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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 HABITS

¡Salud! The different ways to say cheers in Spanish

You may be familiar with the basic way Spaniards say ‘cheers’, but there are other Spanish expressions and habits associated with clinking glasses and making a toast that you’ll be happy to learn.

¡Salud! The different ways to say cheers in Spanish

Life in Spain comes with plenty of get-togethers and celebrations, and although alcoholic excesses are not generally part of the Spanish culture, booze will be a part of almost all social occurrences.

If you’re a foreigner who’s made Spain their new home, it’s therefore important to familiarise yourself with the language and idiosyncrasies that are part of such occasions.

Let’s start with the word for a toast, in the sense of honouring someone or something with a drink.

The noun for this is un brindis, which apparently originally comes from the German ‘bring dirs’, meaning ‘bring thee’ (as in, I’ll ‘bring thee’ a drink, a speech, etc.). There’s also the verb brindar, which means to toast.

So if you want to give a toast in Spanish, you should start off by saying me gustaría proponer un brindis por… or me gustaría brindar por… (I’d like to make a toast for) and once you’ve finished your speech you should raise your glass and for example say ¡Por los novios! (for the newlyweds) or ¡Por Juan! (for Juan!).

When it comes to clinking the glasses, Spaniards will often use the interjection chinchín, an onomatopoeia which pays heed to the sound, but it’s really the same as saying cheers.

The most common word used in Spanish to say cheers is ¡Salud!, which means ‘health’, in the same way as the French say santé and the Germans gesondheid. Spaniards may also direct their toast specifically at the person they’re drinking with by saying ¡A tu salud! (To your health!). 

You may be happy to learn that Spaniards don’t take the custom of looking into the other person’s eyes while clinking glasses or drinking quite so seriously as in other European countries, where the failure to do so carries the penalty of seven years of bad sex (ouch!).

A quick glance at the person you’re cheering with will go down well, however, as direct eye contact is the standard in social situations in Spain.

READ ALSO: Why does the birthday person pay for everyone’s food and drinks in Spain?

What is considered to bring bad luck in the bedroom is toasting with a non-alcoholic drink in Spain, so consider yourself warned.

Catalans have an interesting version of the Spanish cheers – ¡salut i força al canut! – which translates to ‘Cheers and strength to the purse’ in order to wish health and wealth, although some people wrongly assume it’s meant to wish people good virility.

While we’re on the subject, there is a very common cheering expression used in Spanish to do with rumpy pumpy.

After cheering, whether by raising a glass or clicking glasses, many Spaniards will then take their glass and quickly place it down on the table before lifting it again to take a swig.

Bemused foreigners will then be reminded that el que no apoya, no folla, ‘the one who doesn’t place it (the glass) down, doesn’t have sex’.

Does it make it any sense? Nope, but it does get a few laughs, and before long you’ll find yourself quickly tapping the base of your drink against the table through force of habit.

Another interesting habit that foreigners in Spain tend to find amusing is when a group of friends in a circle move their glasses in four different directions whilst saying ¡Arriba, abajo, al centro y para dentro!, which means ‘up, down, to the centre and inside’, the latter being when you drink.

So there you have it, ¡Salud a todos! (Cheers to everyone!)

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