It’s a rainy Saturday, and thus I have found myself FINALLY with time to sit down and write a bit. Forgive me for the long absence (again)!
It has been so fascinating learning about and experiencing Spanish culture during the time that I have been here…sampling the food and wine; hearing new music; learning about the country’s history, its many unique regions and their respective cultures, family roles and norms, the environments in the workplace and in schools, etc., but one of my favorite things has been simply observing the way people in Spain live their normal, day-to-day lives.
While living abroad, you often find yourself comparing, consciously or unconsciously, the country where you’re from to the one you’re in. Depending on your feelings about both countries, this can be a wonderfully mind-opening and thought-provoking experience, or it can just make you yearn for/despise one country or the other. For me, it’s been interesting–I’ve had my eyes opened to a lot of the flaws of my own country and ways we could improve life for our people, but I’m still proud of some things we do perhaps better, but at least differently, than they do here.
That said, among the many things I love about the Spanish people, their remarkable ability to “linger” is one of my favorites. Coming from a country of fast-paced, lunch-at-your-desk/in-the-car/as-you-walk/etc, coffee in your to-go cup, there’s-a-drive-through-for-anything, run-run-run culture, Spain was a lovely change of pace. While I get that “moderation is key,” and there are times when this impressive talent might be the source of some problems (and certainly frustration to those who aren’t used to it), we Americans have a thing or two to learn from the Spanish about slowing down and enjoying things.
To me, an ubiquitous image in the U.S. is that of someone sipping from a “to-go” coffee cup. Now, it is true that I don’t live in Madrid or Barcelona or another bustling metropolis of Spain, so if you do, I’d love to hear if this phenomenon is the same there. However, here one simply does not see ANYONE drinking their coffee anywhere but at a table in cafe (or on la terrazza, more likely) or in their home or basically anywhere but “on the run.” It’s just not done. Coffee is for drinking, enjoying, lingering over…usually while having good conversation or at LEAST reading the morning paper. I recently found out that to-go cups (“para llevar” in Spanish) do, in fact, exist, but NO ONE uses them. I got a fair amount of stares when I grabbed a quick café solo “para llevar” on my way to work one morning and have never done so again since. Same goes for eating an apple or a cereal bar while I´m walking somewhere. Super normal in the U.S., evidently very strange here.
But the lingering-mania doesn’t stop there. It happens over tapas (quite an accomplishment, as these don’t really take long to devour), over a glass of wine, over ice cream, over chocolate con churros, certainly over meals (I’ll get to that in a sec) even over a Coke! (That one is strange on my part. To me, the most common mental image I have of drinking a soft drink is in a paper fast-food cup with a plastic lid, or in a resealable plastic bottle at a desk or in the car, not opened fresh from a glass bottle and poured over ice into a glass-made-of-actual-glass, to be enjoyed by itself or with a small dish of potato chips, as is often how its served here).
Don’t get me going on their lingering-over-meal abilities. Whether its a barbacoa (BBQ), a multi-course sit down meal (which are definitely more common than in the U.S., I think), or even snacks brought to the workplace celebrate a colleague’s birthday, it is never an eat-and-go affair. You sit. You talk. You enjoy the food. You comment on the the excellent ability of the chef. You actually TASTE the food (as opposed to the way some Americans wolf things down). You enjoy some wine (I would say in 8 of 10 meals, for adults of course, wine makes an appearance. Ok maybe I’m exaggerating, but it seems that way). You have dessert or coffee. Usually both. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing several traditional Spanish dinners with my colleagues at one of the schools where I teach, and I delightedly discovered the way a “simple” dinner unfolds: wine and bread or a bit of something small; small appetizer/tapa type things—sometimes vegetables, other times complicated, but snack-sized creations; the “primer plato” of light-ish fare, the “segundo plato” of usually a meat or fish with a few vegetables; a dessert; a shot of liquor or a small cocktail (I once lucked out with a fruity, spiked sorbet); and finally, coffee (which one certainly needs after all that food). And that’s just the food! The conversation continues far longer than the food lasts, which is quite a while. Goodbyes (and the general deciding-to-leave/leaving process) even are a full, drawn-out affair.
While I’ll admit I’ve had a moment or two of impatience with this practice on occasion, as a rule, I have to subscribe to this way of doing things over the more concise, time-effective American way. We need this reminder more often. We´re too far gone it seems to even “stop and smell the roses.” Baby steps…How about “stop and taste that apple,” or “stop and enjoy your coffee”? (Maybe we would be more cognizant of what we’d eat, then, and not eat so much, haha).
This is a lot of rambling on a very trivial detail, but to me, this little characteristic of Spanish culture is a very telling one. It speaks to their ability to drink in the moment, to truly appreciate food and drink; and to really savor time with the people around them. We could all take a leaf from their book.
Until next time, amigos–