Vengan, vengan todos! Hace demasiado frio!!

Our profesora, Marta Beriso Lopez, herded us into her countryside home, an hour and a half outside of Madrid. The five students in our art history class were joining her and her mother for a special tradition called el tertuliano.

El tertuliano, as defined by the Collins online dictionary, normally refers to a radio or talk show host who chats about celebrity gossip and the like. However, it can also mean “member of a social gathering.”

What the online dictionaries don’t explain is the Spanish tradition of the tertuliano, which I was fortunate enough to experience during my semester abroad in Spain.

A common tradition during holidays or weekends, the tertuliano is essentially an all-day feast. We started with tea, followed by bread, a Spanish salad (which varies in content but is always dressed in delicious Spanish olive oil) and then the pièce de résistance: el cochinillo asado, or roast suckling pig.


Now, this isn’t a dish you cook at home. This is the local butcher delivering a roasted baby pig on a pan, flattened because all its insides have been removed, crispy and ready to eat. The whole pig is there – head, feet, and even the cute little curlicue tail. As you might imagine, an American could be easily overwhelmed.

But I have to say… it was delicious. (For more information about the history of the cochinillo asado tradition, check out this article)

However, in a tertuliano, the conversation is just as important as the food. The six or so people joining in the meal will sit around a large table and talk all day as the feast goes on. But this is not just small talk – for lack of a better term, I would call this “big talk”: talk about the things that American culture generally deems impolite conversation. Religion, politics, culture, controversial current events – they’re all on the menu. And I loved it.

Because the day is spent discussing and debating these issues, it is important to think carefully about whom to invite to this event. It is important to invite those whose opinions you respect; not necessarily those whose opinions you agree with, but those you respect. Ideally, as Marta explained to me, the group should reach outside your circle of best friends to those you see less often, but whom you find particularly interesting. And, of course, who are open-minded in their debates. (After all, one jerk at your tertuliano can really ruin the whole thing.)


Around Marta’s dining room table, we discussed everything: how gay marriage had been legal in Spain since 2005; how America trapped its students in debt through the high price of a university education; how the Spanish political system was broken, and the various ways it could be fixed. We each asserted our views on the constant protests in Madrid, with the majority of us American students viewing them as counterproductive, while Marta and her mother believed they were justified acts of rebellion. We discussed the current Spanish religious culture (or lack thereof) and the constant public displays of affection in Spain, both of which we believed to be cultural results of Franco’s dictatorship. We talked about the tradition of botellana, in which the young people congregate in parks and public spaces in Madrid to drink red wine mixed with Coca-Cola before going to clubs. We debated cultural notions of work-life balance; as I recall Marta lamenting, “Aquí, trabajamos para vivir; en los Estados Unidos, vosotros vivéis para trabajar.” (“Here, we work so we can live; in the U.S., you all live to work.”)

Those five or six hours of conversation were some of the most thought-provoking, exciting and funny times I’ve had in my life, much less my semester abroad. To me, el tertuliano truly epitomizes what I love about Europe, and Spain in particular: the emphasis on food, friends and real conversation. Furthermore, the tertuliano exemplifies the way that the Spanish value their time. In Spain, to spend an entire day eating and debating with friends is a day well spent. This is not to say that this wouldn’t be a day well spent in the States – but more likely, Americans would run errands and get work done during the day, and squeeze good food and conversation into a dinner no longer than two hours. The Spanish take their time; as my madre would say, ¿Qué es esa necesidad de tener prisa? Vas a estar al final de tu vida, sin saberlo. (What is this need to rush? You’re going to get to the end of your life and not even know it). I realized that there really is no need. I learned a lot from that mentality.

So, I encourage you to try having your own tertuliano of sorts. Which five or six interesting, open-minded friends would you invite? Which topics would you want to discuss? What would you cook? Though I doubt you could find cochinillo asado this side of the Atlantic, I’m sure you could find an equally exciting dish that would start the conversation off just right.