You know you’ve all heard about it—the constant drinking culture, siestas (the Spanish word for ‘naps’) every afternoon, clubs all night—but have you ever wondered what rumors about the Spanish culture are indeed true? Have no fear; this post will hopefully solve all of the puzzling pieces. I even threw in some more Spanish phrases that I’ve caught onto and amuse me (just for kicks). But most importantly, it all reveals something great about Spaniards–the motivation and drive to do exactly what they want.
The weekday timetable in Spain is quite continuous, albeit slower than that in the US. Most Spaniards, including my host family, wake up around 6:30am. I “indulge” myself in this dreaded ritual every Tuesday and Wednesday for my 8:30am class, a whole two hours beforehand. Yes, friends, one-hour transport time is indeed a fact. Waking up at 6:30am means downstairs at 7am for breakfast. The entire process of eating breakfast takes about twenty minutes or so, as a solid ten-minute prep time is necessary. Out the door at 7:30am to catch the Metro, Spain’s public transportation system. Although some journeys can take only about 30 minutes, it’s always good to allocate some buffer time. Walking to the metro and getting from the stop to your destination takes another 10-12 minutes as well, so planning ahead is crucial for a Type A personality like myself.
The quintessential Spaniard works from 8:30am-2:00pm or so. Then, he will get a lunch break for about 2 hours. Seems crazy, I know, but eating lunch at home is also normal. My host dad Jacobo, for example, is an ophthalmologist at a local city hospital, so he typically comes home around 3pm, and then begins what he calls the obligatory post-lunch ritual of the day: coffee and chocolate while reading the newspaper (fact). The little kick of espresso in the mid-afternoon helps balance the huge meals during lunch and gets him ready to head back to the hospital by 4pm to finish off the day, which will end around 7pm. This timeframe is normal for those who prefer to take their midday lunch break at home, while others may work straight from 8:30am-4pm and eat a late lunch after work, as my host mom Mercedes does.
In the case of Jacobo, coming home around 7:30pm or so leaves about a solid hour and some change until dinner. He has a schedule to fill this hour: Tennis on Tuesdays, Golf on Fridays, grocery shopping on Wednesdays, errands some of the other days, you get the idea. Showering before dinner is normal, and something I had to get used to again after my three years at Georgetown where I would shower when I was dirty, whether it was 2am or 4:30pm. 9pm means dinner time in the Frutos de Gonzalez household, and this wonderful ritual lasts until about 10pm. Kids will come home around 5:45pm and do homework, shower, and then have dinner, so that after food comes…[another siesta? (MYTH)]–TV time!
Ah, how admired the TV is in Spain! Not just for futból games, but also Spanish telenovelas (soap operas), American episode series (MasterChef and Breaking Bad are the top hits in the house right now), or even some good ‘old Clint Eastwood, my host dad’s favorite actor. TV relaxes the mind, purifies the soul, and means lying on the couch and doing an absolute nothing for about an hour. 11pm means lights out for the kiddies, because they get back up at 7am to do the school thing again, and the parents head off with them because 7 hours and some midday espresso are all one needs to get through the weekdays. But the weekends? Oh, those are a different story…
Weekends: Young Blood Style
The weekend pattern of events means party all day and night–MYTH. It actually depends on whether or not you are a jóven (youngster) or a parent with a family and obligations. If the latter, as in the case of my host parents, weekend mornings consist of golf lessons en el campo (literally, the meadow, but this means the golf course) with the kids, then home around 2 or 3pm for family lunch, to go upstairs and do that TV thing around 4pm with some coffee and dessert. This is where your looming questions finally get answered, because yes, this awkward time between lunch and dinner calls for some piece and quiet in the living room, which inevitably leads to the ever-known Spanish naps known as siestas—fact. From about 5pm-7pm, napping is allowed, and even encouraged, in the home, as it is fairly silent and if sleeping is not done, then homework is (so obviously, I opt for the nap when given a choice).
But wouldn’t sleeping after lunch put you into a deep slumber? Well, this is where the Spaniards have it all figured out, because remember that obligatory shot-of-espresso ritual before nap time? It prevents Spaniards from falling into too deep of a sleep. And by 7:30pm, the house is a ruckus again with kids shouting, parents running around the house, and more TV being watched. 9pm rolls around with all of the chaos, and look at that—it’s time for dinner! Saturday night movies are common in my house, so if my host sister Marina doesn’t salir por la noche (go out for the night), she sometimes participates. Dinner with family friends, theater shows, and other day trips are obviously scattered throughout various weekends as well, but this is what a traditional weekend in my Spanish home looks like.
