Apparently, when Spaniards think “American,” the first trait that comes to mind is “patriotic.” When I asked my History of Spain professor what makes her “proud” to be a Spaniard, she gave me an odd look. “I don’t know if I’m proud, but I appreciate the ‘Spanish way of life,'” she told me. By this, she meant the Spanish tendency to enjoy life in a laid back way.
My professor was careful to emphasize that Spaniards aren’t “lazy,” as the stereotype goes. They believe that we should enjoy every second of life. Sometimes taking the time to smell the roses can be completely worth it, in a Spaniard’s eyes.
When a waiter doesn’t make a beeline for their table right after you sit down, an American might complain. But in Spain, it’s considered polite for a waiter not to bug you, to give you time to relax and look at the menu yourself. What’s rude or not all depends on one’s perspective.
For my professor, who lived in the U.S. for several years, Americans put too much pressure on themselves to be successful. To her, it always seemed like they were in a hurry compared to Spanish culture. To some extent, I agree with her assessment. Especially when it comes to the work world, Americans tend to “live to work,” not “work to live.”
And yet, as Thomas and Inkson point out, not all members of a culture are identical. “Personality is based on the specific genetic makeup and personal experiences that make each of us a unique individual,” and it determines much of our behavior. You can’t lump all members of a culture together and expect them to act exactly the same way.
For example, I am a laid-back person, even if sometimes I stress out about school. If it’s midnight and I’m not done with my homework, I’ll head straight to bed and finish it in the morning, because I don’t believe in pushing my physical limits for a grade. My brain works better with rest, anyway.
However, one of my roommates last year was the opposite. She was self-proclaimed “Type A” and always had to schedule her days down to the minute. In exchange, she got to finish all her homework days before it was due. (I was only a little jealous). My roommate is more of a “textbook” American because of her go-getter personality, even though both of us belong to the same culture.
From the moment I learned that siesta is a real cultural practice, I’ve embraced the Spanish “polychronic” view of time. I’ve done my best to say goodbye to the American need for punctuality.
Sure, sometimes I miss stores being open nearly 24/7 (oh, Target, te extraño), but I still prefer the relaxed pace of Spanish culture over the constant hustle and bustle of my home country. I wonder if the reason for siesta is to avoid the hottest part of the day in the summer? If only Texas were to catch on to that idea!
None of this means that I want to completely become a Spaniard, though. As much as I love my host country, I can’t turn my back on the culture I grew up in. For one, I miss my boyfriend. Also hamburgers. For another, if I were to take a siesta for the rest of my life, I would never get anything done.
All the same, I want to assimilate into Spanish culture while I’m here, even just a little bit. Even though I’ll never pick up a cigarette–people smoke a lot here–I’m down for a tinto de verano (wine and fruit soda) and some fútbol every once and a while.