
Expressions like “a few” and “way too” have something in common: they are what grammarians call degree modifiers. Degree modifiers roughly answer the question “how far/much/etc?”, and they can be intensifiers/amplifiers (a lot, very, so, too, more, extremely, etc.) or diminishers/downtoners (less, slightly, somewhat, rather, almost, etc.).

An interesting thing about the diminisher “few” is that its attitude changes depending on whether we use “a” before it or not. When we use “a few” the meaning is neutral or positive (like the example in this text) – but without the article, it takes a negative overtone: “A few customers came to the shop” means that it has been a profitable day with a good number of customers, whereas “Few customers came to the shop” implies that not enough people walked in and the owner lost money. A similar thing happens with “little” and “a little”.

“Way too” is an extra-strength intensifier used informally before adjectives, but it is so strong that we shouldn't use too often: something can be heavy, very heavy, too heavy or way too heavy, btu it ewally needs to weigh a ton to male it to this last category!

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