Naturally, the college kids don’t follow this sequence of events on the weekends. Sure, they live at home and commute to school, which is very different than many private universities in the US, but does that mean they don’t go out? MYTH. Indeed, the contrary is true. Friday nights, after school and dinner at 9pm, most Spaniards will shower, get ready, and head out around midnight. Meeting up with friends at a bar is the norm, as everyone will go bar hopping withtapas (finger foods, essentially) for about an hour or so. Before the metro closes at 1:30am, a destination is chosen, and everyone will head off to the club for the evening. Most clubs open around 1am, but jovenes start to file in around 2am or 3am, and it’s common that the clubs will not close until about 6am. So, Spanish youngsters will follow suit and typically stay out until 6am, not because they particularly like to wait for Last Call, but because that’s when the Metro opens again, and who really wants to pay 12-15 Euros to get home when you can just wait for the Metro and get back home for free? Getting home puts you at about 7am, which is—you guessed it—is breakfast time! The quintessential young madrileño will finish off his night right with breakfast and head to bed around 7:30am, to wake up around 2:30 or 3pm, just in time for–you guessed it, lunch! Sometimes, they’ll even participate in the parent-version weekend ritual of lunch, TV, siesta, and dinner, to get ready and head back out for the night if they just didn’t get their fill the night before.
Now this is definitely the epitome of Spanish weekends; most students don’t actually do this often because they have exams to study for, papers to write, family to hang out with, and so on with the duties and obligations of a normal person. But if anyone ever asks you to take them out for what a true local would do out on the town, just know madrileña style is always a safe bet for an eventful evening..and morning.
What I find the most important to note from this entire schpeel on how Spaniards live their lives is not the uniqueness of their never-ending nightlife or the importance of a mid-day espresso (although I have learned both of these lessons and more from my host family). Rather, I think the most important lesson comes from the idea that these individuals are able to do exactly what they want in order to live their lives to the fullest. Don’t like that sport and would rather drink coffee with your friends on a Tuesday afternoon? Do it. Don’t want to go out and prefer staying home with your parents on a Saturday night? Totally acceptable. I don’t mean to say that these actions are not the norm in the US, but I think often times, I find myself at least, facing the dilemma of doing what I think I want, what I actually want, and what I have to do. The last of these is often the path I choose when making decisions, but this also leads to jealousy or unhappiness because someone else naturally does what I would have really wanted to do myself. In other cases, doing what I think I want may lead to not liking it, and the fear of failure often undercuts embarking on this option often. In the end, though, doing what I actually want also seems to have its drawbacks, as we all know I will not get to be a Gates Millennium Scholar anymore, no matter how badly I might want it.
A friend of mine recently read me a speech she was writing for her upcoming graduation. While trying to formulate her thoughts, we spoke about what advice she wanted to convey to her senior class the last time they would all be together. She mentioned that she wanted to remind them to do what they wanted to do in their lives and not wait around for other people to take up the chances of following their own passions. “So many times, people end up doing what is best for them, but the problem with that is that it leaves them unhappy,” she said. I thought about this, remembering all the times I had previously heard the same advice and pushed it aside because of fear. That’s so hard in theory, I always told myself. You can’t just follow your passions all the time, because then you’ll end up broke. It’s not something the idealists like to hear, but since I am a realist, I didn’t mind being the one to say it. Yet, her words finally made sense. Being in Spain, I have learned what doing what you want really means, and it’s not just skipping three Tuesday classes to go to London for the weekend or staying out until 5am when you have a 9am conference call the next morning, it’s about doing what you want to do because you know it’s what you want. And that’s the toughest part–figuring out what you want, while still believing you won’t fail while looking for it.
Throughout my time here, I have tried my hardest to be more open and do what I think I might have wanted to, to only find out I no longer want to do it and wish I could back out. Sometimes, this isn’t possible because of uncontrollable factors, but something that a good friend here told me was that a lot of times, no harm no foul. If it doesn’t kill someone, it’s okay to say no. And most of the time, people understand because they know you’re not passionate about it anymore.
When I look back at the madrileño way of life on something as simple as how to enjoy the weekend, I realize how easy it is to do what you want and say no when you don’t. All of my life, I have been trained to do what is best for me, what will get me the best job, what my trajectory should be based on those of my close competitors, and I often times forget how it is the little things that do indeed make us happy. Don’t want to go out for the weekend? I shouldn’t, just because I am in Spain and feel like I need to be out “enjoying” life. Tired and don’t want to meet up with that friend I said I would? Tell the truth, apologize, and find another time; she will understand. I don’t have to follow my passion or do what I want in the largest sense of it all to make my life my own, but rather fulfill the smallest of my personal desires to make the most of my experience. Some people are meant to be social, others find the same fulfillment in curling up on the couch and watching Los Misterios de Laura, a Spanish version of Nancy Drew, with the good ‘ole fam. It’s not always about following your passion in something huge, like your career, but just choosing to eat a sandwich on a Tuesday afternoon instead of a salad because you’re craving it more. ‘Doing what you want’ has various faces to its name, and I do have to say that it took a couple of “typical madrileña weekends” for me to understand something as simple as this.
Today, I want to quit the FOMO (fear of missing out) feeling and enjoy hanging out with my host family, because those are the people I truly love and want to get to know more throughout the two months I have left here. Traveling has been an amazing experience, and I have wholeheartedly enjoyed it, but this family is only mine for six months, while the world awaits me even when I am thirty and bored with my job. So, step one of doing what I want: skipping out on a trip to Morocco for the five day weekend and staying at home. The host fam will actually be gone on vacation, but that’s okay. Because I will do something else that I have really wanted to do: become a true local and see the hidden treasures of Madrid. There is still so much left to see and such little time remaining, and next weekend, I plan to do what I want, by myself, to make this experience my own and not Facebook’s.