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11 Things Americans Could Learn From the Spanish

Spain United States
by Elyssa Feb 24, 2015

1. Responsible day drinking

Living in Spain is like living in an ad for stain-resistant carpet: It’s totally okay to drink red wine in the middle of the day. Having a drink during your lunch break (which lasts an hour or two) is an acceptable way to break up the work day — just know your limits! Spaniards might be laid back, but they never drink with the goal of getting drunk, and showing up to work that way would not be acceptable!

2. Working to live

It’s no secret that career comes first for many people in the States embodying a “live to work” philosophy. But it’d be difficult to find anyone in Spain who lives his or her days simply to get ahead at work. Spaniards generally recognize three needs to survive: Amigos, dinero, y tiempo para disfrutarlo (friends, money, and time to enjoy it).

Thanks in large part to Spaniards’ ability to function normally on minimal sleep, they have full lives that happen entirely after the work day. Rather than coming home, cracking open a beer and plopping down in front of the television before heading off to bed, Spaniards prefer to live their lives outside of the home. Evenings are reserved for playing team sports, swimming at the community center, and going out with friends. In any Spanish city, there is not a single night of the week when the streets are not bustling with people moving from bar to bar, restaurant to restaurant, enjoying a social night out.

3. Black-out shutters

How could something so wonderful and, really, necessary not come standard in the States? Pretty much every apartment and house in Spain comes equipped with roll down black-out shutters, making it almost too easy to indulge in an afternoon siesta (which expats in Spain definitely indulge in, even if Spaniards themselves are moving away from the tradition).

4. Puente!

Puente, meaning bridge, is the term used to refer to a long weekend. Imagine there’s a holiday on a Thursday, and you’re given Friday off too so you can have a super long weekend and maybe travel somewhere. You’ve just puented.

Spaniards are supremely skilled in milking time off for all its worth, and this makes them avid travelers. Traveling anywhere throughout Europe, you’ll always encounter traveling Spaniards taking advantage of a puente.

5. Tapas as a concept

My expat friends have mixed feelings about it, but I’m staunchly pro-tapas. The common complaint is that you never feel like you’re eating enough. If that’s how you feel, you’re doing it wrong! Tapas give you the opportunity to try a bit of everything. Sharing is caring, after all.

6. Tortilla de patatas and pan con tomate

Tortilla de patatas — a simple, delicious egg and potato omelet — is perhaps the signature Spanish dish (aside from paella). Americans love omelets. We love potatoes. How has it never occurred to us — kings of efficiency — to put the two together?

Another delicious and simple Spanish dish is pan con tomate — toasted fresh bread, drizzled in olive oil, topped with mashed tomato. Spaniards often have this for breakfast along with a café con leche, but I personally eat it four times a day…or until my family-sized baguette runs out.

7. Using olive oil in place of butter (and natural ingredients instead of chemical-laden ones)

Spain’s cup of this liquid gold runneth over. Here, olive oil is not just used for cooking and drizzling on bread; it’s also infused in soaps, lotions, and cosmetics, and even used as an ingredient in some medicines. True, butter’s usage cannot be replaced to the same results in certain cases (a cake made with olive oil cannot compete) but they say a tablespoon or two per day of antioxidant-rich olive oil can help lower your cholesterol.

While butter and olive oil’s nutritional values actually aren’t that different from each other, the true problem lies in that many Americans don’t use real butter, but butter substitutes, which are laden with unhealthy synthetic chemicals (many of which are banned in Spain).

8. Universal health care

Every Spanish national — and anyone legally registered to work in Spain — is covered by social health insurance. Nobody concerns themselves with whether or not this is a constitutional “right,” or whether it could increase the country’s debt, or raise taxes or wait time for medical services — they just know that it is good and right.

9. Greeting everyone

Upon entering the waiting room at a doctor’s office, going in an elevator, a shop, or any other enclosed public place where strangers gather, it’s customary for Spaniards to offer a simple greeting of “Hola, buenas” to everyone in the room. It’s a small gesture but conveys old world courtesy, and we could definitely use more of that in the States.

10. Sit down meals

In the States we dig in to lunch at our desks, a power-bar on the run, fast food in the car, and get coffee to go, Spaniards almost never eat on the go and even in a big, busy city like Madrid, you’ll likely attract stares if you’re munching while walking down the street. Spaniards insist on making every meal, snack, and coffee break a sit-down affair, and often linger at the table afterwards to enjoy a lengthy sobremesa — an after-meal conversation.

11. Taking one’s time

We’re in a rush in the States. Our lunches are quick so we can get back to work; if we’re not taken care of immediately, we file customer service complaints; we have high expectations and want everything NOW.

Spaniards move at their own relaxed pace. Here in Spain, a long line at the supermarket does not necessarily mean a new register will be open; if you want the bill at a restaurant, you have to explicitly ask for it, and don’t expect the bank teller to hang up the phone to attend to you. Sure, it can initially be frustrating to an expat unaccustomed to this method of doing things, but soon you’ll learn to take a deep breath and accept that things will get done in their own time, poco a poco (little by little).

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