I have been in Spain for a dozen days now. I have been working at a very clean factory in a large and stylish office area. Everything at work was easy to get accustomed to except how to pay for stuff, and the cafeteria food.
I am one of the few Americans that buy food in the cafeteria. The others bring in sandwiches. Anyway, to pay for stuff they use RFID cards that are issued by a machine. First you buy the card, and then you fill it up with Euros. To spend the money you just hold it up to another machine. For instance: To buy coffee you place the card up against the coffee machine, and then press your choice of beverage. It is an interesting system. The last time I saw a system like this in use was used in a prison so the inmates wouldn’t have any cash. No, I wasn’t a resident.
When I first arrived and I was told about the card machine, so I decided to stock up. I fed a 20 Euro bill into the machine; the machine charged me 3 Euros for the card then dumped 17 one Euro coins down the hopper along with the card. The hopper is stainless steel so it sounded like I hit the jackpot. Then I had to put the card back into the machine, it helpfully told me that the card had 0,0 Euros on it and would I like to add more. So I pumped in the 17 one Euro coins it just gave me. Some of the coins couldn’t be read by the machine, so it dumped them back into the hopper. That made me wonder; how did they get in there in the first place?
Ok, so now I am armed with a card with 15 Euros on it, the remaining two I put in my pocket. I just had to try the new card out, so I went to a coffee machine for a cup-o-Joe. It turns out that the machine has about thirty different types of coffee, all labeled in Spanish. (Duh) Also there wasn’t a price to be found. I put the card up to the machine and pressed Cappuccino, it was the only choice that I recognized. Whirr, click, plink, etc… the machine did its thing and gave me a rather good cappuccino, in a Dixie-cup sized plastic cup. After it dispensed the beverage the little led screen on the coffee machine told me that 0,35 Euros was magically removed from my card.
At lunch I stood in line and eyed the food choices. Which experience in experimental cuisine do I want to try today? There was not a price listed anywhere, so price was no object. I shied away from the dish with the little tiny ribs showing through the sauce, I think they were rabbit sized. I just didn’t want to be confronted with the etiquette of how one eats bunny ribs. I passed by the pork rib dish as well, just too fatty. So I picked the only one left, a rice dish. It turns out that it was seafood Paella. They serve this dish just about every day, but this was the first time that the other dishes were so unappetizing. I chose the rice dish by default.
I am not a big fan of seafood.
I handed my card to the cashier at the end of the serving line; he just put the card on a little reading platform and pressed the number 5. 7 Euros was gone from my card, just like that. I have no idea how they decide what the price of anything is. Nor do I understand which button will be pressed for which dish. It seems to be totally random. I went to my table to eat, and sat with my colleague Andres. Then I got a chance to take a close look at my rice dish.
I imagine that when fishermen on large fishing boats pull in their giant nets they grab all kinds of things. Some things they pull from the sea are desirable, others not. Some of this is determined by the size of the net. I figure that some fisherman used a net that catches anything larger than a fingernail, then sorts out all the desirable fish, what was left over went into my paella. I have never seen smaller examples of shrimp, squid, and other sea creatures in my life.
Andres ate his paella across from me at the table. He thought it would be a fun idea to point out to me what each little prize hidden in my rice was, and how it is pronounced in Spanish. I didn’t even know that baby squid was something people ate, whole. Shrimp, mussels, clams, oysters, and some kind of fish, oh and the aforementioned baby squid were all in the paella. It was actually quite good. I just didn’t like the ‘name the prize game’ that Andres was playing.
Well I have one more day at work left before I take my leave of this lovely and strange country. I hope tomorrow’s lunch will prove to be as interesting and entertaining. I know that Andres enjoyed it more than I did, mostly from the entertainment value. I hope someday to return the favor when he comes out to Colorado. I will take him to Bruce’s bar in Severance Colorado. At least at Bruce’s they have menus and take cash.