Showing Up

Pimientos del Padron Last night, the learning technologies department at UOC held a going away party for Alistair, another HCI research intern who’s leaving this week to spend the next 6 months at Georgia Tech’s campus in Lorraine, France.

To be honest, I was a little anxious about it. The truth is, I’d be a little anxious about any work party after just 5 days on the job, but given the massive language divide between my co-workers and me, I knew this one would be mas difícil. Not going wasn't an option, though I seriously considered it more than once.

But I went.

First, a few cultural notes for anyone who, like me, has attended her share of work happy hours. Sure, there was the saltine-eating contest that escalated into the onion-eating contest, and the holiday party at Trois that ended, well, let’s just say it ended poorly. But generally speaking, work events – particularly those obligatory affairs hosted for short-timers whose names you can’t always remember – they are usually, in a word, well, stiff.

From the very start, this event is different. Instead of being hosted at a mediocre bar in close proximity to the office, the location is across town, a full 30 minutes and 2 metro transfers away, at a restaurant called La Esquinica, which is rumored to have the best tapas in the city. I arrive around 7:30 and order my first Estrella as I sit down to a handful of smiling co-workers with an anxious but happy-sounding “Hola!” By 8:00, additional tables and chairs have been added and 19 people are crammed together in a dark corner of the bar. With no menus, and no discussion among the group, a few people start calling out things to our camarero and a few minutes later the table is crowded with bottles of vino joven (a young, sweet white wine that must be shaken before it’s poured) and plates and plates of tapas: sautéed champiñones (mushrooms), octopus, tigres (stuffed mussels), pimientos del padron (fried green peppers), morcilla (sausage) and patatas bravas (Barcelona’s famously fried potatoes with spicy sauce).

Plates and bottles are feverishly passing in both directions. There are no individual plates – just the passing tapas and 19 hungry forks, all dancing together in harmonious chaos as the table grows increasingly loud and boisterous. It isn’t like work at all; it’s like familia.

The conversation is lively and, as David explains, largely focused on “television movies”, which I later discover include Knight Rider, The A Team and The Hulk. Thanks to the sweet eagerness of those around me, I manage to chat a bit and gratefully learn a few new words in the process. Maria makes me laugh out loud when she points to me and excitedly announces to everyone in broken Inglés: “I love her accent! It is like…the sitcoms! It is like…How I Met Your Mother!”

And so that’s that. I guess sometimes it pays just to show up. When we finally head out, just after 10:00, there is a huge line outside waiting to get into La Esquinica. I head back to the metro, buzzing from my first Tuesday night out in Barcelona.