Alone time is not allowed in Spain. “Allowed” is not the right word. But people don’t leave you alone. I think Spaniards assume if you’re spending time alone, you’re sad, though I’m starting to realize that Spaniards are not sad and don’t really know what it is (which, I am convinced leads to their long lives, despite their awful smoking habits, but that’s a theory for another blog post).
Anyway, New York is a tiny, 2-mile-wide island with about 8 million people on it on any given day, maybe twice that if it’s a national holiday. New York is a place where you are never physically alone, but you can easily be mentally alone. New Yorkers are motivated people, and everyone has their own agenda, which doesn’t involve other people all the time. There are also a million places where you can escape, somewhere in the City. There will be other people at these places, but people mind their own business. That’s it, New York is a city of people minding their own business (though sometimes other people’s businesses collide with yours).
So alone time in New York happens a lot when you’re not alone. You would think Spain would be easier since Madrid is 10 times the size of Manhattan but with half as many people. I’m not that great at math anymore, but I think that means people have something like 20 times the amount of space in Madrid than they do in New York. But alone time is harder in Madrid.
The problem with alone time here is the culture. In New York, eating alone at a restaurant or cafe is normal. In Madrid, it’s not. Servers treat you differently when you are alone, more formally, which is super weird. Because Europeans do not define themselves on what they produce, they spend a lot less time at work, which gives them a lot more time with other people. Pretty much at every hour of the day, there are at least several groups of people at every restaurant along the streets leading up to my flat, or to class; basically people are always spending time with people. Most of the social life of a Spaniard revolves around sitting, eating, drinking and talking and then they’ll go have a siesta, and then repeat the sitting, eating, drinking and talking over again.
Another cultural thing is staring. Madrileñas love to stare. It’s not even that they love it, they just do it, all the time, without hesitation. Cultural norms do not stop them, like they do in America (my sister is that girl in the restaurant staring at a cool couple or a big, loud family, so she would love this). In New York, people will ignore you even if you started crying walking down the sidewalk. In Madrid, they stare without you even having to do anything. You can have a private moment in New York in a crowd of people, but not in Spain.
I’m even sitting in a coffee shop alone right now and people look over at me as they pass or sit across from or next to me, so it’s perfect that as I write about not getting alone time, I’m still not getting it the slightest bit.
While I’m making this out to be a bad thing, I don’t entirely mean it like that. Yes, I need alone time for my own state of mind, but I’ll learn to adapt my idea of alone time to fit this lifestyle and I’ll be okay. Yeah, people need their time alone, but Spain kind of has it down in that they’re not a lonely people. It’s why they’re so happy. They don’t really complain, they go with the flow, they’re loud when they talk and laugh a lot.
Spaniards live the life.
Vive la vida.