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Americans should live like Spaniards

Last semester, I studied abroad in Barcelona and it was one of the greatest experiences in my life (if you get the chance to study abroad, do it!). Before I left, I did my research on Barcelona, using the internet and people who have previously visited the country. I learned many things, like how the people dress, some cultural differences and where the best Paella was made. My friend bought me a map of the city and had the metro system down before I even stepped foot in the country. While there are some things you can prepare for before leaving to a new country, there are some things you cannot.

Take, for instance, the different cultural views on time. Living in the United States, we are used to being on time and letting time dictate our lives. In Spain, it is quite the contrary. Yes, time was there, but it was not there to run your life. This was something I appreciated while being over in Barcelona and wish we shared the same values here in the United States.


How many times do you look at your clock before you leave your house? How many of you carry planners, have calendars, or use your phone as a device for reminders? In the United States, time is always there, poking us in our backs to let us know that we can’t sit and talk for too long. We are constantly “on-the-go.” We eat our food “on-the-go.” Our cups are generally made so that if you do choose to stay and sit for a while, you can, but if life interrupts this peaceful moment (which it generally does), you can take your drink with you.

We live in a place where time controls us. We have deadlines and phrases that say some nonsense about how being on time is late. We are always talking about how we feel we do not have enough time in a day. One topic that I hear about all the time in college and still have not mastered by my senior year is time management. I am not even sure if that is possible. How can we manage time? Something that is not tangible? Something that is not ours? That we have no control over? In the United States, time is never on our sides, and that is stressful.

Now imagine going to a place where they close down stores in the middle of the day for two to three hours for “siesta,” or nap time. Imagine a place where professors are generally five to 10 minutes late to class, so you don’t have to worry about rushing so much if you can’t find a parking spot in -11 degree weather. Imagine a place where you are served a glass cup with every drink you order, inviting you to stay a little longer, chat with your friends, take your time, maybe even order some food. Doesn’t this place sound nice? A place where your life is not run by time. Where people actually take the time out to gift wrap the purchases you buy from their stores. Where the waiters don’t even bring you the bill until you ask for it because there is no rush for you to leave. This was my experience in Barcelona. This is what I want my life to be like.

It didn’t take long for my other study abroad friends and I to catch on to the cultural difference the Spaniards have on time. We often found ourselves almost running into the backs of other people because we were walking too fast. We were always early to class and wondering why the other native students seemed to be in no rush when it was a couple minutes or more past the hour class was supposed to start. Our teachers never really set deadlines on our assignments (which was my favorite part), which helped a lot when it came to stress. We quickly learned that time defined no human in Barcelona and once we learned to relax and go with the flow, we began to enjoy it.

The difference in time I experienced in Barcelona opened my eyes to an entire new way of living. It made me think about my current way of living, if I like living like this and what things I value as important. It made me think about how stressed I am, have been and will be in the future. I am not sure if I will be living in the United States or a less stressful place in the future, but either way, it is nice to sit back and think about Barcelona as I take up a Chipotle booth for four (or more) hours.

In Brief:

  • Spain and the United States have different cultural views when it comes to time.

  • The cultural view on time in Spain is less stressful than in the United States

  • The United States should consider these different views on time

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