Life abroad is made of little observations. Sure, there are the headline differences: different major festivals, different languages, different daily routines. They grab you by the throat with their neon lights and let you know with their mixed metaphors that you’re somewhere else. But that’s tourism, it’s the little things that are living abroad. The nuances. The shades of difference. They’re things that you are often surprised could or would be different. Little niggles that add up to a feeling that you’re not in Kansas any more.
So, here’s a small, silly, inconsequential thing what I noticed.
They like sugar here. Like, they LIKE sugar. And chocolate.
In the UK, of course, a lot of people do take their tea or coffee with sugar, but here? There seems to be genuine incomprehension when I say it’s fine without. Because they like sugar.
It’s not even just in coffee. Something I love is that almost every café or restaurant has an orange juice machine. I don’t remember seeing them that often in the UK. They’re the things with a hopper on top for the oranges which are then sliced and squeezed as they rotate through the machine. (The oranges are sliced and squeezed, that is, not the hoppers.) But your juice normally comes with a little sachet. A little sachet of sugar. A little, completely unnecessary sachet of sugar. Because they like sugar.
Or a croissant. You can’t just find a croissant here, it has to be drizzled in sugar syrup. Because they like sugar.
Okay, actually, I like that last one, and it almost disappoints me now when I find one without, but shhh!
I also mentioned they like chocolate. Because they do. If you try to find any type of biscuit or cake or than plain or chocolate of some description in my local shop you will be out of luck. Even the larger supermarket a bit further away doesn’t seem to have a much bigger variety of flavours.
This even extends to drinks. I go to a lot of language meetups in various cafés. As you’d expect, the drinks around the table are normally beers, with the odd coke or something, but there’s a third upstart option. Drinkable chocolate. One form is called xocolata desfeta. This is like a thick hot chocolate. Think towards the kind of thing you’d get as a dip with churros, maybe with a touch of flavouring, say mint or orange.
The most popular form of drinkable chocolate, however, is called Cacaolat. It’s a chocolate milkshake brand that happens to be Catalan. This means that adult males can, perfectly respectably, drink a chocolate milkshake in public. It’s almost a statement of national (well, “autonomous communital”?) pride. I love this. People able to have a drink because they like it and not having to worry about appearances.
Catalans love this too. Because they love chocolate. And sugar.
Well, I told you it was inconsequential!