In Spain, Even Hospital Waiting Rooms are Places to Get to Know Your Neighbor

By Roxana Urrutia

SPAIN: Today I was in the hospital (asthma) and the waiting room was hilarious.
You know, in the States, the waiting room is quiet and there is usually a TV on and every now and then a person gets a coffee and then the loudspeaker says, “Mr. Smith, please go to room #4, Mr. Smith room #4,” and while the announcement is on, everyone stops, what little noise they contribute, for a complete respectful silence for the loudspeaker.
OK, here in Spain the waiting room is cramped full of people. For each ill person, there are at least 8 family members all talking at once and complaining about having to wait. The people bring in beers and soft drinks and bocadillos de tortilla (omelette sandwiches) from the bareto (family-owned bar) across the street, and there is no TV but plenty of talking about the daily soap opera.


When the intercom comes on, no one shuts up and the person making the announcement has to shout through the microphone something like: “MANUEL ELIAS DE LA PAZ FUERTE. MOLINA PASE A LA SÁLA NUMERO 4,” or “MARIA DE LAS ARENAS CRUZ SANTA DE LA GUADALUPE RAMOS. PASE A LA SÁLA NUMERO 4.
The entire name, not one letter less. It is so comical because in more common names like Maria Sanchez or Antonio Fernandez there might be three or four with the same name and the entire batch of last names clears any confusion. And then people exchange information about why they are there.

