Musings Abroad-My Life in Spain: Siestas & Spanish Time

A street view of Granada at 3:30 p.m. during siesta (Photo credit: Anna Groeling).

Siestas? I didn’t realize that they were a real thing until I moved to Spain. Siestas are still an important aspect of Spanish life, even though fast-paced consumerism has been pushing Spain away from this cultural custom. In Granada, the city becomes a ghost town from 2 to 5 p.m. Most stores shut down during this time and everyone goes home for a large lunch. The Spanish lunch often has several smaller-portioned meals, making it the biggest meal of the day. Sometimes lunch can take two hours to finish. Most families will watch tv while eating, then talk together after the meal. This break provides time to spend with family and friends before going back to work or school.

In general, Spain’s concept of time is more relaxed. During my first weeks in Spain, there were moments where I felt as if my fast-paced American life was pushing against the slower and more relaxed Spanish culture.

A street view of Granada at 3:30 p.m. during siesta (Photo credit: Anna Groeling).
A street view of Granada at 3:30 p.m. during siesta (Photo credit: Anna Groeling).

For example, most Spainards tend to walk much slower than Americans. I find myself having to drastically slow my pace or else end up running into someone in front of me in the street, even though I’m not in a hurry myself. This most often happens when a group of friends will suddenly stop in the middle of the street to continue their conversations, only to resume their walk. It also isn’t uncommon to see friends linking arms or to see someone helping his/her elderly family members.

That being said, one does not simply run a quick errand in Spain. You wait in line for longer and someone will ask who is last in line. To save your spot, you need to answer that you’re the last one. When I’m running errands with my host mom, we end up talking to multiple people in the stores or in the street. It would be rude not to chat with your neighbor or an acquaintance, or even the shop owner.

This perception of time continues to show itself in my own daily interactions outside of the family structure. It can be seen in the classroom-when class doesn’t start right on the hour or when making plans with friends. This perception reflects itself in the culture’s language also.

There’s the Spanish word for a leisurely evening stroll, otherwise known as a “paseo”. Spaniards are known for enjoying the nightlife and it’s no sooner than midnight that the city starts to become crowded. People of all ages, even the very young and the elderly, can be seen out and about.

“Sobremesa” describes the moment when all the food is finished from a meal, but the conversation keeps going. This word doesn’t have a direct translation in English.

In an ever fast-paced world, it can be nice to step away from the phones and strict schedule. These perceptions of time have showed me much about my own culture and my own habits. Of course, it didn’t take much to get used to the siestas.



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