Word of the week: Encantada, directly translated, “enchanted”. After you meet someone, given you have a conversation, and connect with them on a personal level, you can say this as you leave. The beauty is in its simplicity: in one word, encantada captures the sentiment of feeling grateful for having met someone. It reinforces the heartwarming aspect of Spanish culture that embraces connection and emotion. In English, the idea of enchantment is reserved for romance or fantastical scenarios. Spanish enchants itself with the simple acts of everyday life. I wonder if Taylor Swift´s iconic line /I was enchanted to meet you/ draws any inspiration from this colloquialism.
I will start by saying that this prompt was difficult for me, because I find that I relate more to the Spanish than the American lifestyle. In America, I often find myself feeling stressed and overworked, and sometimes, isolated. While this may not apply as much during the school year in a communal campus environment, I am nervous about how adulthood and working life might affect me in America. A largely car-based infrastructure and less emphasis on spending time in community are not conducive to my happiness, a hypothesis that has been proven by living in Spain. I’m currently doing the same amount of work in Spain as I do at home, and am feeling more fulfilled. I’m sure the summer weather and the excitement of exploring a new city have something to do with that. However, I don’t think I can wholly attribute my positive experience to details that don’t address culture.
My first week in Spain, one night at the dinner table, my (working) host sister said, “Well of course you’re happier here. Americans live to work, and Spanish work to live.” While that may be an oversimplification underwritten with ethnocentricity, it’s not such a crazy idea. My host sister comes home a little after 7 every day, and goes out every other night to have a drink or dinner with friends. She travels to different cities and countries every other weekend, although wedding season might also influence this schedule. Since her job is in the city, it takes her and her coworkers a maximum of half an hour to commute with public transport.
One of the main lifestyle differences that allows her and other Spanish young adults to maintain a fulfilling work-life balance is this- she is 24, has graduated college, and lives with her parent. She and many other young adults in Spain plan to do so until they are in a serious relationship or are married. This lifestyle choice ensures that most households are double-income households, which provides more money to be used for entertainment and “living”.
It is true that the cost of living in Spain is generally affordable, but salaries are accordingly much lower than most EU countries, and definitely those of comparable jobs in America. So, Spanish people are making a conscious choice to spend a greater percentage of their budget on entertainment. In addition to budget, the culture leans towards lingering- over meals, in conversations, over a beer- they like to talk. The Spanish willingly sacrifice an extra hour of rest for longer periods of socialization, even during work meetings.
These customs result, evidently, in less sleep than one might get in other countries. This is my greatest point of contention. I like my sleep. If I don’t get my 8 hours, I´m a grumpy old man. I am also a less effective learner and contributor. I feel that adequate sleep could be achieved by consolidating the work day to a 9-5, or even a 10-6. This would mean, however, that meetings and lunches would need to be shorter, a cultural shift that I´m not sure the Spanish would embrace.
Or, perhaps the key is more efficient goal-setting. I have noticed a laissez-faire mentality, in the sense that supervisors tend to be less strict with deadlines, and workers are rarely compelled to stay later to finish a task they have not finished. People tend to be less disciplined and more forgiving with their work habits, maybe even attributing their lack of productivity to extraneous sources like the weather, or the fact that the supervisor wasn´t in the office that day. Although I don’t prefer an unremitting working environment, I do feel there is room for more structure in the workday. This might even give the Spanish back some beloved free time at the end of the day.