2016 Spring Sarah Godwin Temple in Spain

Do as the Spaniards Do

While getting used to living in Oviedo, my most immediate focus has been the language adjustment. I started studying Spanish in middle school and have since become pretty confident in my coursework, but I quickly realized that being completely surrounded by your second language is very different from studying that language for an hour or two every weekday. Over the last month and a half (I just had to look at a calendar to confirm that, yes, I’ve been here for that long), I’ve gradually started to feel more comfortable with the language aspect of studying abroad, and with each conversation I’m able to devote a little bit less energy to figuring out what something means or what I want to say next. Now I feel as though I’ve gotten over the initial shock of operating in a different language, so I’m starting to pay more attention to other kinds of adjustments.

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Evening tapas with Louis, another Temple student

Cultural differences definitely haven’t been as obvious as the contrast between English and Spanish, but in the last few weeks I’ve noticed some norms that make everyday life here in Oviedo distinct from an average day in the U.S. One of those norms is made clear in the rules on campus. To many hungry students’ dismay, eating is not allowed in the classrooms. Yesterday in Jaime’s class we talked about how that rule is connected to a broader difference in cultural expectations. Eating might technically be against the rules in some classes at Temple, but no one would think twice about a student eating a snack on the way from one class to another. In Spain, eating on the run is highly unusual, if not frowned upon. It’s common to eat between meals, but not while walking around either on campus or in the city. Instead, people head to cafes to eat their pinchos (snack-sized sandwiches) or tapas (small plates, often served at bars) while seated.

The aversion to eating while on the move seems to stem from Spanish attitudes about time. Just by walking around the city, I’ve noticed that people are usually much less hurried and stressed than in the U.S. To someone in Oviedo, taking a few minutes to eat a snack at a table is both preferable and more practical than eating while rushing down the street. Even at fast food restaurants, it’s common to linger around the table and socialize rather than getting through meals as quickly as possible.

Because there is less of an emphasis on hurrying, a typical daily routine is very different in Spain than in the U.S. The day begins at around the same time in the morning, but meals and activities here are both longer and later. My host family and I usually eat lunch at about 3 p.m. After that is the famous siesta, which is supposed to last for less than an hour. Whereas many Americans head home at the end of a “9 to 5” workday, most people in Oviedo work much later into the evening. A typical dinnertime is 9 or 10 p.m., and it’s not unusual to meet friends at a cafe or bar afterwards. On the weekends, many people in Oviedo stay out with friends until shortly before the sun comes up.

After adjusting to the language, I’ve found the daily schedule to be the biggest challenge so far. As I get more accustomed to the sleeping and eating routine, I’m sure I’ll notice other habits and norms that are different from those at home, and I’ll continue to write about them as I do!

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