“Hustle culture” in the United States is as entrenched in our society as barbecues on Memorial Day. While this way of life prioritizes personal achievement and productivity, it often leads to burnout, as people quickly get pushed to their limits. Even as undergraduate students, we’re encouraged to take rigorous courses that will challenge us on various levels, and to pursue internships during our summer and winter breaks, all while maintaining a healthy work-school-life balance. Slogans such as “rise and grind,” “the early bird gets the worm,” and “let’s get this bread” have become extremely popular lately, especially on social media platforms such as TikTok. However, not all countries operate this way. As a long-time fan of the Spanish language and culture, I have gathered many observations about the Spanish way of life, from the six years I have been taking Spanish classes and from my trip to Valencia and Barcelona this past summer.
Granted, the sunny days, friendly locals, and dark blue sea that stood out to me in July could be attributed to the summer season but some other features were undoubtedly “Spanish,” regardless of the weather. Breaking it down into gastronomy and general lifestyle, I wrote down my thoughts as I was experiencing a culture primarily characterized by the Spaniards’ ability to slow down and enjoy the world around them.
There’s a famous quote that I learned about in my Nutritional Anthropology class that makes a distinction between eating to live and living to eat. While eating to live highlights our biological need to have food in our stomach, living to eat prioritizes the culture surrounding what to eat, when to eat, and how to eat it, as well as the care put into choosing our next meal. In Spain, I noted that the locals seemed to be living to eat. Food is deemed a social experience, with young and old people alike sitting at restaurants for hours, sometimes only ordering drinks. Before actual dinner around 9:00 p.m., there is a particular time dedicated to ordering drinks and enjoying tapas – or appetizers – a time for social connection over food before actual dinner. The meal schedule is less structured than the traditional American diet of three meals per day; in fact, most locals eat between four to six meals a day, one source states. The most typical foods I saw people eat while I was in Valencia and Barcelona included bocadillos and the combination of a hot coffee with a freshly-squeezed orange juice.
While it’s hard to pinpoint a specific instance or example that proves my point, I noticed that life in Spain is a lot more casual; more spontaneous than the life most people lead in the United States. “Hustle culture” is not a “thing;” actually, there’s not even a word for it that fully encompasses its meaning, only direct translations of the expression from English. Furthermore, the siesta, or nap, is a key feature of life in Barcelona – wandering through the streets midday, I encountered many “gone for the afternoon, come back later” signs posted up on shop doors. Clearly, their well-being is prioritized as a break after lunch helps with digestion, acts as an escape from the blistering heat, and perhaps, most importantly, provides a break from the busy workday.
These might seem like simple, insignificant details – a longer dinner, a nap in the afternoon – but they amount to a culture promoting rest, contentment, and perhaps paradoxically, even productivity in some places. So, my biggest takeaway from Spain and what I want to encourage others to do is to slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures of life.