Our experience making purchases in Spain



Valeria García (St. Mary’s University)

Anna Wheeler (Auburn University)

“¿Qué es un gofre?”

This week in class, our American friends, Valeria and Anna, went on a little adventure. They decided to explore the difference between a “gofre” and a “wafle”. “Wafle” is the common word that Valeria, a Mexican-American, used her entire life to describe a waffle. Anna, on the other hand, didn’t know the Spanish word for waffle.

To do a little research, they went to 4 different bakeries around Alcalá and asked the server if he/she could explain what a gofre was to Anna. As they went around, they got varied responses, but noticed one major similarity. Spaniards like to show, not tell. Responses included making a shape with their hands, grabbing the gofre itself, or even googling a picture on their phone. Aside from this, there was only one lady who was not so interested in explaining what a gofre was.

Then, they decided to compare it with a waffle. The question they asked was: “¿Es como un wafle?” All they got were blank stares and “¿Qué es un wafle?” It’s clear that “gofre” is a very specific Castilian word. “Wafle” is to “gofre” as “jugo” is to “zumo.” And clearly, these words are foreign to Spaniards.

Although this was more of a fun exercise and their main thrill was eating gofre after gofre, they learned a lot about Spanish dialects and cultural differences between Latin America and Spain.


Chris Dinon (College of New Jersey)

Rachel Serda (St. Mary’s University)

In class, we studied the difference between the way Spaniards interact with storeowners and the way Latin American people interact with them. According to an article we read, Spaniards tend to be more direct and focus more on the task at hand than anything else, whereas many Latin Americans tend to manipulate the sentence to a greater extent to be more polite. For this reason, we decided to go into a number of cafes and tried to order things in different ways. One approach we took was being overly polite, saying “¿Me regalas un café con leche?” a form used in other parts of the world. This resulted in our receiving a weird look from the woman at the counter. We believe that we received this look because this way of ordering something contrasts with the typical way of ordering for something in Spain. In the second location we selected, we ordered in a much more direct manner, saying “¿Me pones un café con leche?” The woman behind the counter didn’t react this time because this is a much more typical way to order something here.


Celina Jacobson (St. Mary’s University)

Jonah Kavanaugh (St. Mary’s University)

One aspect of sociolinguistics concentrates on the manner in which people in public spaces respond to different types of language. We had read earlier in the semester that ‘madrileños’, i.e. people from Madrid, tend to have shorter and more direct interactions with vendors. This indicates that they only go to stores to get what they need and they leave to carry on their daily lives. This is in contrast to service encounters in South America where people tend to ask about the vendors´/buyers´ well-being as well as asking for whatever specific product they want. In Alcalá de Henares, we wanted to test how people at a small café in the plaza would respond to two different types of interactions. Celina would place a more direct order, and I would try to initiate some sort of conversation by asking how the vendor was doing that day, etc.

Jonah and I went to Metrópoli for our service encounter. Using the “direct/indirect method”, we each went up to counter to ask for churros con chocolate. I went up first, and placed my order, with no attempt to make conversation. After receiving my order and paying for it, I stepped back and waited for Jonah to place his order. When the woman at the counter turned to ask him what he wanted, Jonah started off with “Hola. ¿Qué tal?”, attempting to start off a conversation with the woman. She looked a bit thrown off, and smiled as Jonah continued, asking about her day. She said the day had been good, and Jonah placed his order of churros con chocolate. After receiving and paying for his order, Jonah and I left Metrópoli. Now, this is only one instance of a service encounter in Alcalá but it seems to follow that, in this instance, the vendor was not used to having friendly conversation with people buying food from the restaurant.


Elliot Montesinos (St. Mary’s University)

Danielle Saenz (St. Mary’s University)

In our sociolinguistics class, we were sent out onto the streets of Alcalá to observe service encounters between Spaniards and participate in some ourselves. For our experiment we decided to see if the servers would understand if we used typical Latin American Spanish words instead of the Castilian way of saying it. We were going to use “pastel” instead of “bizcocho”, “jugo” instead of “zumo”, and ending words with “-ito/-ita”.

However, we found that they did understand, and we started to witness something else. We realized that upon first interactions with the servers, they want you to be straightforward and tell them what you want. It may be a stereotype, but in the States and in Latin America, people tend to be more talkative. We went to two different cafes and found this to be true. At the first one, the man asked “¿Qué quieres?” as in wanting us to be straightforward, but when we started being more talkative, the server began to be more friendly and talkative. We observed that it is typical to just go in and out of a café and not so much have a lot of interaction beyond ordering what you want. We went to the second café down the street, and we found the same to be true. This time we began to ask about the breakfast specials and about certain items on the menu. The servers at the counter began to take interest in our interaction and began talking with us and being more open and friendly. We started to use a lot of “gracias” and “por favor.” They started to do the same.

We realized that it is not that servers or Spaniards are cold; it is just that they are about getting things done and doing them quickly, but also that they are always up for chit-chat.


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