I didn’t notice it when I landed in London. Nor during my time going through customs in Boston. No, instead I was sitting in a restaurant when it hit me. The not-so-crowded venue was full of people speaking English, a rather common event in America I will attest, but my ears, while accustomed to hearing it only daily among friends, couldn’t block out the numerous conversations.
I was used to tuning into English in public spaces. It is a marker for perhaps a fellow countrymen or at the very least, a possible conversation for both participants in the mother tongue, connecting strangers in a strange land. Considering how rare it was heard abroad in public spaces, this was incredibly overwhelming. My only saving grace was the fact that we were at a Mexican restaurant, and the waiter had made the safe bet of speaking in Spanish to my dad and I. The humor of the situation was not lost on me; profiling as unmistakably Hispanic allowed me to be eased back into a world that was both all too familiar and foreign in the same instant.
Coming back after almost 9 months away hit me harder than I thought it would. It wasn’t Boston. I lived in a city in Spain and had traveled to several during my time abroad. But there is something truly unique about both urban and suburban America and it runs deeper than the sprawling properties or the towering skyscrapers; I’ve decided it’s the pace of life.
In Spain, and especially where I call home, Andalucía, the people are infamously regarded as lazy. Perhaps this is a bit unfair, but understandable given the miles of coastline, near endless sun, and of course the ritual of la siesta. But rather than cast aside their nonexistent sense of urgency for callousness, I’ve come to realize a few things. One of which being that Spaniards value experiences and their time much more than the average American. Watching the coffee shops in the rest areas on the way back home to Clinton, I thought about how hardly anyone was sitting and enjoying their coffee, something I had never noticed before. Instead, it was impatiently retrieved and toted back to the car outside, with both consumer and purchase gone in the blink of an eye. This would never happen while on the Spanish highways whose near vacant rest areas have an impressive amount of seating for their amount of clientele.
A coffee in Spain, though, is given much more thought and attention, and dare I say, affection. In Spanish, there’s a subtle linguistic beauty that transpires when prompted for your choice of beverage: “¿que tomas?” which translates to “what do you take?” I think this is a perfect example of what I’ve just described above. As Americans we tend to drink our coffee as a means of getting caffeine into our systems. The Spanish don’t just drink their coffee, it’s an experience that is acquired. It’s a ceremony, a ritual—and never performed in a to-go cup.
As an American abroad, believe me, I still have my share of frustrations with the Spanish and their pace of life when I’m in line at the bank, the grocery store, wherever; I don’t like to waste my time. But if I’ve learned anything here so far, it’s that slowing down and making more of these moments that, as a culture, we do for the sake of simply accomplishing, transcends well beyond a cup of coffee.
Are we appreciating the journey or more worried about how fast we get to the destination?