Salad and Cultural Exchange

Max Harrison-Caldwell
March 7, 2017

My host señora is becoming increasingly alarmed.

“¡No comeis nada!” she regularly exclaims, gesturing towards the food left on my and my roommate’s plates. I would beg to differ- I feel like I actually eat quite a good deal of food here, although I rarely finish every dish Señora puts in front of me.

Usually lunch consists of an enormous rice or pasta dish, a soup, iceberg lettuce salad, and, of course, bread. Dinner often centers on French fries but otherwise resembles an elaborate American breakfast: French fries with sausage, eggs, occasionally bacon. At my request, Señora has begun to include a plate of roasted vegetables with my dinners but I can’t always finish the whole plate, and they sit on the table mocking me, asking why I requested them in the first place.

“Where are your healthy Los Angeles sensibilities now, you ungrateful swine?” They call as I poke at my cold fries. Then Señora comes in and asks why I never eat any salad. I tell her I’m full but it’s really because her salad comes in a bowl that’s half full of oil and vinegar.

“Pues no se come mucho la ensalada allí, ¿no? Que es menos popular.”

Again, I begged to differ, feeling that in fact salad was MORE popular in the U.S. than in Spain, albeit in a different form.

“Pues, no, es que la ensalada allí es diferente,” I responded. She wondered if we didn’t use lettuce there, or if the dressing was different. She wondered and wondered and eventually I told her about my favorite salad.

The next day, when I got home from the Prado, a bag of spinach, a grapefruit, and a block of goat cheese were waiting for me on the kitchen counter.

“Creo que compré los frutos secos equivocados,” said Señora, entering the room and glancing at unopened bag of salted nuts on the counter. She was right, I generally used unsalted slivered almonds, but in any case I was flattered that she had gone food shopping for me.

“Pero quiero ver como lo haces,” she said, and I obliged, peeling the grapefruit and halving the natural slices, tossing them among the spinach leaves, and trying to crumble the cheese over the top. This had the consistency of a cheese stick and, to humor her more than anything, I sliced it into peanut-sized pieces and sprinkled it over the rest. While I sliced and tossed I told her about how often I made this salad last semester, and asked if she cooked much when she was my age.

She told me that at 20 (quite young by modern Spanish standards) she had left home and moved to Switzerland, where she cooked for herself and became independent in all regards, but that in all her years there, and in Paris, and in different parts of Spain, she had never made a salad like this. I offered her some and she declined, but when I came back in the morning the half of the salad I hadn’t eaten was gone.

Now that I’ve been here for almost two months, the novelty of being abroad has mostly worn off. I’m accustomed to speaking and hearing Spanish, to eating fry-centric meals, to occasionally staying out all night. But before making spinach and grapefruit salad last night I felt that the flow of cultural influence had been one-way. Besides my skater friends who sometimes insist on practicing their slow English with me, I hadn’t felt that a single Spaniard knew any more about the U.S. for my presence. But after weeks of listening and observing, it felt good to share something positive, even if it was just a simple recipe.



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Max Harrison-Caldwell

<p>I&rsquo;m a Spanish major in my third year at Occidental College. I want to pursue a career in journalism after graduating so right now I&rsquo;m trying to get as much writing experience as I can. In addition to writing, I like skateboarding and pita chips.</p>

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