July 2009

I was buzzed in to Jesús’ apartment at 12:00 on the nose for my weekly Spanish lesson.  He greeted my arrival with, “¿Que tal?  Estas muy punctual.”  To which I simply replied, “Soy Americana”.

It’s true that many Americans place a lot of value on promptness.  I had left our apartment 20 minutes before 12:00 knowing full well that it was no more than a 10 minute walk to Jesús’ place.  But with the narrow streets and my poor map reading skills I wanted to give myself plenty of time for a prompt arrival.

Jesús chatted with me about his perceptions of the American vs. Spanish sense of time.  If an American is chatting with someone and realizes that he needs to be somewhere at a certain time he will point to his watch with a quick explanation of his upcoming destination, wrap up the conversation abruptly and depart post haste.  If the same scenario happens with a Spaniard, the priority is with the current conversation.  The appointment is less important than the social interaction in progress.  Being ten minutes late for an appointment is not really perceived as “late” by a Spaniard.

I am pretty sure Jesús feels that the Spanish approach to time, with its priority focused on social interaction has many more merits than the American way, and I can certainly see his point.  Sadly, I am pretty sure that I cannot undo 37 years of hard-wired American punctuality.


We are spending summer term living in Madrid.  Okay, so you’re probably wondering, weren’t we in Italy?  Italy is a great place to be a tourist if you don’t mind crowds too much. If you do, or you just don’t want to always feel like a tourist, standing in line and paying large sums to get tickets for museums and other sites, then Italy loses some of its charms.  Maybe if we’d found a little place in Tuscany, we’d have stayed, but by the time we really realized that Italy wasn’t working as planned, we needed a change.

The plan had been to travel in Italy summer term before spending the summer break seeing more of Europe, and we considered simply starting early on that leg of our trip by going immediately to Greece.  But we concluded we might still have the same issues we had in Italy – easy internet access in the big cities and tourist towns and nowhere else.  Having to stay in the cities would take away the freedom we dreamed of for that part of our trip, so we decided to leave that part of the plan in place and travel between terms.  Italy wasn’t working, moving on to Greece was out, but we still didn’t know how, or where, we would spend the next few weeks.

The best option would be to find a place to spend summer term, a place where we could live for several weeks, with a reliable internet connection.  We then struck on the idea of heading to Portugal and living there for the remainder of summer term.  We knew we wanted to see Portugal before we left Europe, and we hadn’t yet made it.  We decided to go for it.

The great thing about travelling as light as we do is we can create and act on plans quickly.  The day after deciding to go to Portugal we were on a ferry from Rome to Barcelona, on the first leg of our trip to Lisbon.  As soon as we were in Spain again, we felt more comfortable.  We were still in a tourist area in Barcelona, but it just felt better than Italy.  After a couple of days in Barcelona, we headed to Madrid to see the sights for a couple of days before continuing to Portugal.

But just as we decided during our trip to southern Spain last year that we were coming back this fall, we felt the irresistible urge to stay in Madrid and forget about Portugal.  Oh, we’ll see Portugal before leaving for home, but the idea of Portugal couldn’t compete with the reality of Spain.  No matter where we’ve been in Spain, we’ve loved it (as long as I didn’t have to drive).  So, here we are.  Now that we’re truly settled in for a few weeks, we hope to post more often again, and write about Spain.