Here is an example of how the conversations get started and how they perpetuate:
Person #1 :”Anoche me caí y me resbalé por tres escalones y me partí el dedo meñique del pie …y a usted ¿qué le pasó? (Last night I fell down three steps and broke my pinkie toe …what happened to you?)
Person #2:”A mí me dolía el pecho y he pensado que quizás haya tenido un paro cardiaco porque tengo el colesterol muy alto y no puedo comer ni quesos ni huevos.” ( I had chest pains and I though that I may have had a cardiac arrest because I have high cholesterol and I can’t eat cheese nor eggs.)
#1“¡Qué lástima! ….con lo ricos que están.” (What a pity! They are so delicious)
Then a third one joins the conversation;
#3 “Pues a mí me ha dicho mi médico que no fume tanto, pero yo creo que son las aceitunas que me hacen daño …porque el abuelo de un colega mio en el pueblo fumaba mucho y se murió en un accidente de coche a la temprana edad de 98″ (My doctor told me not to smoke so much, but I believe it is the olives that don’t suit me right ..because I have a colleague whose grandfather smoked a lot and he died in a car accident at the early age of 98.)
#1 “¡Pobrecillo!” (Poor thing!)
#2 “¿Cómo se llamaba?” (What was his name?)
#3¿Yo o el abuelo de mi colega?” (My name or my colleague’s grandfather?)
#1 “El abuelo.” (The grandfather.)
#3 “Don Javier de las Costas Figuerín. ¿Porqué lo pregunta?” (His name was Javier de las Costas Figuerín, why do you ask?)
#2 “No, por nada. Es que yo conocía a uno en Villa Tornijas que se murió los 98 también.” (No particular reason. I knew a fella from Villa Tornijas who also died at 98.)
#1 “Figuerín es nombre Vasco ¿Verdad?” (Figuerín is a Basque name, true?)
(Loudspeaker) “ERNESTO JAVIER DE LA PEÑA RUÍZ, PASE A LA SÁLA #4. (Ernesto Javier de la Peña Ruiz go to room #4)
#5 “Creo que es Catalán.” (I think it is Catalonian)
#2 ¡¡No mujer!! ¡Cómo va a ser Catalán! …Figuerín ¡siempre ha sido Vasco! (No! How could it be Catalonian! …Figuerín has always been a Basque name)
#3 “Pues Don Javier era Andaluz.” (Oh yeah, well Mr. Javier was from Andalusia.)
#2 “¿Y qué me dice usted? ¿Qué por ser Andaluz ya tiene que ser Moro el nombre?” (What are you trying to tell me? That just because he was from Andalusia his name had to be Moorish?)
#6 ” ¡Cuidao! ¡Cuidao! Que la gente Andalusa sómo ¡lo mejorsito de España!” (Watch what you say! Watch what you say! We, the people of Andalusia, are the best Spain has to offer!)
#7 “Olé!” (Bravo!)
(Loudspeaker) “LUZ EUGENÍA BORTERO MALGREÑO, PASE A LA NÚMERO 8.” (Luz Eugenia Malgreño go to room #8.)
#1 “Pues fumar no puede ser muy bueno cuando tantos médicos dicen que es malo.” (Smoking can’t be good when so many doctors say it’s bad.)
#4 ” ¿Sabe alguién si me han llamado por el altavoz? (Does anyone know who they just called on the loudspeaker?)
#7 “Acaban de llamar a Luz Eugenía Bortero Malgreño a la sála número 3.” (They just called Luz Eugenia Bortero Malgreño to pass on to room #3)
#1 “Malgreño es Gallego.” (Malgreño is a Galician name.)
#6 “Hay que vé lo mucho que tarda uno aca esperando …¡osú! méno mal que no me estoy muriendo, sino ya estaría yo muerta …y léjos de mi Andalusia quería.” (Incredible how long we have to wait …good that I’m not dying, because I’d already be dead …and so far from my beloved Andalucía!)
(Loudspeaker) “ESTÉR BEGOÑA PERÉZ SALTONINIFINI PASE A LA SÁLA #7.” (Esther Begoña Perez Saltoninifini go to room #7.)
#3 “Huy, ese es por lo menos de Italia.” (Wow, that one is at least Italian.)
#5 “Siciliano.” (Sicilian.)
#3 “Y usted ¿Cómo lo sabe? (How do you know?)
#5 “….porque tengo un primo segundo que está casado con una chica que era vecina de uno que vivio en Palermo un tiempo …. y lo sé.” (…because I have a second cousin that’s married to a girl that used to be the neighbor of a guy who once lived in Palermo …and I know.)
#3¿Y el apellido Tsipopolous?” (What about the name Tsipopolous?)
#5 “También Siciliano.” (It’s also Sicilian.)
#2 ¿Y qué le pasa a usted …porqué ha venido a urgencias usted hoy? (And what happened to you? …why are you in the emergency room today?)
#6Naa.” (Nothing.)
#1,2,3,4,y 5 “¡Nada!” (Nothing!)
#6 “Ej-que mi marío se ha clavao un palillo en la lengua tratando de pelar un boquerón con lo diente.” (My husband accidentally stabbed his tongue with a toothpick while he was trying to peel an anchovy with his teeth.)
#3 “Pero si el boquerón no se pela …se come así enterito.” (No one peels anchovies …you have to eat them whole.)
#1 “Claro!” (Of course!)
(Loudspeaker) “HERMENEGILDO MIGUÉL SORIA HUARTAPENAS PASE A LA SÁLA #1.” (Hermenegildo Miguel Soria Huartapenas go to room #1.)
#6 “No ej-que mi marío siempre ha sio muy espesial.” (You see, my husband has always been a very special person.)
#8 “A mi gata tampoco le gusta la piel del boquerón.” (My cat also won’t eat anchovies unless they are peeled.)
#4 “A mi perro tampoco …¡que gracia!” (That’s funny …my dog won’t either!)
#6 “¡Vaya grasia, y qué vaya grasia! Comparando a mi marío con un shucho y un gato …¡no te jode!.” (That’s funny! That’s funny! Are you comparing my husband to a mutt and a cat? ….damn you!)
#7 “¿Qué le pasa a ese señor con la camisa rota?” (What’s wrong with the guy with the torn shirt?)
#8 “Ese ya estaba aquí cuando llegué yo.” (He was already here when I got here.)
#7 “Pues tiene muy mala pinta.” (He doesn’t look good.)
#2 “Igual se está muriendo.” (Maybe he’s dying.)
#8 “No diga usted eso …que parece Nostradamus.” (Don’t say that …you sound like Nostradamus.)
#1 “Yo sabía que no se iba acabar el mundo ..¡ese Paco Rabanne es la leche! asustando a todos los franchutes.” (I knew the world wasn’t going to end. Paco Rabanne is something else! He scared all the Frenchies.)
#6 “¡Se lo meresen! A mí una ves me quitó un aparcamiento un Fransés …y eso que yo puse el intermitente.” (They deserve it! A French man once took a parking space from me.)
#9 “Pues nunca se sabe …mire usted, quien me iba a decir a mí que se me iba a hinchar una oreja y que estaría yo aquí con la oreja hinchada en la sala de urgecias.” (Well, you never know …look, who was going to tell me that one of my ears was going to swell up and that I would be here in the emergency room with a big swollen ear)
#4¿Y qué le ha pasado a la oreja?” (What happened to your ear?)
#10 “Eso mismo me preguntaba yo.” (I was asking myself the same question.)
#6 “Seguro que le ha causao una infeccion ese arete de hojalata que lleva puesto.” (I bet it’s an infection caused by those cheap earring you are wearing.)
#9 “¡Hojalata ni leches! …Estos son de plata fina que me los dio mi madre, en paz descanse, cuando yo hize la primera comunión.” (Cheap! They aren’t not cheap!! They are of the finest silver and were given to me by my mother when I did my first communion.)
#3 “Son muy bonitos.” (They are very pretty.)
#9 “Gracias.” (Thank you.)
#6 “Ja, plata fina …eso parese más oro del Moro.” (Ha! Finest silver …it looks more like shoddy-wear.)
#1 “Mi nieto acaba de hacer la comunión en Mayo …es un cielo de niño…” (My grandson just did his first communion in May …he is a wonderful child…)
#10 “Mi hija, la mayor, hará la comunión el año que viene.” (My oldest daughter will do her first communion next year.)
#7¿Qué edad tiene el niño?” (How old is your grandson?)
#3 “Sigo diciendo que son las aceitunas que me hacen daño.” (I still think it’s the olives that don’t settle well with me.)
#1 “Ocho, pero está muy alto.” (He’s 8, but he’s really tall.)
#4 “A mí me sientan mal las berenjenas.” (It’s eggplants that don’t settle well with me.)
#8 “Que casualidad, a mi hermana también.” (What a coincidence, my brother has the same problem.)
#2 “El mundo es un pañuelo!” (It’s a small world!)
………….and the exchange of conversations go on forever and ever as the patients go in and out of the emergency room.
It’s difficult not to laugh while these conversations entertain you and while all those abanicos (fans) keep opening and closing.
Before you know it, the five-hour wait goes by without you taking notice.
Learn more about Roxana:
Roxana Urrutia is a first-generation American, born to a Spanish mother and Chilean father.
She grew up between Spain and the United States, knowing what it was like to not speak English and being treated like an immigrant, and then returning to Spain only to be considered “la Americana.”
Since 1999 she has lived in Madrid and makes her living planning events and conferences.

I used to think that I didn’t fit in either country, now I realize they are both my home.

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