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.
¡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.
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.