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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6 comments for “New life, new culture, new timetable”
It really is interesting reading about the cultural differences to be found around the globe. Thanks for sharing this.
The Spanish timetable really is different. If you go to a restaurant at 7pm you’ll be the only one there. That’s if they have even opened their doors at that time. But I found it quite easy to adapt once I lived there, which I didn’t expect. It took me a couple of years after I left Spain to get out of the habit of eating dinner at 10pm.
Hey there! Talking about new timetables, I suffered from culture shock when I first moved to Dallas and was invited to dinner at 6 pm! For me, it’s teatime 🙂 Somehow it just didn’t feel right to get dressed to go out while the sun was still high up. But I learned to have a light early lunch and voila!
I think one adapts to almost anything.
Fun fact: the photo is actually a photo of a Melbourne tram timetable. The 82, Moonee Ponds to Footscray. Yay, Melbourne.
That’s good to know – and I’m very impressed with your knowledge of the tramlines! Thanks for visiting Lesley.
Incredible to read that the people here in Spain are less stressed because of their timetable. They are just as stressed as people anywhere in Europe, but very importantly, dead tired ALL THE TIME, and unbelievably unproductive. The Spanish, are in fact, the people with the longest work hours in Europe, and unsurprisingly, dead last in productivity. How could it be otherwise in a country where three breakfasts are common (first at home, then two more breaks at 10 and noon) in order to survive the gruelling timetable and sate the biological clock? (There IS a reason why all Western countries lunch at noon- it isn’t accidental.)
And no one should be tricked- the Spanish timetable is not ages old. It ONLY dates from the 1940’s (although only the very old and dead can tell you). It began at the end of the Civil War when the country was decimated and there was not enough work. Hence, on a national level, the custom of taking two different jobs began, one until 14:00 and the second starting at 17:00. Soon it became institutionalised madness to the point that Spaniards today think it is normal (dating from time immemorial)- and even more infuriating, superior.
Stopping work five times a day for breaks is nothing for the Spaniard because there is no longer any appreciation of private time or private life. It is the exact opposite of the cliche that wants us to believe that relaxed, familiar living begins and ends in Spain. In this country there is precious little time for anything and no Spaniard is willing to do anything about a timetable which keeps them in the office or shop ten to twelve hours per day- nothing with the exception of course of complaining about fatigue and stress, which is constant and pandemic (much more so than in the UK, France, the Netherlands or anywhere- here the bleating is UNENDING).
Spain is still living a post-war mentality (due to its timetable). It is a country made to measure for people who do not value time, but who only live to laughingly squander it- and without the benefit of increased health or happiness. Indeed, the result is strictly illogical, frustrating and unbelievably fatguing.