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
Click here to learn Spanish!