I JUST got back from grocery shopping (“la compra“) in the neighborhood. I also went to the snack shop (they ONLY sell snacks) for “supplies” for Sunday’s NFL Football playoffs. And since it was 6pm I also decided to stop for MERIENDA.
I had “café con leche” – coffee with milk – and toast with olive oil and salt. My favorite. Total tab: 1.80€. It’s so incredibly cheap that today I asked the bar guy if it was the correct price. I said something like, “That’s for BOTH the coffee and the toast with olive oil?” and he said, “Yes. Why? What’s wrong?” and I said, “Nothing. I thought it was more,” not wanting to admit that I thought the price was cheap. I would’ve been happy paying twice that amount!
What is Merienda? According to the Wikipidia page on Merienda:
Spanish: “La merienda es la comida que se toma antes de la cena, a media tarde. Suele tomarse una pieza de pan con embutido, pastas o bollería, acompañado de alguna bebida, fría o caliente, como café, batido, chocolate caliente o leche, entre otros.”
English: “Merienda is the mid-afternoon meal taken before dinner. Some eat a peice of bread with hams, sweets or rolls, and often acompanied with a drink, hot or cold, like coffee, milkshake, hot chocolate or milk, among many.”
Merienda is definitely an acquired custom. But if someone is having lunch at 2pm and dinner at 10pm – like ANY good Spaniard would – a light mid-afternoon snack is a necessity at around 6pm.
Children nearly ALWAYS have merienda upon leaving school at 5pm or thereabouts. You see them being led by their parents with one hand while with their other hand they’re munching on a small sandwich or drinking from small plastic bottle. Crummy faces they have or liquids dripping off their chins while on their way home.
Older people also have merienda in the late afternoon. You see groups of (mainly) older women in their 70s and 80s walking very (VERY!) slowly down the sidewalks, SIDE-BY-SIDE 5 abreast, on their way to their favorite bar. For these people bars with tables, space to move around, and an accessible toilet is a must.
It’s the merienda time when these older Spaniards get together to socialize, have an excuse stretch their legs, and to have a small snack – FOR CHEAP. Sometimes I find myself at a bar at 6pm and I’ve always seen these older people sitting there with their coffee and churros/porras or toasted bread with olive oil – “pan tostada con aceite“. They’re absolutely in NO hurry – NOR should they be in a hurry. Sometimes they’re sitting there NOT talking to one another, sometimes they knit, sometimes they watch TV. They’re there for 1 to 2 hours. Total bar tab: 2 Euros per person. Wow. These bars are cleaning up! hehehe…
It’s a charming scene seeing these older women all together, chit-chatting, this possibly being their only opportunity to see their friends or to leave the house each day. These are all retired women, housewives, or widows. Men less commonly go out together for merienda – or possibly because men tend to die younger or are less mobile at this age and are less likely to leave the house.
What you DON’T usually see in bars having merienda is/are…… ummm.. PEOPLE LIKE ME! hehehe.. By that I mean that A) it’s less common to see foreigners having merienda. And B) people between the ages of 20 and 70 are too busy at this hour to stop for a casual coffee and snack. They’re working or at home watching TV.
I really think, or fear, the merienda custom will no longer exist after this older generation passes on. I can’t imagine today’s busy 20, 30, 40, 50, and even 60-somethings will be going out with their friends for coffee at the local bar once they reach retirement age. I hope I’m wrong. But particularly with today’s 20 and 30-somethings whom are breaking all the rules and customs, those whom are truly transforming the “typical Spanish life” what with all their distractions of television, computer/internet, and videogames to keeping them indoors at home. Imagine how the world will be in 30 or 40 years when these people are “pensionistas“!
Let’s enjoy the custom of Merienda while we have it – at least those whom CAN enjoy it. (like me!!)