I originally came to Barcelona as an au-pair. My host family lived in the Catalan village of Cabrils, in North-East Spain. Arriving jet-lagged and starved to my new home, I was shocked to find that dinner time wasn’t until 9:30pm. Then, instead of dinner being the heartiest meal as in the States, it was light and Mediterranean offering vegetables and seafood.
Fine, but how will I survive in between lunch and dinner? The typical Spanish lunch can last up to 2 hours starting anywhere between 1 and 3pm, although many modern Spaniards are cutting their lunch in half to avoid staying at the office until 8 or 9pm). I can satisfy my appetite with a “merienda” or snack as we would say, normally taken around 5 or 6pm, which can include anything from a ham and cheese sandwich to a chocolate–filled croissant.
But it’s not only meal times that run on a different schedule, work timetables over here are altered considerably as well. It isn’t a fixed 9 to 5 schedule in Spain. For example, the bank employees to whom I teach English normally arrive to work around 7:30 or 8am. Most won’t call it a night until 12 hours later. They work longer hours but take more breaks. And sure there are important meetings where you can’t show up late, but the general definition of punctuality as I knew it in the States is much more lenient over here. Consequently, you feel less pressure and possibly, less stress. Fully immersed into the Spanish timetable, three out of five weeknights you’ll find me teaching dance classes until 10pm. Some of these nights I´m not able to have dinner until 11:30pm. Absurd for my fellow North Americans but now quite normal for me.
Although I’ve gotten accustomed to the contrast in meal times and have found myself quite acclimated to the late work hours, I still haven’t been able to fully adapt to the unique Barcelona nightlife. Despite the fact that I came to be of legal age in the hardest-partying city in the USA, fabulous Las Vegas, my first encounters going out here in Barcelona were rather challenging.
First off, you must find a way to preoccupy yourself until about 10:30 or 11pm. It’s tricky though because on a tired day, you’re tempted to take a nap and few people can get pumped after waking up to the moon. My advice is a late coffee. Then, around 11:30 or so, you’ll meet with friends for tapas and drinks at any old bar and make it last until 1:30 or 2am. Finally, if you survive long enough, you’ll make your way to the club but don’t expect the music to do all the work for you. Unless you’re a die-hard techno-house-electronica fan, you’re going to get tired quickly. But the other club-goers will be dancing until 7am so don’t be surprised if you’re the first one to go home.
It is interesting how these simple differences in culture prove how relative everything is. The social and cultural ideals I’ve grown up with are in no way universal. In the States, lunch was more of a bump in my busy road, sometimes I’d even eat in my car. Here, I don’t even have a car and I’ve come to learn that taking time to prepare a meal and enjoy it is always time well-spent. Just make sure you pick up your groceries before Sunday or you’ll have nothing to cook with.
This is a guest post by Kim Jordan. Kim is a 26 year-old Seattle native currently teaching dance and English in Barcelona, Spain. She graduated from the University of Washington with a major in Sociology and a minor in Dance. You can also find Kim on her blog.
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