The Galician's dilemma
By Jacobo Tarrío
May 17, 2015

Today’s the day that commemorates Galician literature, the “Día das Letras Galegas”, so it’s obviously time to write about more Galician weird stuff. This is something you’ll encounter if you share a meal with Galicians.

Let’s first set the scene: you are having lunch, or perhaps dinner, in Galicia, with Galicians. As Galicians are wont to do, multiple serving trays are brought to the table, and everybody takes from them whatever they’d like to eat. After a couple of hours, the table is full of serving trays, all of which have one morsel left. Around the table, many Galicians talk and joke, trying to appear nonchalant while they eye the left-over portions of food greedily, obviously wanting to eat them. Yet they never touch them.

This situation is called “a vergoña do galego”, which can be translated literally as “the Galician’s shame”, but I think a better translation would be “the Galician’s dilemma”. It goes like this:

Initially, the serving trays are full of food, and they circulate around the table so everyone can take a portion commensurate to how hungry they are, how much they like that particular food, and now many other trays full of food they expect to see during the meal. At the end of the first round, anyone who wants seconds can just call for a tray and serve themselves. However, as the amount of food in each tray diminishes, a secondary consideration starts to take hold: “what if someone else wants this food too?” So, when they go for seconds, or thirds, people will usually serve themselves less food than they’d actually like, so that there’s still enough for someone else who may want it.

This situation reaches its logical conclusion when there’s only one portion left in the serving tray. At this point, the desire to eat the food is less powerful than the dread of depriving someone else from eating that morsel. As a result, multiple trays will be on the table, each one displaying a single morsel of food that somebody wants to eat and nobody dares to touch. This situation often reach ridiculous levels, where you could have trenchers with only one solitary slice of octopus, or dishes displaying one piece of raxo and one potato chip.

Galicians recognize and acknowledge this phenomenon, so they’ve developed some coping strategies. For example, at a restaurant, when a waiter needs to remove the serving trays, they’ll just choose one of the diners and have a conversation like this:

“How did you like the octopus?"
“Ah, it was wonderful."
“So you won’t mind finishing it up for me, I need to take the trencher away.” (Removes last slice of octopus from trencher, puts it into Galician’s plate, takes trencher away.)

At this point the dilemma is solved, because it was the waiter, not you, who put the food in your plate. What can you do about it? Nothing, of course. May as well just eat it.

Another solution to the dilemma involves having the presence of someone who is not Galician. Non-Galicians are exempted from the dilemma, and not only are they allowed to take the last morsel without fear of repercussion, they will actually be encouraged to.

“Ah, only one portion of empanada left!"
“Yes, this is the Galician’s dilemma.” (Explanation of the dilemma follows.)
“But you are not Galician, so it doesn’t affect you, so just take it!”

Savvy non-Galicians may even just go ahead unprompted and cut the Gordian knot of the Galician dilemma:

“Is this the last prawn?"
“Yes, it is."
“Oh well, I’m not Galician, so…” (Takes it.)

Galicians being cognizant of the dilemma, they won’t resent the person taking the last portion, and may even thank them for it.

When there are no non-Galicians around, the situation can require a bit of negotiation and diplomacy:

“So, why is there a Padrón pepper left?"
“The Galician’s dilemma!"
“I know, but it needs to go."
“You can take it if you want it."
“Don’t be absurd! It’s clearly saying your name.”

Etc., etc.

Other stories about “Web personal (2008-2015)”, “Galicia”.
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