Embracing The Spanish Lifestyle
Whether it’s just for a visit or a longer term stay, it’s always best to make an effort to understand the cultural differences of your host country as compared to what you are used to at home. Spain offers a marvellous contrast to the typical lifestyles of people from Northern European countries, in many ways caused by the beautiful climate that much of the nation enjoys throughout the year. This allows a slower, yet much more communal pace of life that can at times provide quite a shock for the unprepared visitor. In this article we’ll take a look through some of the most frequently commented upon differences between British and Spanish culture, and the reasons for why they exist.
One of the first things that will be apparent when staying in Spain is that everything takes place considerably later in the day. Like many aspects of Spanish life, daily routines are heavily influenced by the climate – and in the south of the country this is especially noticeable. Even with air conditioning the sun can continue to sap energy during the brightest times of day, so the Spanish choose to take a couple – sometimes a few – hours off in the afternoon for ‘lunch’.
For many people their lunch will be the main meal of the day, and will precede two light meals taken earlier in the day. The Spanish tend to jump out of bed and get to work/school straight away, often eating a very small dish ‘on the move’ such as a piece of bread or fruit. This is topped up with a slightly more substantive meal in the late morning break times, usually in a local cafe to tide them over to their lunch. Many Spanish workers opt to dine out also at lunchtimes – usually choosing from the menu del dia that offers a small choice of healthy, substantial dishes washed down with some cheap local wine. Culturally the lunchtime meal taken this way is deeply en-grained, with the sentiment that workers need eat well and inexpensively to keep them going for the rest of their day.
However the lunchtime break isn’t all about casual dining. Almost universally people will close their businesses and – especially in the very warm regions – enjoy a quick siesta out of the blazing sunshine. The idea is that this also allows a period of time for their substantive lunch to settle, and after a half hour or so’s rest they spend the rest of their free time catching up on chores and suchlike before returning to work. This can take a little getting used to for people arriving to the country, and it’s important to schedule important tasks around this time of day as very little will be open besides large multinational superstores.
Early evenings when families return home is usually time for another light snack – especially for school children who enjoy shorter lunchtime breaks – as dinner will usually not be served anytime before 9pm. Most Spanish families dine late together and once more this is done with leisure in mind, it’s rare for any family member to take themselves to bed before midnight. The cooler late evenings are often very sociable times too, families take strolls together and may congregate in town squares to meet friends and neighbours. This is a 100% given anytime there is a local or national event, fair or fiesta – and given the importance of Catholicism across Spain these are very common. At certain times of year there may be two or three fiestas a week, and not only do they carry on late into the night but also they carry on or begin throughout the day too.
This is one of the reasons why generally speaking Spain is not a quiet country, unless you live outside of the towns of course. Guests staying in the middle of large communities for long spells may be advised to bring earplugs if they prefer an early night! It’s not just carnivals or fiestas that make occasional late night noise – people will be out and about well into the early morning on every night of the week, not in the drunken carousing typical of Northern European cities but typically just visiting friends and being social outdoors. The best way to adapt to this kind of lifestyle is simply to become a part of it, as in no time it becomes apparently clear that given the temperature combined with the flair, colour and friendliness of Spanish culture, it actually makes perfectly good sense to live to these hours.
Spain is an inherently welcoming country which genuinely does appreciate efforts made by visitors and overseas residents to join in with the traditional lifestyle. Being social, inquisitive and participatory will warm any Spanish heart towards your presence, and appreciation for services rendered is something that is vocalized here rather than necessarily financially reimbursed. For example when tipping – there really isn’t any expectation for more than perhaps a little spare change, cafes and restaurants aren’t going to add a calculated percentage as a ‘suggestion’ to your bill. Leaving a small tip – 5% or so – is seen as a gesture of friendly thanks, a sentiment that is always appreciated throughout daily life in this wonderful country.