a wandering woman writes

Sunday, May 15, 2005

On Spanish Time

I consider the Sunday edition of Spain's El Pais one of life's great luxuries.

Take today's version, for example: 71 luscious pages, not counting the 48 business pages, the 19-page Sunday culture section and the 122-page gem of a magazine. Electic, always well written, often lyrical, heavy on the details....it's downright decadent. Opening this treasure is like walking for the first time into a fabulous used bookstore: there's so much there you don't know where to start. This is a Sunday paper reader's Sunday paper.

Still, I woke this morning and immediately and sternly told my eager Sunday self that NO, NO, NO, this was NOT an El País and cafe con leche Sunday. I had a blog entry to write and a consulting project to finish, and an essay due for my Spanish class on Tuesday.

Then I remembered where I was.

I am so happy to be living in a culture that makes time for things. If there's one thing I admire about my Spanish neighbors (and there are many), it is that they make time. They give themselves time.

When friends are studying for professional exams, I see them radically change their schedules, making that exam their temporary but absolute priority. Girlfriends and siblings and parents take on the shopping or cooking or cleaning until the exam is over. It's a matter of where they draw the line that enough is enough, I think. Most Spaniards will cry "overload!" much earlier than you're likely to see even a mellow American stop taking on new commitments. They just learned a different threshold and learned that any threshold had to leave time for relaxation and family and imprevistos - things that might just come up.

Whatever my Spanish friends happen to be doing - for an hour, a month or a year, they seem to naturally allow themselves time - guilt-free time, space and permission - to do what they are doing and do it well. Sick employees stay home from work and no one thinks twice. "When you are ill", my coworkers keep telling me (as I cough my way through my fifth cold this short year), "let yourself be ill." One of my favorite Spanish customs is the sobremesa - the long leisurely conversation that (inevitably) takes place after a meal. Even on the busiest of days, my otherwise driven boss takes 2 or 3 hours for lunch and always has time to chat with friends he meets in the street on his way back. I've yet to have even a business meal that hasn't extended on to an energetic sobremesa. I've also learned not to interrupt Spaniards while they are doing something, whether that's reading a page what I've just handed them, checking e-mail or finishing up the paperwork of the customer before me. Multitasking is not appreciated, or practiced.

I'm sure this traditional pace is changing in Madrid and Barcelona - I've read more than one opinion column lamenting the "speeding up" of Spanish life - but here in Salamanca, my fellow citizens live their lives one page at a time, spending their energy at any given moment on the one thing they are doing at that moment, indulging themselves in every meal, every paseo, every conversation.

Maybe that's why they produce newpapers that take hours to read. When you read a paper, let yourself read a paper.

Anyway, there you go. I got that blog entry done after all, despite two delectable hours at Cafe Ave this morning, soaking in coffee and news.

As for the consulting project and my Spanish essay, I'll think about those tomorrow.

I've got a newspaper to finish.

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  • I love this concept! We are enjoying a slower pace of life here in Krasnodar as well.

    By Blogger blackpurl, at 9:33 PM  

  • Hey! Thanks for the comment. I'm embarrassed to admit I had to google Krasnodar to see where you were! Checked out your blog (very cool) -- and I share you commitment to finding peanut butter abroad ( I finally had a visitor from home bring me 3 jars..)

    Thanks for stopping by!

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 10:49 PM  

  • Wanderer...love the blogname....its very fitting. Just wanted to post a comment and tell you again...thanks for sharing! Perhaps someday back in Chicago....if either of us ever go back, we can take in a used bookstore together....not much better in life...okay I can think of a few things ;) but not much!

    Did I ever mention that my Mom and Stepdad's license plates are Nomad...funny how the wandering souls seem to find each other/common ground!

    Anyway...keep up the blogging...vicarous adventures for those of us back in the US!


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:46 PM  

  • OKAY! It is now clear. I am moving to Salamanca! I must have Spanish blood in my veins as I read with utter delight that there remain humans on this earth who prefer thoroughness and sequential tasking (albeit punctuated with the appropriate amount of cafe con leche and El Pais) over the American frenzy that requires multi tasking. I have never been a fan of multi tasking, not just because I am not good at it, but because I find that offensive to the task being multitasked. Either something is worth doing - do it until completed, or it is not, and then don't do it.

    I love your writing style, humor and sense of observation about your Spanish colleagues and neighbors. Look forward to reading more.


    By Anonymous Greenglobaltrek, at 5:15 PM  

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