MADRID, Spain– The service in Spain is horrible. If you get a server to even look in your direction within 10 minutes of sitting down, you’re one of the lucky ones. Even if you come in knowing exactly what you want to eat, it’s nearly impossible to get out of any cafe up here within an hour.
My friends and I sit impatiently, tapping our fingers while we try to think of new ways to catch our server’s eye. We complain about how this would never happen if we were in the U.S. We reminisce about our favorite restaurants in the U.S. and how quickly we always got our food. And soon go into our other gripes in the country, namely that the shops never seem to be open when you want them to.
They’re closed every day from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. for siesta and every Saturday and Sunday). We roll our eyes and check our watches, even though we don’t really have anything to do afterwards.
At the table next to us is a group of Spanish students with the same server. But instead of waiting impatiently like us, they’re laughing it up. They’re in no hurry. They came, not to eat and run out, but simply to enjoy the company of the people they came with.
They don’t even notice that it took 45 minutes for their food to come out or 15 minutes for the server to bring the check even after they asked for it. One of the reasons that she is so slow is because she’s taking her time laughing it up with them and joking back.
I thought that when I first came to the country that there were a lot more elderly people with disabilities. With my American mentality, I of course thought that these poor Spanish people didn’t have good enough health care. I completely ignored the fact that Spain is a developed country. Only when I talked to my professors later did I realize that there aren’t more elderly people disabled in Spain than any other country.
The difference is that, elderly and disabled or not, it’s not Spanish custom to stay in your house. It’s Spanish custom to be out and about and around people. People in Spain come home to eat and sleep, aside from that they’re all around town.
If you’re on the metro alone and there are dozens of seats available, a typical Spaniard will choose a seat next to another person. They walk every which directions on the sidewalks, not minding if they bump into another person. Being close doesn’t bother them at all.
All of these things surprised me, and bugged me, when I came to the country. I wasn’t used to waiting so long, to having people so close to me. But now two moths later, I love it. Instead of reading a book at home, I always go a park. Instead of inviting my friends over, we always meet at a bar or cafe, and now always plan to take awhile because we know it won’t be quick.
There’s a beauty in the laid-back Spanish atmosphere that took me awhile to enjoy. I was so used to the hurried, you-stay-in-your-personal-space-I’ll-stay-in-mine mentality that I had to really observe the culture and those kids enjoying themselves in the cafe to really appreciate it.
I just hope I’ll remember it when I get back.
Maria Sanchez-Traynor is a senior majoring in English and Journalism. She is studying in Madrid Spain this fall. You can contact her at email@example.com.