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Voices Specific to Madrid:
If you have taken advantage of siesta time in Spain taking a daily nap between 2pm-5pm, be prepared to feel a wave of sleepiness sweep over you during those hours when you return to the United States.
I used to take siesta naps all the time in Spain. When I came back home I suddenly felt tired during the day. When I looked over at the clock I realized that it was siesta time. Of course with a job during the summer and classes throughout the day, I could no longer incorporate siesta naps into my schedule. It was hard to adjust.
Madrilenos do not usually eat dinner until around 10 or 11. They usually spend no less than two hours on lunch, and last call is usually between 5-6AM.
In Madrid, I was so used to eating dinner at 11pm, going out at around 12 or 1am, and then calling it a night when the subway opened up again. It was hard getting back into the earlier schedule of New York. Also, eating meals on the go seemed like a foreign concept when I came back too.
After my first semester abroad, I came back disgusted at the lack of culture in the States, and was dying to go back to Europe. After a semester in Madrid, however, I realized that eight whole months abroad helped me realize what was missing from my life without the states, and I began appreciating the American things I took for granted before. Beach Boys, 24-hour diners, big breakfasts, and the freedom to be who you want to be.
-Sarah, Florence & Madrid
Reflection on Smoking
I see it in foreign movies all the time: the lovers who, after a passionate tussle, light a couple of cigarettes in bed; the posh group of friends who pretentiously puff on cigarettes inside of a ritzy restaurant; the woman sitting inside a small, dimly lit cafe, anxiously taking a drag from her slow burning cigarette, anticipating the arrival of some friend. As an American these scenes are wonderfully novel, even exotic, not merely because of the foreign locations where they take place, or the sensual syllabic strangeness of the language being spoken, but because of the act being committed: the smoking, and not just smoking but smoking inside.
Here in the United States the romanticism associated with smoking has long been erased and replaced with a more clinical, realistic association: cancer, and death. Gone are the days of smoking inside most restaurants, bars and hotels; now there are designated smoking areas outside and those venues which do allow indoor smoking are far a few between. Smoking is no longer “cool.” This has not been done in the U.S. at the federal level – states have the discretion of passing judgment on such issues – but the United States has made a great effort, through anti-smoking campaigns, to rid itself of the suffocating, sickening odor of cigarette smoke.
This phenomena hasn’t just occurred in the United States but has swept through Europe as well, where most Western European countries such as Britain, Ireland, Portugal, Germany, Italy and France have passed similar legislation (at the national or provincial level) that prohibit smoking in the work place and/or enclosed public areas. In fact, the only major country in Europe that has yet to pass legislation banning indoor smoking, the only country that still venerates such an activity, has been Spain…until now.
Talk of anti-smoking legislation has been whispered through Spain in the last few years since Europe has jumped on the anti-smoking bandwagon but few in Spain actually thought it would take effect; in fact, a bar owner I had a conversation with as recently as May said that it was just legislative “rubbish,” just a lot of talk to please the health conscious zealots. I’m sure his attitude was largely influenced by the fact that Spain had already passed a sort of anti-smoking legislation back in 2006 which banned smoking in the workplace, but essentially granted owners full discretion in allowing or disallowing smoking in bars, clubs, restaurants and cafes; which of course meant that there really was no ban at all. I’d love to know if my bar owner friend still stands by his statement now that a recent widespread legislation banning smoking in public establishments is expected to pass the Spanish Senate on January 2, different from its predecessor in that it is boldly seeking to completely eliminate smoking in enclosed areas.
While it’s hard to criticize such health conscious legislation many Spaniards feel that, while indisputably a good idea, the ban is also unnecessarily radical. Bar owners especially are fuming (no pun intended, I promise) over the imminent elimination of smoking in their establishments, claiming that such a legislation will have severely negative consequences on their business. Let’s face it, the Spanish love their cigarettes and even those who don’t consider themselves smokers still light one up every now and then, particularly when drinking in a bar. This legislation is thus the cause of major worry considering the current economical instability in Spain. Manuel Diaz, the owner of a small bar near Granada, seems especially opposed to this legislation. “It’s a complete disaster,” said Mr. Diaz, “My income dropped by 15 per cent in 2008 because of the recession, and 35 per cent in 2009, and this latest law is going to destroy us completely. I’m a non-smoker but I don’t know a single restaurant owner in favor of it.”
Aside from the economic fear of passing such legislation, there is also the fear of losing such a culturally significant aspect of Spanish life. For better or worse, smoking has become a large part of Spanish culture, just as much as the affinity for red wine, the typical tapas, and the passion for fútbol. Part of the unique cultural experience of visiting Spain is the strangeness and exhilaration you feel when walking into a loud, dimly lit, smoke-filled bar and lighting a cigarette without hesitation or prohibition; it’s oddly liberating. I’ll be honest, despite being a smoker now for a few years, nothing disgusts me more than the lingering stench of cigarette smoke stubbornly hovering in an unventilated, enclosed space; it clings desperately to your hair, coat, clothes, even to your bra, and it is a tiresome battle to rid yourself of the odorous imposer. However, despite the avarice I have towards the consequences of smoking indoors, while in Madrid I found myself partaking in that very act. Why? Cultural immersion. (That and, I couldn’t really escape the smoke so I figured, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.)
Now, while cultural immersion sounds like a terrible reason for conceding to the health hazardous act of smoking indoors, it really is an important part of understanding the Spanish lifestyle. In general, the Spanish relish in the concept of joie de vivre; they love to live life. They work to live, they don’t live to work. They revel in camaraderie and sociability. They love to eat, they love to drink. They love to have a good time and they love to relax (siesta anyone?). But, what does smoking have to do with all of this? It’s simple. Of course the Spanish are aware of the horrid habit of smoking (indoors) but for them the pleasure they derive from it far outweighs the consequences; they are very “in the moment” people. That is the Spanish mentality and one of the things that makes Spanish culture so refreshing for someone from the United States (New York especially), where looking to the future is an almost inherent impulse.
So, what do you do with this legislation? Personally, I’m torn. I hated coming back from the club reeking of “Au de Ash Tray,” but I loved observing something foreign to me. Still, I guess I’m going to have to do what the Spanish will be forced to do: embrace it. It was bound to happen, all we can do now is look on intrigued as the Spanish government tries to implement this law on an unwilling population; all we can do is watch as the last smokers haven in the Western world becomes just like everyone else.