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Tapas for the Timid or How not to miss the fun in Andalucia

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I would appreciate some guidance for a positive tapas experience. Basic questions like does the establishment keep track of what is ordered or is that up to the customer? Do you pay as you go or pay before leaving? Tapas that are free with a drink purchase, does that really happen?

I haven't yet seen the book with audio CD, "Tapas for Dummies" but maybe it's out there ;;)

We have been to Spain twice and never really gotten into tapas dining because it seemed so chaotic and at time unwelcoming. No orderly lines formed at the counters, people just standing around, how do they keep track of what food you order, how do you order what you want when you have only a rudimental understanding of Spanish, does tapas dining work best if you have a "pushy" personality? I don't, I still travel with much of my Minnesota Nice upbringing ;;)

Is there a typical approach to tapas dining or does it vary and how do nonsavvy tourists join in? Are plates on the counter there for the taking or is it just for display? You would think at my mature age I wouldn't be stressed about the tapas culture in Spain but I don't think it's anything like the trendy places near us where we enjoy our "small plates".

This may seem a naive question to some but I'm hoping for mostly helpful comments in order to enjoy the complete Andalucia dining experience. Thanks, Deborah

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