Ruminating, I stumbled upon the fact that using the word “alphabet” to refer to the sequence “a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z” is lexically inaccurate. Etymologically, “alphabet” goes back to the Ancient Greek “alphábetos”, with “álpha” and “beta” being the first two letters of the Greek alphabet.
Since English uses Latin letters, the right term to refer to “a b c d” – and so on – should be abecedary, or abecedarium if you’d like to be morphologically pedantic.
These are the things that keep me awake at night.
When I was four, my dad got our first gaming console. I was thrilled, except for the bit where I couldn’t understand anything the screen said. I knew all the letters, but their combinations didn’t make any sense to me. “It’s English”, my dad said.
Exactly two months left before the wedding day! How’s the planning going? Oh, well… easy peasy lemon squeezy.
“How was your trip” – “Amazing! Look, here’s a picture of my foot, this one is a close-up of my double chin, that’s my hair swirling around…”
Alright, alright. One picture came out quite ok:
“I wish I could travel as much as you do!” – I get that a lot. Well, you can too! It’s just a matter of priorities – alright, and a bit of saving arrangements here and there. : ]Yes, mom. I’m buying decent quality food and eating healthy. : 9
Summer is here! Sun is up, birds chirping, people chilling outside, and a particular grocery store wants to jump on the bandwagon by replenishing its shelves with its so called “Iberic Week”. How nice of them. Mehr Freude für alle 1 . Except for Spaniards. Boy, are we pissed.
Click on the image to
listen to some lovely but not really Spanish music watch their spot.
So this adorable couple can enjoy the ultimate Iberic feast on their Berlin terrace just by going to the Lidl next door, for Sol&Mar provides exquisite original Spanish and Portuguese products. Except they are not. They are more like overpriced, Iberic-mimicking and rather unappealing-looking food items that have little to do with our gastronomy.
“What?! They are not Spanish?” – No. Sol&Mar is actually a Lidl brand 2 . Its goal is to skyrocket the company’s sales by selling so called Iberic articles in Germany as well as other European countries (you can read all about it here if you speak Spanish 3 ).
Here’s a screenshot of their commercial spot, depicting two happy Spaniards who go insane over tapas. <irony> Because everyone knows that we walk around in bullfighter clothes and flamenco dresses around the clock. If we aren’t making fiestas or siestas, that is. </irony]>
Look, I get it. Mediterranean cuisine is amazing, no argument here; and when it comes to food, Mediterranean has SALES written all over it. But you can’t just throw a saddle on a cat and call it a horse. Although if you did, it would look like this: 4
Anyhow, the regular John Doe – or Max Mustermann in this case – goes to Lidl to get his groceries. Whereas someone who hasn’t experienced Mediterranean gastronomy might be attracted to the selection and prone to trying something that looks somewhat exotic, we Spaniards feel cheated upon and fairly irritated by these so called Iberic products. It starts with the labeling and naming of the items: spelling and semantic mistakes galore that already tell at first glance that something is off, not to mention the culinary violations acted upon said items.
Never in Spain have I found blueberry, pineapple and peach cream cheese throughout the many years I lived there. Spanish tortilla doesn’t have bacon or sausage bits, and neither do salads. We don’t smoke our ham but salt cure it, and by the way, there’s a difference between jamón serrano and jamón ibérico. At least get the names straight. Moving on, churros don’t belong in the freezer, in fact, the sole idea of prepacked or canned food is vile to us. You want a taste of Iberia? Get some fresh ingredients and cook the damn meal yourself. Food is not meant to be heated up and devoured, but savored and relished. Enjoying a meal starts at the grocery store. That’s the Iberic mindset, right there.
So… if this is just a German brand with clumsy Spanish labels on their products, why do they present them as original Iberic food along with their slogan “A taste of Iberia”? – Well, Sol&Mar does import some produce from Spanish producers, such as cold cuts from Embutidos Monells or canned fish 5 from Conservas Selectas De Galicia, none of which are recognizable companies in Spain (they are however known in Germany for posing health risks). These are transported to Germany, where, along with the peach cheese cream and the red-looking fluid they call gazpacho, they are processed to appeal to a German palate and shipped to the many Lidl stores nationwide.
