¡Que aproveche!

Jul 9, 2011 by

For a language boasting over half a million words and replete with the precisest of terms, English is woefully lacking when it comes to translating this oft-used Spanish imperative. The nearest we come to it is ‘bon appetit!’, and even that we have to plunder from French. It still amazes me how often you will hear the phrase in Spain. I only have to start unwrapping the tin foil from my packed lunch at work and six different people pipe up merrily with “¡Que aproveches!” “Thanks”, I mutter, fully absorbing the irony as I contend with slabs of desiccated gluten-free bread.

The thing is, the phrase isn’t applied exclusively to culinary contentment – it’s equally valid in a range of contexts. When pushed for the closest English phrase I would translate it as ‘Enjoy it!’, but the verb in Spanish carries other connotations – of making the most of something, taking full advantage of it. This ‘joie de vivre’ (here we go again) is a refreshingly different way of approaching life, and I’ve been trying to work out exactly where it comes from. And why it’s such an attitudinal leap from what I’m used to.

I fear we have to start with a nod to the glaringly obvious – life in flip flops. There is absolutely no doubt that living in a sunny Mediterranean climate and skipping down the street to work in the morning with no jacket on or umbrella in your handbag does wonders for your happy stance. It’s not just a blast of vitamin D you’re getting; it’s constant exposure to ultraviolet optimism.

People with signs offering free hugs

People offering ‘free hugs’.

But that can’t be the whole story. For a start, I may gaily trip down the street in havaianas, but the majority of the working Catalan population does not. Barcelona is not languorous mañana territory – people here work bloody hard. (Let’s not forget ‘la Crisis’ which the country has found itself in over the last few years.) There’s a saying in Andalucia that the Andalucian works to live, whereas the Catalan lives to work. Another one I particularly like is the joke that wire was invented by two Catalans pulling on a coin.

The other thing is, of course, that the fact that it’s sunny here every day is no great shakes to the natives. Well obviously it’s toasty – it’s July, they say. I can only smile wryly as I realise they’ll never appreciate why I walk around thrilled and desperately grateful that summer finally equals sunshine.

In that case, where does it come from? Is it the fact that Spain is still developing, so adopting a go-getting attitude is essential? Is it just some inbuilt national characteristic that has been around for centuries? I hate to say it, but I think what I’m noticing is simply the gulf between a positive outlook on life and the positively po-faced mindset of my homeland. Of which I too am guilty.

So is there a downside to all this unabashed and opportunistic getting the most out of life? Hmm. Based on just over two months in the country I suspect there may well be a darker side to this aspect of the Spanish psyche. The logical culmination of all this ‘aprovechando’ must be a selfishness, an expectation that it’s somehow your right to get what you want. The verb is also translated in English as ‘to exploit’, with both the positive and negative nuances that carries.

Mostly, though, I have to say I’m up for this lesson in life. Wringing every last drop of pleasure out of your experiences is no bad philosophy for anyone, least of all a decidedly dour Scot. Life is indeed for the living. And on that note I’m off to the beach.

photo of Barcelona beach

Aprovechando to the max.

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