Photo: Vlad Teodor/Shutterstock

3 American Habits I Lost in Spain

Spain United States Student Work
by Jessica Poitevien Apr 20, 2015

1. I no longer feel guilty about napping during the day.

In the US, there are only three times in your life in which napping during the day will not be met with judgmental looks that scream, “What are you doing with your life?”

1. You’re a toddler. No matter how hard you fight to stay awake and tell your parents that you’re not tired, you know damn well that coloring inside the lines has wiped you out, and your body will collapse at any moment.

2. You’re a college student. You went to class this morning with a hangover that had you feeling like death just because you know your professor takes attendance and it counts towards your grade. The only way you’ll survive the rest of the day is with a nap that will completely ruin your sleep cycle. Just kidding! You don’t have a regular sleep schedule. You’re in college!

3. You’re retired. You have paid your dues to the rat race of life and have earned your right to take a nice mid-afternoon nap. Besides, there’s absolutely nothing good to watch on television at that time anyway.

If you do not fall into one of those three categories, then you are out of luck, my friend. Our schedules in the US are simply not built around taking the time to nap. Us Americans still struggle with the novel idea that some people know as “work-life balance,” so taking a nap leaves us feeling like we should be doing something more productive instead of recharging our batteries.

As the daughter of a wonderful dad who is known for falling asleep on almost every couch he sits on, I am no stranger to napping. I have and always will love it. The only difference is that now I live in a society that is accepting of my napping habit so I don’t have to feel guilty about it.

Spain runs on a schedule that is very conducive to napping. Other than restaurants and bars, basically all stores and offices close around two in the afternoon with some of them reopening at about five. People go home, eat lunch, and many of them will slip into a food-induced sleep. Even if they don’t actually sleep, most people will still take the time to relax because there isn’t much else to do. This three-hour break in the day is known as siesta, or as I like to call it — nationally–sanctioned naptime.

I thought napping was great, but guilt-free napping is even better. Now before anyone jumps down my throat again claiming that not all of Spain practices the fabulous tradition of siesta (yes, I’ve had this argument before), let me just say two things:

First of all, I already know that, and second of all, the vast majority of the country does take a break for siesta, even in big cities like Madrid so let’s be real here. Honestly, I feel bad for the rare towns and cities that don’t take a siesta in the afternoon. They’re really missing out.

2. The weather forecast determines my laundry schedule.

“I had to run to the store this morning before work and buy some clean underwear.”

When I received that text from a fellow American expat living in Spain, I immediately knew why she had to run that emergency errand. No explanations were needed.

At the time, we were going on two solid weeks of horrible weather. It was cloudy and rainy every day, and although we held out hope that the sun would show its face soon, we were running out of time. The mountain of dirty laundry was piling up high and the underwear reserves were getting low.

Back in the States, a few weeks of bad weather wouldn’t affect my ability to do laundry. As a matter of fact, since I really dislike doing laundry, a boring rainy day was actually a godsend. I could just sit in front of the TV and fold mounds of clean clothes without hating my life. It was a good compromise. In Spain, not so much.

Here in Spain most homes and apartments come equipped with a washing machine but not with a dryer. Even if my apartment did have a drying machine I wouldn’t dare use it. Electricity is insanely expensive here and home appliances are major culprits in raising that bill.

So the only option I am left with is to hang my clothes outside on the line or inside on a drying rack. That means I must look to the heavens (or at my weather app) for any sign of precipitation before I throw my clothes in the washing machine. Even a slight chance of rain means I can’t do laundry. Nothing is worse than taking the time to wash and hang your clothes just to have them get soaked in the rain.

Of course I could always put my wet clothes on a drying rack and keep them inside, but that really is a last resort option. Inside, the clothes can take days to dry, especially in the winter, and they sometimes end up smelling like mold. Sometimes desperate times do call for desperate measures though. Luckily my underwear supply can last me about a month before I get to that point.

3. Sunday is no longer my “get your life together” day.

When you’re trudging through the week, that light at the end of the tunnel known as Friday can never be close enough until it finally arrives. In the US we scream T-G-I-F (Thank God It’s Friday) while in Spain they happily proclaim the appearance of San Viernes (Saint Friday). That’s not a real saint by the way in case you were wondering.

When I was still living in the US, Friday marked my day to begin avoiding all work like the plague. Sure, there were times when I had no choice but to be a productive human being on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon, but I tried with all my might not to be. The weekend was my time to have some fun, rest and recover from the week.

When Sunday rolled around, it was always bittersweet. It was still an official day of the weekend, but it was also my day to get back to reality or as I called it, “get your life together day.” I would go food shopping, clean the house, organize myself for the week to come and run any other miscellaneous errands that needed to be done. It didn’t take me long to realize that I would have to change that schedule a bit in Spain.

Between apartment hunting, settling in my new place and starting my new job, my first few weeks in Spain were hectic ones. By my second weekend in my new town, I still had a lot left to do, but I woke up that Sunday ready to take on the world. My roommate was gone for the day, our landlord still hadn’t brought us the television she promised with our fully furnished apartment and we were also waiting on our wifi to be installed. I had nothing to distract me. I was going to be productive.

Right as I was about to leave the house and start running my errands, one of my new friends texted me, “You have no TV, no wifi and no roommate. What are you going to do today?” As I wrote out my response to him, I felt so proud of myself. I was going to have a productive day. I told him all about my grand plans of going food shopping and going to the office supply store and just generally getting my life together.

Then, he burst my bubble, “You do realize it’s Sunday, right? All of the stores are closed.” And with that gentle reminder of Spain’s schedule, which still respects the Sabbath for Catholics, all of my plans went flying out the window.

My friend was kind enough not to leave me hanging though. We took a walk around the town, got some ice cream and went to the Medieval Fair that happened to be going on that weekend. It turned out to be a wonderful day. Far better than the boring, productive one I had planned.

That day I learned what were the appropriate activities for a Sunday afternoon in Spain: spending time with friends and family, eating, drinking, relaxing, and sitting outside soaking up the sun as much as possible. I may have to spread out my “get your life together” duties between Friday and Saturday now, but I must admit that I don’t mind the change.

I’m done having overly productive Sundays. At the risk of sounding cliché, I have to say that this is the perfect example of if you can’t beat them, join them, and I am more than happy to oblige.

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