A few days ago I was trying to find the English translation for the word “sobremesa”, and I was surprised to discover there was none. I’d never thought about this, and it wasn’t until then that I realized it’s a custom closely connected to our Latin roots.
Sobremesa is the period right after a meal when family and friends share conversations or anecdotes. Even though the food is over, the table is still full of coffee, wine and other drinks. You can spend hours talking and talking before someone decides to leave.
Countries like the United States are unfamiliar with this concept, and it might have to do with the way of life. Americans are always in a hurry; food doesn’t have another purpose other than nourishment, and jobs are the main priority. That’s why most people eat on the go or in front of their office computer so they don’t waist a single minute. When I meet my friends in the USA, they’re always checking their watch because, as they say, “time is money.”
For us Latinos, on the other hand, food is an excuse to spend time together; that’s why sobremesa is as important as the actual meal. My mom would always tell me about her stories of sobremesa during her first years of her marriage. In Peru, sobremesa seems to be extra important, so when my mom arrived from Nicaragua, she wasn’t so eager to go out and eat with my dad’s friends. She would tell me that it was only after dinner was over that the real conversations started, accompanied by tea, coffee and wine. She tried to make subtle gestures to let my dad know she wanted to leave, usually to no avail.
The best part is that sobremesa is not planned; it just happens. And we should try to hold on to such an authentic custom. As a friend of mine once said, “a family that eats together, stays together.” And that can be even truer if sobremesa becomes a habit at home. It’s a great opportunity to talk about what’s going on in our lives, share opinions, and receive that much-needed human contact. Sobremesa helps build strong bonds, making us feel loved and accompanied. And to top that off, eating slowly and happily improves digestion!
So now you know. Invite everyone for a nice dinner… and the one who leaves first, pays!