While I’ve learned a lot about this country since moving here in September 2012, one thing in particular I’ve gained is a new perspective on America; sometimes you need a fresh pair of eyes to see both your homeland’s faults as well as what places, foods, and times of the year are really special.
Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to take what I’ve learned in my experience living here in Spain and talk about what I think American culture and society could stand to learn from Spain (this post)…and vice versa.
Now, before the haters come out of the woodwork, let me just say that living in Spain has made me love America more than before I came here. It’s hard to fully appreciate what you love most about your country until you’ve spent a stretch of time away and realize what you really miss most of all. But blind patriotism—the idea that the U.S. can do no wrong, the inability to think critically about the place you call home—is not for me. For us Americans out there, let’s have a grown-up discussion about what areas America could grow in, using our neighbor across the ocean as an example.
1) How to eat and drink
|Institutionalized snacktime in Spain|
…in America we drink sugary soda, and lots of it, from gigantic cups and bottles to endless refills at restaurants. In Spain, you have to pay for each can or bottle you drink, and said bottle is rarely more than 330 mL.
…in America we scarf down our meals as fast as possible (often fast food, in the car), whereas in Spain people take time to sit down and have dinner with friends or family. It also helps that restaurants in Spain aren’t about pushing you to leave in order to flip the table but are about serving food and creating a warm environment.
…in America we are all about our massive, complex, to-go Starbucks orders, which are usually more milk, sugar, and syrup than actual coffee, but in Spain most people drink a simple shot of espresso at a café bar, usually adding some steamed milk and a packet of sugar.
…in American restaurants the portion sizes are out of control: either you eat the entire platter set before you or you take half of it home for leftovers. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve doggy-bagged things here in Spain, though; plates are sized appropriately.
…in America a significant number of people drink alcohol purely to get drunk; drinking “culture” in the States often centers around getting inebriated as fast as possible. In Spain, people have a glass of wine with their hours-long meals, get tapas for free to munch on with their short beers, and even get little bowls of nuts or gummy bears with mixed drinks. A teacher last year told me “los españoles saben beber”: Spaniards know how to hold their drink.
…in America we snack whenever we want on whatever we like, be it donuts or leftovers or chocolate lying around the house. In Spain, people have the standard breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but they also have two approved Snack Times or meriendas: in the mid-morning around 11am people might have some coffee and fruit or a pastry (second breakfast, anyone?), and in the afternoon around 5 or 6pm, a sandwich or toast to hold them over until their famously-late dinners at 9pm (sometimes midnight!).