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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Spanish expression of the day: ‘Quien fue a Sevilla, perdió su silla’

To welcome the return of The Local’s Spanish word or expression of the day, we bring you one of the most quintessentially Spanish sayings out there. What’s all this about going to Seville and losing your chair?

quien fue a sevilla perdió su silla
What do Spaniards mean when they say this expression about losing your seat and going to Seville? Photo: Jose Manuel Viloria Martin/Unsplash

Literally translated as “He/she who goes to Seville, loses their chair”, this rhyming expression in Spanish is used in a similar way to the lesser-known English saying ‘move your feet, lose your seat’.

It can be used when indeed you get up from your seat and go somewhere for a moment (not necessarily Seville) only to find it’s been taken when you get back. 

The line Quien fue a Sevilla, perdió su silla or El/La que fue a Sevilla, perdió su silla will most likely be uttered by the person who has taken the seat, almost as if it were a form of justification.

There’s also a broader use of this Spanish expression to refer to a situation where someone’s absence can have negative consequences, similar to ‘you snooze, you lose’ or ‘finders, keepers’ in English.

Examples:

¡Oye, ese es mi sitio! Sólo me he levantado para ir al baño

Hey, that’s my seat! I only got up to go to the toilet

¡Ah, se siente! El que fue a Sevilla, perdió su silla. 

Tough! Move your feet, lose your seat.

Or

Me voy de vacaciones dos semanas y le dan el ascenso a Juan.

I go on holiday for two weeks and they give the promotion to Juan.

¡Así es la vida! Quien fue a Sevilla, perdió su silla.

That’s life! You snooze, you lose.

So how did Spaniards come up with such a colourful geographical expression?

According to Spain’s Cervantes language institute, during the reign of King Enrique IV of Castile (1454-1474), the role of archbishop of Santiago de Compostela was granted to a nephew of the Archbishop of Seville, both called Alonso de Fonseca. 

But as the Galician city was going through tumultuous times, the younger Fonseca asked his uncle to swap roles with him, so that he could return to peaceful Seville and take over as the main religious head in the Andalusian capital while the problems up north were solved. 

Fonseca senior agreed to this, but once it was time to return, his nephew refused to head back to Santiago or give up his role as Seville’s archbishop, leading to some of the usual medieval bloodshed. 

And that is the origin of the expression “He/she who goes to Seville, loses their chair”, although in fact it should be the person who goes to Santiago, not Seville. Then again, that doesn’t rhyme in Spanish. 

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SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Spanish Word of the Day: ‘Chiringuito’

Here’s one of the most summer-themed Spanish words out there, so you need to add it to your vocab. 

Spanish Word of the Day: 'Chiringuito'

When Spaniards think of summer, they often picture vacaciones (holidays), sol y playa (sun and beach) and tinto de verano (red wine mixed with soda/lemonade and ice – don’t diss it until you’ve tried it). 

And the place where they’re most likely to enjoy all these placeres del verano (summer pleasures) is at a chiringuito

Un chiringuito is essentially a beach bar. 

They’re usually small establishments that serve drinks and food to beachgoers during the sweltering summer months, meaning that many don’t open for the rest of the year. 

You’ll get the more rough and ready ones, wooden huts with dried out palm leaves providing shade as the radio blasts los éxitos del verano (the summer hits), to the more refined chiringuitos that are essentially like upmarket beachside gastrobars serving up plates of sardines as if they were haute cuisine. 

The word chiringuito (pronounced chee-reeng-gee-toh, the u in silent) was brought to Spain by los Indianos, the name given to Spaniards who emigrated to South and Central America in the 19th and 20th centuries and then returned to Spain, often with a lot more money under their belt. 

They would order a chiringuito when they wanted un café, a word used by Cubans who worked on sugar plantations to refer to how the coffee they made would filter through a stocking squirted out like a stream (chorro or chiringo).

The first beach kiosk to be dubbed a chiringuito was in 1949 in the coastal Catalan town of Sitges, where many wealthy Indianos settled. 

Then came the hippie movement in the sixties, the explosion of tourism in Spain and the hoards of beachgoers needing refreshing drinks to get some respite from the sun.

In 1983, chiringuito made it into the Spanish dictionary and in 1988 French pop singer Georgie Dann hit the charts with El Chiringuito.

These simple wooden beach huts were now officially part of Spanish culture.

But chiringuito has another meaning in Spain which pays heed to the informal nature of these establishments. 

Nowadays, chiringuito is often used to refer to a shady business, a government department born from cronyism, a bunch of cowboys basically.

Headline in Spanish right-wing news website OK Diario reads “Sánchez increased shady public enterprises (chiringuitos) by 10 percent as GDP plummeted due to the coronavirus”.

We certainly know what kind of chiringuito we prefer.

There’s also the expression “cerrar el chiringuito”, which means to finish a duty and leave.

Examples:

Vamos a tomar unas cañas y un pescaito al chiringuito.

Let’s go and have some beers and some fish at the beach bar. 

Si quieres mantener tus inversiones a salvo has de alejarte todo lo lejos que puedas de lo que se conoce como chiringuito financiero.

If you want to keep your investments safe you have to get away as far as you can from shady companies.

Ya es tarde, habrá que pensar en cerrar el chiringuito e irse a casa.

It’s late, time to finish work and go home.

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