The Know-It-All

Most of the time I enjoy being in the wine business, but sometimes I think it’s a curse. Last week my wife and I were invited to a friend’s birthday lunch.  There were several people present whom we didn’t know and when the host asked me to choose the wine, the inevitable happened.  As soon as one of the other guests, whom I didn’t know, found out I was in the wine business he immediately tried to impress me with his encyclopedic knowledge of the subject.

Wine is an interesting topic (at least I think it is) so I suppose I should be flattered when someone wants to talk about it in a country where wine consumption is at an all time low.  But I usually get upset because the first comments I inevitably hear are:

  • “The best wine in Spain is from my village.”
  • “Most Rioja wine comes from other parts of Spain, especially from La Mancha.”

If the conversation stays on the first topic I consider it a victory, because it leads into a discussion about other great things about village life – long walks down dusty roads, card games after lunch, this year’s crop and the local festival.

But if the person insists on debating the second point, the conversation can take an ugly turn because even though it’s easy to refute the argument, we’ve entered into the realm of Spanish obstinacy.  Arguments (called discusiones in Spanish) are usually two or more people talking at the same time, each expounding their own ideas which they defend vigorously, while at the same time ignoring what the other people are saying. 

The Spanish have an expression to describe it:  diálogo de besugos.  Literally, a conversation between two sea breams (a popular type of fish).  Imagine looking at fish in a tank – they open and close their mouths but no sound comes out. It’s people talking at rather than to each other.

What do I say when people say that most Rioja wine comes from other parts of Spain?  The non-Spanish approach would be to argue the point:

  • it’s almost impossible because the control and inspection procedures in Rioja are so strict, and if you get caught, the fine is likely to bankrupt you (there have been instances of this);
  • given the current oversupply of wine, prices are low and it doesn’t make economic sense.

But when in Spain, you have to take the Spanish approach.  Arguments are a part of daily life here and people consider them a sport.  If you don’t know how to talk (or argue) about football or politics you’ll be bored stiff. You smile (very important) and say, “Bah, qué ridículo.  No tienes ni puta idea.” (“That’s ridiculous.  You don’t have a f***ing clue.”) Then you order another round of drinks. It works every time.





Mr. Rodríguez

 A few days ago I was driving from Bilbao to our summer house near Santander, a 45-minute trip.  It was 4 pm and I was surprised to see so much traffic on the two-lane road that led to our village.

 Then it hit me.  “Of course”, I thought.  “All the traffic is the men that had left work in Bilbao at 3 and were driving to be with their families who are spending their vacation at their summer homes”.  

This thought led me to laugh out loud because I remembered an old Spanish expression:  estar de Rodríguez.

Imagine a husband forced to spend several months by himself in Madrid.  In the old days, these guys would never cook meals, preferring to eat out, followed by a few drinks in a bar where  they would inevitably attempt to polish their interpersonal social skills with the opposite sex.  Of course, these guys would never use their real names for these one-night stands and would give a false name. Since one of the most common surnames in Spanish is ‘Rodríguez’, the story goes that they would use this name and it soon became the expression for married men spending the summer at home:  ‘estar de Rodríguez’.

Being ‘de Rodríguez’ used to bring words of admiration from jealous friends who didn’t have the chance to be temporary bachelors again. However, it’s been some time since I’ve heard this expression.  Maybe it’s because fewer people can afford to send their families to the seaside for the summer months due to the economic crisis, or because wives would rather send their kids to camp and stay at home until the whole family could go on vacation. Or perhaps because modern Spanish wives prefer to keep an eye on their husbands.