Haz el bien, y no mires a quién. -Spanish Proverb


notes on Spanish night life

Feliz año nuevo a todos! Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful holiday season and are now hard at work on some good propósitos del año nuevo (New Year’s resolutions) for 2013. Between the unseasonably warm temps and a very alternative Christmas dinner (homemade Italian and American dishes, all vegetarian), it didn’t feel a whole lot like the holidays here, but I cherish the experiences I’ve had. Certainly there will never be others quite like them.

I spent New Year’s in Barcelona, a city that truly never sleeps. You see the slogan “the city that never sleeps” given to cities like NYC and Vegas, but I think the most deserving of this title is any of Spain’s cities. While crazy long nights happen occasionally in many cities around the world, I think it’s safe to say that the regularity of such long nights in Spain goes unrivaled. My Barcelona New Year’s experience really solidified this idea for me.

To talk about Spanish night life, you need to first talk about Spanish day life. People get up at pretty normal times on work days; most people have to be at work around 8:30 or 9. A lot of people work straight through until 3 or so (as in, no lunch break) and many others work a split shift from about 9:00-2:00 and then again from about 4-7. The lunch breaks for split-shifters vary, but are never less than an hour and are sometimes almost 3 full hours. This speaks to the priority made of sitting down to enjoy your food, catch up with friends or family, take a walk, etc. Contrary to popular belief, a vast majority of Spanish people do NOT go home and faceplant into bed during the afternoon siesta.

When everyone finishes work around 7 or 8, it’s still not time for dinner. Most commonly, people are out mingling in the streets, having a glass of wine with friends or going for a walk. Dinner is at 9 at the earliest–an exception being if you have really young kids, in which case 8 or 8:30 is acceptable. Restaurants literally do not commonly serve dinner before 9pm.

For Spaniards, eating is much more about the experience and enjoyment with friends and family than the simple act of putting food in your body, so dinners can (and often do) last for hours. I recently sat down to dinner at 9:30 with some Spanish friends in Madrid, and we didn’t leave the restaurant until after 1:00am. This is completely normal.

This makes for a very different New Year’s Eve experience, as you can probably imagine. Most people are just moving onto dessert when midnight strikes, so the most traditional thing to do here is to bring in the New Year at the dinner table. Others, like myself last year in Madrid and this year in Barcelona, gather in the city’s main square with a big clock tower to count down and eat the traditional “12 lucky grapes.”

So now that it’s almost 1:00am, is it time to go home? Maybe for kids or elderly people (although it’s not uncommon to see people of any age out and about well into the wee hours of the morning), but otherwise, heavens no! Bars are packed and overflowing into the streets with people laughing, drinking, digesting, and getting ready for the next stage of Spanish night life: finding a discoteca or salsa hall in which to shake your groove thang. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read in Spain travel guidebooks or websites something along the lines of “don’t even think about going dancing in Spain until at least 2am.” It’s true–the discotecas don’t even open their doors until at least midnight, and they’re empty for the first couple of hours. People are still finishing dinner, after all. The discotecas typically stay open until at least 6, at which point most people head home to try to get started on some z’s before the sun of the new day comes up.

I attended a New Year’s Party at Razzmatazz, Barcelona’s famous indie-fabulous discoteca. Right around 6am, the lights came on, the DJ took a bow, the people cheered and started filtering out into the street. The next day, I was telling my Spanish roommate about my New Year’s Eve in Barcelona. Her shocked reaction could only come from someone who grew up here in the land that never sleeps:

“They closed at 6am?! Why so soon?? It was NEW YEAR’S!!!”



16 and Spanish

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to go along with two other teachers at my school to accompany our 4 ESO (high school sophomore) students on their Viaje de Estudios, or class trip. This gave me some extra insight into the lives of Spanish teenagers, and I’d like to share with you some of the differences I’ve observed. I may be getting old (24 next week!!!), but I don’t think I’m so far removed from my teenage years that I can’t remember what it was like. As far as I can tell, being a teen here is VERY different from my experience at that age.

