Victoria, my Spanish host mother, pushed a stool up to the kitchen counter for me. She’d laid out a box of what looked like Spanish-knockoff chocolate Rice Krispies, rectangular semi-sweet biscuits with “TOSTADOS” printed on the front, a bag of pre-toasted mini slices of bread, raspberry jam, a box of orange juice, a plastic-wrapped pair of donut sticks, and a giant container of Colacao (a ridiculously popular chocolate drink powder).
She smiled while I sat at the stool and stared dumbly at the food.
“Spanish breakfast usually consists of toast and coffee,” my handbook had said.
I picked up the knife and put it back down again. Slid the napkin out from underneath the silverware and put it on the other side of my plate. Slowly uncapped the jam.
“Take whatever you like,” Victoria said. “I’ll get your milk.”
I tentatively took a piece of pre-toasted bread from the bag. It was hard, thin, and about the size of a wallet. Crumbs fell onto my lap. I grimaced and wished that Spanish people put their napkins on their laps like in America.
The microwave beeped and Victoria put a gigantic cup of milk on the saucer in front of me, approximately the size of a large salad bowl.
“I can’t drink coffee because of my blood pressure,” she said. “If you want coffee I can buy some, but all I have right now is this.”
She handed me a packet of decaf coffee mix.
“Thank you very much,” I said. Somewhere around my 1000th “thank you,” since moving into her apartment, I’d started bowing like the Chinese students at my school every time I said it.
Victoria went to the living room and I examined the coffee mix. I’d slept three hours in the past two days, and had been secretly hoping for Spanish coffee to help me survive my 9AM Spanish placement test. Decaf probably wouldn’t do the job, and even though the Spanish put a lot of milk in their coffee, something told me they didn’t make it by dumping a handful of powder in a massive mug of milk with no water.
I examined my other options for the titanic cup in front of me, then glanced around to make sure Victoria wasn’t watching. Was it for cereal? Did the Spanish eat cereal in mugs?
I touched the cup and realized it was steaming hot.
Now I really had no clue what I was supposed to do with the bucket of hot milk she’d put in front of me. Unless I wanted boiled cereal, I had to choose something else. I picked up the Colacao container and read the back, gleaning that I was supposed to mix 1-2 spoonfuls with “un poco” milk, i.e. not an entire bowl.
I looked at the clock and realized I had five minutes to eat before I had to leave for my test.
Screw it, I thought, dumping three spoonfuls of Colacao into my milk.
Victoria walked back into the kitchen as soon as I took a sip of my bowl of breakfast hot chocolate.
“Do you like it?”
“Yes,” I said, smiling and staring into the cup, “thank you. But… what is the milk for? Is it for cereal?”
“It’s for whatever you want,” Victoria said.
“Yes, but what was your intention? Why is it hot?”
“Do you not like it hot?”
“No, no, está bien. I just don’t understand what it’s for.”
“It’s so it mixes well with the Colacao.”
I took another sip, realizing that I needed more words for “okay” in Spanish. I said “Vale” approximately 100 times per day.
“If you like café instead, I can get it,” Victoria said. “Some of the other girls really liked coffee. Do you?”
“Well,” I said, “actually, yes.”
“Vale,” she said, clapping her hands together and smiling.
I set down the hot chocolate, thinking for the first time that things here were going to be okay.