After the meal, the lovely (and untranslatable?) ‘sobremesa’

Enlace al español/Link here for Spanish

Dear reader,

Imagine a tasty and pleasant meal shared with friends, or at a family reunion.  Dessert is finished.  Now comes coffee, or perhaps cordials… maybe some other confection… and more coffee… And all the while, the conversation rolls on, the stories, the jokes.

Spanish has a term for it: la sobremesa, when the talk and the laughter are just more food and drink.

Ya finalizada la comida, viene esa larga sesión que puede ser amenizada con más postre, vino o café... pero donde el plato fuerte siempre es la conversación: la (al inglés casi intraducible) sobremesa.

After the meal, that long session of coffee, or tea, or wine, or dessert, or a combination of these… but conversation as the main dish. It’s the ‘sobremesa’ so important in Spanish/Latin American culture… and virtually untranslatable into English.

How to translate this lovely, expressive word into English?

That’s quite a puzzle, because sobremesa simply has no exact equivalent in English—not even a fairly close one.

The attempts at translation we’ve seen (“table talk,” “after-dinner conversation,” and “sitting on after a meal,” among others) describe it, barely. And, really, la sobremesa is more than any of those things!

But, phrases like these may be the best we have.  Sometimes that’s how we translate, by describing, even if the result is inexact and clumsy.

At other times, the foreign word is used directly.  It typically happens when the translator has the need, or luxury, of emphasizing how different the other culture is: this is the case of many novels and anthropological accounts.

It’s an intriguing question, why one language lacks a word for something another names. Clearly, English speakers have “sobremesas,” though likely less frequent and less lengthy.  Our sense is that it doesn’t quite have enough importance, in this culture, to have “rated” being given a name.

¡Buenas palabras!


Copyright 2013 Pablo Julián Davis. All rights reserved.


About Pablo Julián Davis
Pablo Julián Davis, PhD, ATA Certified Translator (Engl>Span) and Supreme Court of Tennessee Certified Interpreter (EnglSpan), offers world-class Spanish/English language services including translation, interpreting, copywriting, and editing in both languages. His specialties are legal, business, medical, and humanities/education; he has wide experience in other fields as well. Also offered: interactive and transformative cultural-awareness training for companies, non-profits, communities, government agencies, institutions of faith, and other audiences. (See just a small sampling of testimonials from happy and satisfied clients: The ability to move effectively from language to language - which necessarily also means moving between cultures - has likely never been at a greater premium than it is in today's world. That ability is what we mean by Interfluency TM.

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