Difference #1: The Thrill Factor

We kicked off the trip with an action-packed couple of days in the Pyrenees Mountains on the France-Spain border: white water rafting, paint-balling and “canyoning,” which is essentially descending a long, cascading waterfall using a variety of techniques including rappelling, jumping, swimming and climbing.

This brings me to Difference #1: Spanish (or maybe specifically Basque) teens are overall, for lack of a better term, more badass than American teens. Tell me: if you went on a HS class trip, what sort of activities did you and your classmates do? I’m guessing it probably didn’t involve any extreme sports. You know, with wet suits, helmets, carabiners, cables and plunges into icy pools at the bases of several waterfall drops. I suppose it helps a lot that the teens here are just generally more active, thus in better shape, than most American teens. The fact that the people of this country don’t have an obsession with liability lawsuits like in the US probably helps facilitate these opportunities as well.

white water rafting with my students in the Pyrenees

one of my students inside one of the many cascade drops of the waterfall we descended

the whole crew at the last drop

Difference #2: The Fiesta Factor

The second half of the trip was spent in Salou, a beachy resort town and notorious teen party capital of Spain’s Mediterranean coast. When I told anyone we were going to Salou, the unanimous response was “Ooooh…mucha fiesta!” It made me wonder, and still sorta does, why a school would willingly put a notorious party town on their high schoolers’ class trip itinerary. My school wasn’t alone in that decision either. In our beachfront hotel alone there were two other high school student groups from other parts of Spain on their class trip. On the nights in Salou, the kids would scurry down to our 9pm dinner, scarf down some food and head out on the town. The other chaperones and I hung out and had a few drinks before meeting up with the kids around 1am at whatever club they may be at. Just to do a headcount. To make sure everyone was still upright. And they were! All 35 of them could handle a night of partying better than a majority of American college freshmen. Their final curfew, around 4am (early by Spanish clubbing standards) was obeyed by every last one of them. That’s more than can be said for the average American teen, my former teen self included.

Sunny Salou

Difference #3: The Apathy Factor

Teenagers across the globe are known to have attitudes of apathy and angst unmatched by any other age group, but I think this attitude is stronger here than in the US. When I was in high school, most of the “cool kids” were also the smart, academically achieving kids. Though this may not be the case in the US as a whole, I’m pretty confident in saying that the relationship between high academic achievement and level of “cool-ness” is a lot more inversely related here than it is back home. For these teens, failing and repeating classes is the norm, not the exception. They talk about failing classes really openly and joke about it.

School performance isn’t the only place I’ve seen this attitude. To use an example from the class trip: we spent an afternoon touring Barcelona, and though the tour guide we had wasn’t stellar, I was appalled by how little the students paid attention during the tour. They slept when she was talking to us on the bus and wandered off when we were walking around with her. For many of them, it was their first time in Barcelona, and they just acted like it was the lamest thing they’ve ever done. I couldn’t figure it out. I remember going to Chicago and NYC for school music trips and being completely enthralled with the experience of seeing a new city. And don’t think I was the lone travel dork–my classmates were right along with me.

I’ve made a lot of generalizations here, and it is of course important to consider that my personal HS experience could be quite different from someone who grew up in a totally different corner of our vast land mass that is the US of A. And even though Spain isn’t geographically all that large, there are regional differences galore here too.

What do you think? Are Spanish teens better off than American ones? Does the significantly lower drinking age help them adopt a healthier attitude towards drinking and socializing in a party environment? How does their attitude of apathy and angst compare with that of American teens? I’d love to hear any of your thoughts–feel free to leave a comment!

I’ll leave you with a tune that’s very popular with the kids these days (one that I got to hear on repeat on our bus trip :-D):


Tour de Europe

A bit belated, but I wanted to share some photos and tid-bits from my travels around Europe for Spring Break early this month. By clicking the name of each city described, you will be directed to my Picasa album of photos I took while visiting.

