There I am sitting at a sidewalk cafe, with the sun shining and the chatter of people around. I am enjoying my weekly meet up and coffee with my Spanish friend, which is always full of laughs and joy. Our conversation was flowing and then took an interesting and inquisitive turn about my life in Spain.
She and I have been meeting up almost every week for nearly two years. It started as an intercambio (interchange of languages) and while we still spend half of the time speaking each language, it is really just about friends having coffee. I so enjoy my time with her, as we are on the same page with life, kids, work and so on. It is easy to connect, help and inspire each other.
What she said
This particular morning, she said “I think you were Spanish in a previous life”. I laughed and said “Why?”. She said, “Your entire family is so adjusted to the Spanish lifestyle”. We continued a little further and had some laughs and then she started asking about life in the USA. I took that as a compliment from her, as she meant we go with the flow of the culture. Of course, we are still very American in most ways, but it was nice statement. She wanted to know more about what attracted us to the Spanish lifestyle and how it was different from the United States.
Life in the USA
It’s so difficult to explain or just sum up in a paragraph or two, but I will give it a try. When we first arrived in Spain, we were in go, go, go mode or what I call “American mode”. Now I do understand this is a complete generalization, but I was speaking of me and my life in the USA versus my life in our little town in Spain. I am sure everyone has different experiences, so this is just my experience (so be nice).
Back then I had everything planned, organized and fit into a time slot. I had to be that way to make sure it was all done and nothing was forgotten. Raising two kids, taking care of and cleaning a monster big house (I think our bedroom is almost as big as our apartment). Alan and I were both working more than full-time, but still tried to make time spending quality together and making sure we had family activities, educational activities, and food to eat!
Thank goodness the stores were open anytime I wanted, I mean I could even go to Wal-mart at 2 am if needed. The list was endless and I put pressure on myself to try to play super mom and do it all. No, it wasn’t just me Alan certainly did his fair share, but I felt responsible to make sure it all was perfectly done. You know, the crazy one in the house.
I am not sure if it was society or just my own beliefs which made me think that I had to do it all. Oh, and of course while we were out in public, our kids needed to “behave”. They had rules to follow and had to be quiet in a restaurant, at the store or anywhere we were. The kids occasionally played outside, but for the most part, they were either in the house or we scheduled meetups with friends at a park or some other child-friendly location. A place where the kids could run free, make as much noise as they wanted and burn off some energy.
I recall being yelled at on a plane by the lading in front of us. She said Lars was kicking her seat and that I should learn how to control my kids. There I was with infant Anya in my lap and Lars in the middle seat and Alan by the window. Lars was just two and his little feet couldn’t even reach her seat! No, what she felt was him getting the coloring books and reading books in and out of the seat pocket, so he would be “a good quiet child” on the plane, and he was! Uggg! I just stared at her and broke into tears, I was speechless!
When the kids were small and it was nap time, I wanted to be sure we all walked on eggshells and that everyone was quiet, so we wouldn’t wake the kids. If we were out at a restaurant, we had to be sure to bring toys, books or activities to keep the kids entertained and quiet while dining. We wouldn’t want them to make a peep and bother the other patrons. I remember getting glares from people if our kids made any noise out of the norm, and we even had an adult go sit in the car with said “loud” child. No, I am not talking about a tantrum or crying attack, just a vocal or bored child.
I informed my friend that many people just hire a babysitter in the USA, so they can go out for dinner or a show without the kids. Then it took away the element of the kids staying up late or making noise in the restaurant. She found that very interesting and wondered why they wouldn’t want the kids to go. We continued back and forth, but it was an interesting conversation.
I also told her about “turning tables” in a restaurant or coffee shop. In the States, you want to serve as many people as you can, move them in and move them out. That way someone new can sit at your table and then you will make more money. The more you serve the more you make!
Life in Spain
Our first few months were interesting, as we tried to adjust to the slightly different lifestyle. One of our first adjustments were getting used to the Spanish timing of things. Yes, siesta really does exist! Many of the stores actually close daily from 2pm-5pm and are also closed on Sundays. This was so frustrating, as I was used to getting everything done and having access to a store anytime day or night. I was being forced into a window of time!
Not only that, but most of my convenience items were stripped away. Living in a smaller Spanish town, we no longer had access to fast-food, ready-made meals, a large assortment of frozen meals or anything which made cooking “quick”. Nope, we learned how to start making things from scratch, which was very time-consuming in the beginning. And the household chores even seemed more manual, as we didn’t have a dishwasher, vacuum, garbage disposal, or clothes dryer.
We also had to adjust to meal times, with lunch around 2pm and dinner somewhere between 9pm -11pm. Lunch was easier to adjust to because the kids were out of school at 2pm and we just had lunch ready when they arrived home. Dinner took us a bit longer to get the swing of. That said, it is much easier in the summer months because it is light out until about 10:00pm, in the winter it may be a bit earlier.
