Once I met my host family, it didn’t take very long to get settled into a daily routine here. Spain is not all that different from the U.S., although there are some noticeable differences in what Spanish society deems important.
The atmosphere in Spain is much more relaxed than in the U.S. The entire society is geared toward relationships and social gatherings, unlike in the U.S., where individualism reigns. I am enjoying the fact that I can sleep 7-8 hours every night and still take a siesta every afternoon if I choose to. The siesta is actually built into the Spanish schedule. Many businesses shut down during the siesta from about 2-5 pm to open up later in the evening. Traditionally, workers went home during this time period as well–lunch is generally served between 2 and 3 in the afternoon–although now some jobs have more of the workday hours found in the U.S.
We have often spent our afternoons or weekends on the beach, a common pastime for the people of Cádiz during the summer and early fall months. Many people arrive at the beach after lunch and stay there until evening when the temperature cools off and it is time to start thinking about dinner. That being said, many gaditanos (people from Cádiz) prefer to stay away from the beach once the weather turns colder in the fall.
Academics here are much more relaxed as well. Although class officially runs from 9:30-11:30 and 12:00-2:00, we usually start 5 to 10 minutes late and end whenever we have finished discussing the topic of the day. Even though classes are packed with information, the teachers (at least in my Spanish culture/history class) tell us not to take notes because it is all in our textbook–200 pages of info. We are in class to listen. If we have homework, it is usually to read less than 10 pages or complete a few exercises–none of the rigorous studying that I am used to at home. We have one final project and a final exam that is supposedly pretty general. We also learned the first day that specific questions about course requirements are only something a student from the U.S. would ask. Oh well.
I find it really easy to relax here. I feel like I’ve mellowed out a little, a trend that I hope continues for the rest of the semester and even after I return to the U.S. I have realized that I don’t need to be frantically rushing everywhere and trying to fill up my day with activities to have fun–life is not like that here.
As for social gatherings, people flock to the streets after dinner (which is between 9 and 10:30 pm), especially on the weekends. Everyone dresses up (not formally, but not in jeans and a T-shirt) and the entire family goes out, including the children, until late in the evening or early the next morning. Many people meet friends in the numerous city plazas, sitting at cafés, going to bars, or getting ice cream. While the parents and teenagers converse in groups, the children play soccer or run around in the plazas, a normal sight in the afternoons as well.
The pace of service at such places is rather relaxed as well, as Sarah H. and I experienced last Saturday. We just ordered a cheese sandwich (although the waitress gave us a strange look when we responded negatively to her question about getting something to drink) and ended up spending about 45 minutes sitting at our table from the time we ordered until the time the waitress came for our money. It is a social norm to go to such cafés, order something to eat and drink, and sit conversing with friends for a couple hours.
Such is the atmosphere here in Spain, and I have greatly enjoyed the change in pace.