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Culture: Provecho / Servido – Manners While Someone is Eating

by Brandi

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October 12th, 2009

In the United States as well as in Latin America, it is impolite to eat in front of someone else who is not eating also. But, what do you do if you if you stop by someone’s home while they’re eating? If this happens to me, I usually say something like, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt your dinner”, or “Sorry to bother you during dinner time.”

This type of meal-time interruption doesn’t seem to happen as much in the United States as it does in Latin America. This seems to be because just about everyone in the United States has access to a telephone and people usually call each other before stopping by. In many Latin American areas, especially in the lower-income pueblos, a very small percentage of the population owns a telephone because of the cost involved. Phone calls are normally charged by the length of each call whether local or long distance. In the United States, a set monthly charge usually gets you all the local calls you want, regardless of the length, for the cost of your set monthly price. However, extra fees are sometimes incurred for long-distance calls. Because of the scarcity of people with telephones in Latin America, people frequently stop by homes unannounced and often while they’re eating. I assume that because of this practice, and because of the Latin American emphasis on food, there has been a Spanish phrase invented for this exact scenario.

If you stop by someone’s home while they’re eating and you aren’t, you should say either “¡Provecho!” or “¡Buen provecho!” which translates to “Enjoy your meal!” The word “provecho” literally means “profit” or “benefit”, and “Buen provecho” literally translates to “Good benefit” or “Good profit”.

People usually say this phrase with a light-hearted attitude almost as if to say, “Go ahead and keep eating and don’t worry about me”. To continue the situation a little further, if you’re eating and someone says “¡Buen provecho” to you, you can answer them by saying “Servido” which means “Served”. By saying “Servido” to them, you are basically saying, “Feel free to take a seat and have some if you’d like.” Even though that is the real meaning, I don’t recall ever seeing anyone in this situation ever take someone up on the offer and sit down to eat with the family after they had already started a meal.

Remember, the next time you interrupt Latin-American people eating, be sure to say “¡Provecho!” or “¡Buen provecho!” to them. Also, if you are eating, and someone says “¡Provecho!” to you, be sure and say “Servido” to them, and be ready to offer them food; just in case they take you up on your generous offer.

Moral of the Story: A large part of Latin American culture is based on food. Without a lot of instant food available to the people in the lower-income pueblos, they spend a lot of time in food preparation. Because food is such a large part of their lives, it’s important to learn proper mealtime etiquette. Just remember, “¡Provecho!” or “¡Buen provecho!” and “Servido”.

Sneak peek at next week: “Share your food – especially Jell-O Pudding®”

¡Hasta la vista baby! (This is actor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous line meaning “Until I see you again baby!”)
David S. Clark — President / Director
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5 Responses

  1. emeralde says:

    Hola, I am Polish. In my country it would be almost an offense to leave guests not fed properly. Moreover, in my parents house and now mine as well(but I suppose it applies to most Polish housholds) whenever anybody pops in during our meal or mealtime, is always invited to join the table. Another fact – the tradition of Christmas Eve festive meal is to reserve one set of plates for sudden, uninvited guest.
    Hasta luego,

  2. K says:

    I’m native american. In my culture, if someone comes to the house during a meal time, they will be invited to the table with us. And during a visit, it’s impolite to not offer them food or something to drink while they visit. Unexpected guests during the Holidays are always welcome, the more the merrier. Food and water is life and is for all to share. :) K

  3. Agustin says:

    Hola amigos. Maybe what Brandi is pointing hear is which words someone could use when having an unexpected visit while we’re eating. I also think that it’s impolite to not offer food to the visit but the thing is: I must use this word as a rule ‘provecho’ or ‘servido’ hear in Latin America. Which expressions do you use in your country? Nos vemos. :)

  4. Karen Cruz says:

    Im karen and Im hispanic. In my experience I usually say provecho when I am at work and someone is on their lunch break and I walk into the breakroom to retrieve my drink out of the fridge I do not think it is rude if they don’t offer me food. So provecho isn’t only used with an unexpected guest at home.I want to make it very clear that in a Hispanic household we also always invite our guest in for a plate of food but there are different scenarios in which provecho can be used.

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