Contemplating Cultural Differences


May 13, 2015 – Manresa, Spain

The day after tomorrow I’ll be visiting a small town here in Spain. Well, it’s less of a “town” and more of a “hamlet,” I guess. I won’t have a wireless connection there, so I’ll post this now.

This town, Casas del Cerro, deep in the heart of La Mancha, is next to a slightly larger town called Alcala del Jucar, which boasts an impressive view, with an Arab fortress perched atop a mountain (photo above). Its location affords long-ranging, strategic views of the countryside. It’s something else.

In Casas del Cerro, there is only one public place for social gatherings, a smoke-filled bar run under a cooperative arrangement by the inhabitants of the town. And there is one panaderia, or bakery, and that’s it. So if you visit, make sure you take a few books or board games to keep you company.

Whenever I’m in Casas del Cerro, I have a ton of time to contemplate things, since there’s not much else to do. My Spanish relatives sit around and talk and drink. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but after a couple of hours, I feel as if I have nothing else to say. And, at that time, I do what I do best. I retreat into myself and think about things. And since there’s nothing else to do, I think a lot. One of the things I often contemplate is how different, in some ways, most Americans are from the Spanish.

To Americans, time is extremely valuable. We plan events, including social gatherings, weeks ahead of time. We’re gifted at scheduling. We multitask, making the most of the time we have. I cook, wash dishes, and work on book drafts at the same time. We have our own projects that we enjoy doing, much of the time in addition to our full-time jobs. At least some of us enjoy our jobs. Many of us have no time or patience for non-intellectual tasks such as housecleaning (ugh).

The Spanish, on the other hand, seem to have all the time in the world. They worry less about getting enough sleep. They take their time with things. The slow pace at which they walk is excruciating. I speak in generalizations (there are cultural differences among the different autonomous communities in Spain, but that’s a subject for a different day). Not everyone conforms to this set of characteristics, of course. However, most of the Spanish I know absolutely excel at living in the moment.

I’m a city girl. I love the frenetic urban environment. It’s nice to get away, to have some space to breathe, to move at a slower pace, but only for a little while. For example, the other day we were at a family gathering here in Spain, and we played soccer (futbol) with the kids, chatted, and had snacks. After an hour and a half, maybe two hours, I felt like we were ready to move on, go home and have “me” time. But the gathering dragged on for two hours after that, and I was chomping at the bit. The kids were melting down, but a grown adult (which, arguably, I am) isn’t supposed to have a meltdown, so I just pouted and helped to clean up so that I could go home.

So, in Casas del Cerro, I have a ton of down time. But instead of worrying about what I’m not able to do, or how bored I am, I try to work on book rewrites, read a book for pleasure, and contemplate.

In my contemplative moments, it dawned on me that the Spanish don’t seem to need “me” time the way that most Americans do. The Spanish are always with other people. Now, there are Americans who are extroverts, and who don’t like being alone. And there are others who, much of the time, prefer being alone. To an INTJ like me, being with other people ALL THE TIME is energy-sapping. But even INTJs should realize that it is also important not to close yourself off entirely, as beneficial as it is to give yourself time alone to contemplate.

The bottom line is that Americans could learn from the Spanish. Live in the moment. We shouldn’t always be thinking about the next hour, day, or week. And we may miss some things. Many of my favorite memories are short-lived, but that does not mean that they were insignificant.

On the other hand, the Spanish could also learn from the Americans. Social time is important, but many of us are at our most productive, and most contributive, when we have time alone. Arguably, many of the Spanish don’t give themselves time to contemplate because they are always with other people; they are never alone. We need time with loved ones, and we also need to be comfortable with ourselves, to know who we are.

Maybe it is in those contemplative moments when we realize what our true likes and dislikes are, when we break the monotonous daily routine and give ourselves time to really think. What do I want? Am I where I want to be? Is this where I saw myself ten years ago?

Maybe I’m not making any sense. Maybe I need to go contemplate some more.


2 thoughts on “Contemplating Cultural Differences

  1. Lolita Mancheno-Smoak

    Maria didn’t know you were vacationing in the Motherland. Great read, you are most definitely “Maja.”



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