Again, I get it. People are set in their ways, one can’t be too radical with culinary imports. Every company studies its market and offers articles that will appeal to their customers. Nevertheless (and here’s where we circle back to the original post title), you can’t produce food in Kackendorf 6 and label it as foreign to increase the sales pitch.
“Dude, aren’t you overreacting a bit?” – Maybe. I have to admit that after yesterday’s encounter with the “Iberic week” I was furious. Then, when the anger subsided, I asked myself if this wasn’t just me being petty. Which is why in the past 24 hours I’ve been in full-blown research mode in this world wide web of ours, opening discussion threads and posing various culinary questions. It turns out that it wasn’t just me. They really struck a nerve in Southern Europeans. Here are some comments that I collected on the particular brand at hand, Sol&Mar 7.
“Brits think that if it has chorizo in it, it’s automatically Spanish. Likewise, if it is Spanish, it needs to have chorizo. Whenever I try to explain that paella doesn’t have it, they look at me in astonishment and say that that can’t be right -_-. I can’t even”. (Miguel, Spaniard in the UK who surrendered to the Empire)
“Don’t buy their churros. No matter how you cook them, the result is an appalling thick gum-like paste”. (María, Spaniard in Germany who now questions her cooking skills)
“I’m furious as well. Their products are clearly from Germans for Germans. It’s a Lidl brand and only German staff are involved in designing the references. Main thing is paying little money for food, doesn’t matter how shitty. Germans would rather spend money on technology than decent quality food.” (Paco, Spaniard in Germany who went on full rant mode)
“The more pressing question here is: when are they going to stop defining Spain with the bull and the flamenco dancer? Spain is much more than that crap”. (Isabel, Spaniard in Germany and iconoclast revolutionary) 8
“Cheese with olives and jalapeños sold as typical Spanish. What the heck is happening?!” (Víctor, Spaniard in Germany and potential heart attack victim) 9
“Sheer marketing strategy, shame!” (Laura, Spaniard in Germany who doesn’t beat around the bush)
“Same thing with Mexican products, paprika powder mixed with remolade sauce is sold as chipotle. And don’t get me started on the ingredients they use for burritos, fajitas, tacos and so on”. (Guadalupe, Mexican in Germany who can’t catch a culinary break)
“Beware of their canned anchovies and calamari, explosive diarrhea granted! I found out the hard way.” (Felipe, Spaniard in Germany and temporary worshiper of the porcelain throne)
“Sol&Mar doesn’t exist in Spain because it wouldn’t sell for shit. Mediocre quality that people consume here but we wouldn’t even dare to give to our dogs back home”. (Antonio, Spaniard in Germany and alleged pet owner)
“Same thing with so called Italian products and the horrific modifications they impose on them. I love Germany, but they suck at food. It’s like they can’t tell the difference between good and bad. Do they even have taste buds?” (Sara, Italian in Germany and certified palate expert)
“Who cares? You have a lot of time on your hands, don’t you?” (Luisa, Spaniard in Germany who might be on to something)
Now, let’s not put all the blame on the Germans. With the increasing eagerness to embrace foreignness, every country attempts to provide exotic products, which sometimes results in culinary atrocities that native stomachs find hard to digest.
What the hell kind of a clusterfuck is this?!
For instance, I had always mistakenly had this westernized concept of Chinese cuisine, until I lived with a Chinese person and my taste buds were blown away. Or take the Greek: ouzo is a beverage meant to be consumed along with the meal, like wine. Drinking it in shots, as it is customary in Germany and Northern European countries, is mildly offensive to any Greek person. Also, what is it about the obsession with sauces, creams and dressings? Dishes like Gigantes and Fasolakia are meant to be relished without extraneous additives. And there’s also my ultimate favorite faux pas: the tzatziki ice cream.
