Time Zones Aren’t the Only Difference Abroad

This summer, I had my first opportunity to leave the United States and travel abroad to visit family members in France. While I was immersed in a new culture chock full of confusing French phrases and the most delicious food, one aspect that struck me was the difference in the daily schedule of my French family, albeit slight, from my schedule in the United States. For example, while I am used to eating dinner anywhere from 5-6pm at home, in France we did not sit down to the dinner table until 8pm. While there, we had a meal that could last for a couple of hours, instead of a quick grab-and-go dinner. This led me to wonder how other countries might differ in their time schedules, or their relationship to time in general. Many of my friends had the opportunity to study abroad in Spain this summer, so I figured that was the best place to start.

Spain typically has a much more relaxed sense of time than we do in the West. Typically Spaniards are more inclined to take time out of their day to foster relationships with friends and family, instead of constantly worrying about getting to the next task. Some of the more obvious differences between Spain and the United States include business hours and meal times. True to Spanish tradition, businesses, with the exception of restaurants, typically close around 1:30pm for lunch and a short rest, known as a siesta. Trying to do some shopping on your lunch break just doesn’t fly in Spain. Rather, it is a time to eat, relax, and spend time with loved ones. If you do have some errands to run, however, businesses will usually re-open around 4pm.

It may seem unnecessary to us take a rest in the middle of the day, but Spanish days typically last much later than ones in the United States. Lunch is usually eaten around 2-3pm, and dinner often begins at 10pm. That’s right—while many of us in the United States are crawling into our beds for the night, the Spanish are just beginning their evening meal. It is not unusual for many Spaniards to go to bed around midnight during the week, and on weekends and in the summer, this bedtime can be pushed back to 3 or 4 in the morning. Whether the popular Spanish nightlife is the cause or the effect of this late bedtime, many Spaniards do enjoy going to pubs in the evening, and clubs in the early hours of the morning. Many Spanish clubs stay open until 5 or 6am, and don’t really become crowded until 3am. This is quite different from the United States, where many nightspots close at 2am.

If you’re anything like me, you may not have realized that many citizens of other countries follow a very different daily schedule than we do in the United States. Recognizing the different lifestyles of other countries is particularly important for those who engage in international business. Calling a Spanish client around 2-3pm Spanish time may not seem like a big deal, but you are likely to interrupt a lunch gathering! When it comes to experiencing and understanding aspects of a different culture, time is no exception.