To Siesta or Not To Siesta

The shops are always closed.

I can’t figure out when the restaurants will open.

And, apparently, I don’t say, “¿Habla Inglés?,” clearly enough.

The rhythms of this city are sooo different from what I’m used to, and although it’s not quite driving me nuts, it’s starting to put me on edge. But not for the reasons you might think.

I’m actually a pretty bad tourist. 

I knew I could arrive and survive in Madrid with minimal research. Or language understanding. This is one of those instances where an accident of birth blessed me with a language that lets me travel around Europe with a minimum of muss or fuss. So I blithely, and undoubtedly disrespectfully, stepped into a completely different culture from my own.

In the last few years I’ve started to realize just how many of those birth accidents I’ve been blessed with, whether it’s the color of my skin, my gender, or simply having parents who gifted me with love and acceptance where so many don't. 

That’s probably a different blog post.

But it’s hard…impossible, rather…not to take things like that for granted. I’ve been gently rebuked a few times for thinking otherwise. And although it bothers me that I might never be able to understand what people go through who work against prejudice every day of their lives, I’m beginning to understand just how much blindness privilege begets. And ignorance. 

Ugh. I hate that.

Except I’ve certainly taken advantage of the universality of English on this continent. In this instance I didn’t do much research into Madrid at all, just the minimum necessary to book a good Airbnb in a good location in the center of the city. Mainly because I knew I could get by bearing an apologetic smile and “No hablo español,” with a wide-eyed blank look thrown in for good measure. I figured I would learn the rhythms and culture of the city as I went. 

But even before I left London it occurred to me that this wasn’t a particularly respectful way of entering into another culture for over a month. And I was right. And Madrid has pretty much slapped my hand.  

Sorry, Madrid. I’ll do better.

With a side of culture-shock…

In the midst of some well-deserved guilt (let’s call it “self-understanding”), I’m also realizing the rhythms of the Spanish culture—or at the very least the city of Madrid—might not be for me. The jury is still out. People I know talk about how much they love the idea of siestas, which is the dead period in late afternoon when everything shuts down for people to rest and nap. But for me siestas aren’t a natural transition or part of a work day. And they’re potentially harmful to my work flow.

My ideal cycle of rest and work is sleeping in in the morning and working through the late morning and afternoon, preferably in a cozy café or coffee shop. Over the course of a long work life I’ve learned how poorly I perform when my work time is constantly interrupted. I have quite a long ramp up time and get fairly easily distracted, so once I start work, I don’t like to stop until I really stop. For the day. Timeclock off, laptop closed. Time to play.

But that’s not how this city works. First, there aren’t many “coffee shops” in my area of Madrid, and most places close down around 2pm and don’t open back up until 5pm or even 8pm. And I’m not joking about the closing down. Metal gates roll shut, doors close, streets empty. With the exception of a few holdouts, I’ve seen areas that could be pulled from the pages of an apocalyptic novel. And on top of that, a lot of places don’t seem to want you opening your laptop inside.

So siestas, in short, pretty much completely disrupt the normal flow of a work day for me. I actually have to go back to the flat to get work done, which gets pretty boring. 

Ahhh, first world problems.

I’m not actually all that upset, just surprised. And kind of lonely. Madrid has been a bit more of a culture shock than I expected. I thought I could slip into a rest and work rhythm here with little or no fuss. Well, I was hoping for that. I’m learning that finding or changing a work rhythm is another type of work, and it’ll take time to adjust.

Or maybe I’m just getting old and set in my ways. Shut up.