But when it comes to enduring culinary violations, the Italians are second to none. From using pesto alla genovese on meats to adding cooking cream to carbonara, they have more than one reason to be pissed at absolutely everyone.
Italian revenge upon Spaniards for our multiple carbonara violations.
And while we are at it, there’s also the absurd haze between the Mexican and Spanish divide. Many a time have I seen Mexican items with decorative flamenco dancers as well as Spanish food with Catrina skulls stickers. Tortillas are the most widespread mistake. The flatbread used for the tasty fajitas and quesadillas is freaking Mexican and not Spanish. Here’s a visual aid to dissipate the confusion:
In conclusion: getting to know other cultures and their cuisine is pretty amazing, but you should watch out for businesses that have no qualms about selling products under a misleading label. There are specialized stores in every major city where you can find the real deal. Even some local stores import foreign brands from time to time. Edeka, for instance, offers the Spanish high-quality brands Ybarra, La Española and El Pozo. On the other hand, Rewe tries to pass off ham as jamón ibérico – with mariachi figurines on the packaging 10.
“Well, if I’m not versed in the culinary tradition that I’d like to delve into, how do I know what’s real and what’s fake?” – Good thing you asked. Do some research and ask native stomachs about the whereabouts of imported products and brands. They always know. In fact, one of the first things most expats do when relocating abroad is to find stores and communities that make them feel more at home.
Likewise, if you live abroad, use every chance to show off the culinary wonders of your country. Invite your indigenous friends over to share your favorite home meals, cook your mom’s recipes with them, bring homemade desserts to work, and so on. You get the idea.
As for the despicable companies that seek profit in selling fake foreignness, here’s my message for you: if pineapple cream cheese appeals to a German clientele, bring it on! Just call it pineapple cream cheese instead of selling it as “crema de queso de piña” with a Spanish flag printed on it accompanied by your “A taste of Iberia” slogan.
Last but not least, you may mix white rice with chorizo all you want, but for fuck’s sake, don’t call it paella.
If you had any doubts by now, let me tell you that I love languages: from the analytic modern English with its changeable moods and unpredictable phonology, to the fusional Romances with their graceful inflections and clingy morphemes; from the agglutinative wonders of Uralic languages with their sesquipedalian utterances, to the intriguing logograms of Hanzi, Kanji or Maya glyphs.
But I digress. With such linguistic amalgamation swirling around in your head, it becomes necessary to actively keep your language skills in shape. That’s why every once in a while I pick one of the dormant languages and go on a reactivation mission: reading books, watching shows, listening to music, and so on. As far as passive skills go, we are good 11. But we all know that one doesn’t get better at a language through osmosis. It requires active practice of both written and oral skills 2. And that’s where the quest for a tandem partner comes in.
A language tandem is one way to boost said skills. It’s fun, it’s intense and it’s free of charge. It basically consists of one native speaker of X and one of Y who meet up in a coffee shop or alike in order to practice each other’s languages. There are many ways to find a tandem partner, from bulletin boards in your local library to online platforms aimed at linguistic and cultural exchanges. So far, so good.
The conundrum starts when language partners out there are more keen on the partner bit than the language exchange itself. This species of tandem partner, which I’m eloquently naming “the language predator”, desperately seeks a foreign partner for amorous or sexual purposes, and will immediately pull the plug as soon as he discovers that his female pray has no interest beyond the linguistic exchange 3.
Cognizant of the online language predatory fauna and its modus operandi, I’ve come up with a strategy myself: letting potential language partners know that I’m in a happy relationship within minutes of our first exchange. Ain’t nobody got time to waste. This is how it goes 9 out of 10 times:
Look, I get it. In all likelihood, you are into a language because you feel attracted to the places where it’s spoken, their people, their culture or their idiosyncrasy; and let’s be honest, having a romantic partner who is a native speaker of your target language is kind of the dream – I do, and it’s wonderful 4.
Still, dear language predators out there, you need to chill. Try dating sites, go to a club, join macrame camp. Anything you need until you come to the realization that finding a foreign partner could be a lucky happenstance, but shouldn’t be the goal of language exchange sites.