One of the first things an American living in Spain must adjust to is an entirely different concept of time. Meals are later (lunch around 2 or 3 o’clock and dinner at 9 or 10), and nearly all small businesses shut down from between about 1 and 5 pm for siesta.
Meals in Spain can last much longer than in the U.S., especially if taken at a restaurant. Two hours would not be an unusual amount of time to spend in a bar for lunch or dinner as drinks and tapas continue to be served and conversation flows freely. Service is often slow by American standards, the food coming only as fast as delicious Iberian pork or patatas bravas can be cooked.
At first, I found this practice unnerving. I would catch myself thinking about all I had to do, and my patience would grow thin. Then, I would look around and realize that none of the Spaniards were bothered by this. For them, the practice of being present together was the most important thing, not how fast you could get in, out, and back to work.
The practice of siesta was also an adjustment for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love it and I took naps before coming to Spain. What threw me off was how my host parents also join in on this practice after arriving home from work and having lunch. They usually nap for a solid hour or so and ease back into their day with a cup of coffee and a small sweet. At first this struck me as laziness because it was not something that was a part of my culture. As I reflected further, however, I had to admit that my host parents are some of the hardest working people I have met. They go to work very early and flurry around the house cooking and cleaning when they are home. But between the hours of about 4 and 5, they shut down to just rest. They recognize that taking time to recharge oneself is vital.
While I understand that in the return to American life, I can’t necessarily carve out time for siesta every day, I can take some of the principles I have learned here in Spain into the rest of my life. I can put relationships first, not an over-packed schedule. I can also remember that there should be no guilt in incorporating a bit of rest time into a busy day. These are just a couple of the many lessons I have learned in Spain this semester and I look forward to many more!