I can honestly say that I didn’t know much about Spain or its culture before coming here. In fact, now that I have been here for two months, I might even say that I didn’t know anything. It sounds bad to say because I was uneducated about my new host culture when I arrived, but I think a good plus side to this was not walking in with a ton of stereotypes. If I had to come up with one assumption I made about the Spanish, it would probably be that people in this country are generally lazy. It’s hard not to assume that when you see all the people that are out and about during the day and think “Why aren’t they working?” or when you see them enjoying beer or wine at 2pm on a Tuesday. The concept of siesta was especially mind blowing to me. The whole country just goes home to take a nap for 3 hours? Seriously? Even the relaxed mindset of the people drove me crazy when I first got here. Everyone walks at snail speed on the streets, and its normal, even customary, to arrive to an appointment or meeting at least 10 to 15 minutes late. Coming from New York and living less than an hour from the city that never sleeps, this was a big change-up for me.
I am taking a medical anthropology course here and we recently had a discussion on approaching new cultures and attempting to be the opposite of ethnocentric. We learned that concepts and ways of life within a culture make sense to each of them and that it’s okay to judge or disagree with different ideologies but only after you are educated and
informed about their rationales. My professor showed us this cartoon, which really stuck with me and gave me a good understanding about cultural differences and how easy it is to make assumptions without understanding.
Over the past month I have completely reversed my thinking on my stereotype because I have learned more about the Spanish culture and why they do the things they do. I now know that unemployment here is crazy high, about 30%, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t trying to find jobs. I also found out that siesta was adopted because of the very high temperatures in the summer. Being that the majority of places here don’t have air conditioning, it just gets too hot to function. People only sleep for about 20-30 minutes, though. The other time is spent eating lunch, talking with family, or watching TV. As for the slower pace and casual drinking, I haven’t really discovered reasoning yet. But what I do is try to keep in mind that I am just as different from them as they are from me. My way isn’t the right way, but neither is theirs. So really it’s just one of those cultural differences that is the way it is. I think this whole stereotypical situation is best summed up by the following quote:
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
–Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
One stereotype my host culture has about Americans is that they are wasteful. I was warned several times when coming here that it “won’t be like America” and that I need to be mindful of what I use because things like water, lights, and heat are more expensive here in Spain. This angered me a bit at first because I was offended that people would think that Americans don’t care about the environment or the damage we do to the planet. We recycle, turn the lights off when they aren’t in use, save leftover food, carpool, and use reusable water bottles. There are tons of things Americans do to help the environment. After living here, I now agree that compared to Spaniards, we are indeed wasteful. People here take conservation to a whole new level. In my apartment we only have small space heaters, rather than a full heating system. There is no air conditioning. There are lots of windows used for natural light, so the lights are turned off a good 90% of the day. People don’t really own or drive cars. The use public transportation, walk, and bike ride all the time. Water is conserved at every opportunity, even when flushing the toilets. There are no dishwashers nor dryers, plates are hand washed and all clothing is hung up on
clotheslines. So based on what I have seen and learned, there are definitely valid reasons for this stereotype about America.
I think this image portrays that not only do our wasteful habits hurt the environment, but also our wallets due to the amount of money we throw away. We could all easily adapt to more eco-friendly lifestyles and save a ton of money. This also goes hand in hand with other countries’ stereotypes about Americans being spoiled. We waste so much unnecessary energy and money to live our luxurious lifestyles. Sure it’s nice to have machines that wash your dishes or dry your clothes, but if you step back and look at the big picture, we could absolutely live without them and many other extras.