Aquí siempre es a buen tiempo / cuando es hora de comer / porque así nos enseñaron / y lo tenemos por ley / donde comen dos seguro / se pueden sentar tres…*
– Catholic Hymn
So what is the deal with Buen Provecho and A Buen Tiempo?
Both are said at mealtimes, and yet are very distinct in their wishes – the two should never be muddled.
Buen Provecho is equivalent to the French Bon Appétit or the Italian Buon Appetito. If someone says Buen Provecho at the commencement of a meal, it is their hope that you enjoy your food and digest it well. (I like to think that a well-timed Buen Provecho will also ward off any bouts of stomach upset that may arise from the food about to be eaten, but that’s just me.)
A Buen Tiempo, on the other hand, is entirely different. These words are expressed by those already eating or about to eat, to someone who has arrived unexpectedly (or uninvited) to the table. A Buen Tiempo says, “You’re just in time! Join us! There’s plenty for everyone!” And it doesn’t matter what it is that’s being eaten; whether it is lobster or a fried egg, the invitation is uttered sincerely and in almost joyous fashion. A common error is to use it when you’re the one interrupting a meal. This is presumptuous. As the interrupter, you should wait for your A Buen Tiempo (which will inevitably come). You may decline with a simple Buen Provecho.
People are often surprised by the generous and hospitable nature of the Dominican people and the above is a definite example of this. Western culture is often portrayed as superior, but is many times lacking. In my house, growing up, if someone came to the door during supper you could count on my mother to say, “Oh NO! Who on EARTH is THAT?” (The complete opposite of A Buen Tiempo.) And my usual standard pre-meal wish has disintegrated to a frazzled “Sit DOWN!” I’m sure this does nothing to aid digestion…
*Here is always the right time / when it’s mealtime / we were taught so / and so it’s law / where two can eat / so can three.
Jill, a member of our original team (where we knew her as Aunt Jane), and contributor to our book, is Canadian, mom to two Canadian-Dominican boys and resided in the Dominican Republic for several years.