You can experience some things only when you are living in a foreign country and want to mix with the locals as much as you can, embracing their culture and lifestyle.
As I said before, at present I work for the International Relations Office at Universidad CEU – what better place to know new people from other countries and practice other languages? I never thought my meals were part of that process too. We get lunch tickets from the CEU to go eat at a nearby restaurant and man…they are good!
I tried pretty much everything typically “Valencian” they had to offer, the main courses – and my personal favorite – being the local paella, the arroz al horno and the arroz à banda. Yesterday it was the paella turn and I was super happy: the cook there manages to make it super tasty and at the same time not hard to digest – I need to go back to work afterwards after all.
So I was there, enjoying my incredible plate of rice, spices, meat and vegetables, talking to my friends. Ah, before I forgot to say that I always have lunch with a trio of coworkers: a Brazilian girl now living in Portugal but currently working for a few months in Spain, a Croatian girl in the same situation and – last but not least – a German girl on an internship here as well. We were eating and talking about how working here is so good compared to what we had at home and so on and so forth, laughing around until our plates were so clean they shone.
Our usual waiter wasn’t there, but I his place a super nice guy of sixty-something we only saw a couple of times and thought was the owner came to collect our plates. Before he left our table I told him that his paella me encanta and if you could give my best to the cook. His eyes started shining, he asked me if I was serious and, when I said yes, he left.
He came back in a couple of minutes, only to ask me where I come from. “Italy” I said, then I told him the places the other girls were from. They he said:
“So, you are a girl from Italy, working in Spain and living the paella Valenciana?”
“Yes, that’s a nice summary,” I answered him, before explaining how I tried other paellas in Barcelona and Sevilla but that those were really different – different spices, different ingredients…different everything.
“True, but you wanna know who cooked it? I did! And you wanna know the best part? You are Italian and you love a Spanish dish cooked by a French man! You know we were on vacation last week? I went back to my family and I had to cook at a local faire a giant pan of paella, as I do every year.”
He started laughing, then he explained us that he was born in France, but has moved to Spain almost fifty years ago, and that he had been a cook his entire life. In France he only has a few relatives, who always asked him to cook his famous paella at the local faire, in one of those giant pans.
We kept laughing and talking and it was all so nice…what is the true meaning of living in a European Union? I think it’s to have moments like this, with people exchanging experiences and different cultures melting in a giant pot, without the slightest hint of racism or presumption of being better than the others.