If we were out “late” (by American standards at 11pm or later), we noticed entire families were out, strollers and all! At first, I may have been quick to judge, and think “How can they have their toddlers out so late? Shouldn’t they be in bed?”, but over time we realized this was the norm.
Regarding turning tables in Spain, you can pretty much go out and stay as long as you like for a coffee or a meal. There is no rush and they won’t even bring you the bill unless you ask for it. It isn’t all about making money and being the best or serving the most. It is about doing as much work as you want and also allowing your customers to set the schedule and move at the pace they want. That said, if they are closing up they may say something.
Some owners know they can make more money if they are open more days or hours, but it is about balance. It is about making what you need and being able to enjoy your life. To actually live your life and work to feed it, instead of working and trying to fit life in.
What we love and now embrace
We love that there are entire families out and about any time of night, but most importantly together. Kids are accepted everywhere and are allowed to be kids. If you have had dinner at a restaurant, usually outdoors or open air, the kids don’t have to just sit there and “behave” at the table. They are free to go play on the sidewalk, chat with the adults or just be part of the environment. You don’t need to be quiet for babies to sleep, they just sleep with everything going on around them.
Note: A couple of nights ago, there was a Queen tribute band playing at the open-air amphitheater in the park. While I didn’t really want to pay to go into the park and watch the band, I convinced Alan and Anya to come along with me and we had drinks at the cafe across the street. We enjoyed the music and our drinks!
About 11:30pm one of the kids’ primary school teachers passed with his wife and two kids, one of which was just a month old. They were just out for a stroll in the middle of the night and this is very normal. They likely had a nice dinner out and were walking home. We, of course, said hello and chatted for a while, but this is what we love about Spain. People are out and about together as families until all hours of the night.
The siesta and Sunday closures of stores rarely phase me anymore. In fact, I feel like Sunday is a day to do what we want and we don’t have to go shopping or run errands. Living in Spain has really made me take a “chill pill” and slow down a bit. We don’t need to have every minute planned, we can just go with the flow.
Just can’t take it all out of me
I will admit, it still gets to me when I see the lack of efficiency. You know when you are at a restaurant and a server goes in and out several times with empty hands and doesn’t clear off a dirty table. I think that is just the former waitress in me.
We still try to get to an appointment 5-10 minutes early, I guess it is in our blood! That said, if I am running a little late I know it’s not the end of the world. I don’t punish myself and continually apologize. I certainly don’t get irritated if someone else is running late, to a limit. If they are more than 15 min late, I would at least expect a message, but I would be understanding instead of judgmental.
Back to the comment of us being Spanish in a previous life
So back to the original comment. I took her comment as a compliment (as she intended), meaning we are integrated with Spanish life and just fit in. I think the slower paced lifestyle has done us all some good and relieved the false pressures we put upon ourselves, yes even the kids were on that track! It is a nice balance of work, life, fun and it is easier to juggle it all for some reason.
Of course, Alan and I work from home on our own schedule so that is a huge difference. We choose when we want to work and when we don’t want to. Nope, we aren’t rolling in the dough, but we make enough to keep our life going. That’s what it’s all about after all. Living life, being here for the kids and making experiences and memories together.
One lifestyle isn’t better than the other, but for our family in the Spanish lifestyle has been an added bonus and just what we needed to “calm down”. I guess I should only speak for myself and admit it was what I needed to calm down. Alan has always been pretty calm and it looks like I just needed some Spanish culture to infuse me with a little. I think Lars needed it a little as well. He is so driven and places so much pressure on himself, it is great to see him also give himself a little slack. If he was in the culture of added pressure at school, I am sure it would drive him even further, but to what end? I am certain he will be successful with whatever he does in his life.
I think Anya was just born Spanish! Ha, she arrived here so young, she is a Spanish girl. Every once in a while, she will get a little burst of organized American in her, but for the most part, she is just like a local. This is her childhood home and it will be what both kids reflect back on in their adult years. We can only hope we’ve made the right choices and provided the right tools to help them do the best they can do.
I have no idea what our lives would have been like if we had made different choices, but I love that our teens actually speak to us. No, they don’t like us to hang out with their friends or anything, but they are open with us and we actually have some great conversations. We are here and available to them, physically, mentally and emotionally, meaning we always have time for them.
We don’t know everything they are up to at all times, but we know who they are and what choices they are likely to make. We trust them and actually enjoy them.
I am certainly not saying everyone moves to Spain, but the move helped change us into something we like better. Sure we miss some American things, but this is home. So far, life in Spain has been good to us and I can’t believe it’s been 6 years. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us all.
What do you think? Is your current lifestyle overwhelming you? Maybe there are just small changes to make to improve it, maybe it is just allowing yourself to enjoy life?