I kicked my trip off in Paris. What more can be said about Paris? It’s a fantastically beautiful city, of course. The highlight, for me, was my visit to the Sacre Coeur. The 300-step climb to the top is totally worth it for some breathtaking views of the city 🙂 One thing that was a new and difficult situation for me was the intense language barrier. The only foreign countries I had been to up to that point were Spanish-speaking countries, and I was at least minimally prepared enough to get myself around. It was my experience in Paris that not many people spoke much English, and I was not expecting that nor prepared to deal with it. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life! I hope to return someday during a warmer time of year, and when I am more prepared for the language barrier.

The Eiffel Tower at night

Enjoying a Nutella crepe in Paris

I spent just over one day in the land of my ancestors: Germany. My time there was cut short by a missed flight in Paris. Instead of going to Cologne for a day, I spent a day sleeping on a bench in the Paris airport (fail.) The day I did spend was in Düsseldorf. I can’t say that it was at the top of my list of cities to see in Germany, but it was pretty feasible to cover most of the city in one day, so it turned out to be a good thing. The language barrier there was much less intense due to my friend Mitch’s German expertise. We drank some good German beer, explored the city and even got to watch a storm at a bird’s eye view from atop the Rheinturm tower. Cool stuff. The most heartbreaking part of my spring break adventures was that I wasn’t able to spend more time in Germany. I shall return.

A beautiful flower in Germany

The Rheinturm in Düsseldorf

I fell in love with Amsterdam within the first hour of my arrival. I had no idea the city would be so aesthetically pleasing. Walking along the endless canals by quaint waterfront houses with their signature forward-leaning façades makes you feel like you’re living in a postcard. Another impressive aspect of the city is the number of bikes. I promise that, unless you’ve been there, you can’t even imagine a city with this many bikes. My amazement at this is evidenced by my taking photo after photo of heaps of bikes, people biking, and even a 3-story parking garage for BIKES at Central Station. The highlight of my stay in Amsterdam was the fulfillment of  an item that has long been on my bucket list: visiting Anne Frank’s secret annexe. It was amazingly surreal. Overall, I think Amsterdam gets the award for being my favorite city on my spring break tour, and I never would have expected that before leaving on the trip.


I spent three proper days in charming London. I imagine that the way I felt in there is a fraction of what I will feel upon returning to the States this summer– there was so much familiarity from my “former life” there–products, businesses, people speaking English, etc. Perhaps I am so far removed from the American way of life that I couldn’t tell how distinctly different it was from home, but at the time I felt like it could have just as well been New York City except that the people spoke funny and drove on the “wrong” side of the road. Thanks to my wonderful tour guide and long-time friend, Xandra, I saw most of the city in my short time there. Since I stayed with her and her Spanish friends, we even managed to have a botellón in the middle of London. ¡Qué loco!

Xandra and I with a gaurd in London

Frolicking in front of Big Ben

My last stop was bellisíma Barcelona. It really was so great to be back to Spain…back to my café con leche, vino tinto, tapas, paella. Back to a culture where I know (most of) the “rules.” On the other hand, as Lonely Planet describes, Barcelona is perhaps the most “un-Spanish” city in Spain. I suppose this is due, in part, to Gaudi’s splashes of very modern architecture, and perhaps simply the fact that the city is crawling with tourists. It was definitely a bit touristy for my taste, but the number of tourists also indicates that it is a place a lot of people want to see, and there is certainly a reason for that. It’s just beautiful. My friends and I had some great bird’s eye views of the city; first from Montjuic and another day from Park Guell. We took part in the rambunctious night life by way of a “pub crawl” which really turned out to be a “club crawl.”  We ate paella and more paella…and really, what more do you need?

Maddy, Bri and I enjoying some cava on top of Montjuic in Barcelona

All in all, it was a fantastic trip. Extremely exhausting, but I know how fortunate I am to have covered so many major cities in such a short time. I’ve increased my willingness to try new things, I have learned the value of packing light (I did not) and the intensity of language barriers,  and much more. As the mural in our Barcelona hostel told us, “Traveling is the best university.”