Author: Angelys Torres

Location: Barcelona

Four and a half million people. Narrow streets. Tall buildings. Cars, trains, buses, motorbikes, and thousands of pedestrians who don’t obey traffic signs. Young, old, students, store owners, and street vendors. Homeless people, animals, and construction around every corner. Now pause. I’ll guess that you are imagining a fast paced metropolitan area. What if I told you that is not the scene I am describing? Try this. Slow down the pace to that of a three-year-old on a tricycle. Can you imagine it? Great. Welcome to Barcelona, Spain. With so much going on, it is hard to picture such a slow moving scene. Coming from Chicago, where people walk as fast as the wind, it was undeniably hard to find similarities in a city where the value of time is not money. What do you do in times of difference? In just a short week, I learned that one of the most important steps in overcoming difference is to ask yourself, ‘Why?’

On my very first day in Barcelona, I attended a walking tour of the neighborhood surrounding the school I would attend for the next month. My tour guide did not hesitate to fill us with information about both the history and current culture of Barcelona. As we walked, we passed hundreds of cafes and restaurants filled with people chatting, relaxing, and enjoying drinks or a meal. I decided to use food and dining in order to better understand why time did not seem to flow in the way that I would expect in such a large city. I would come to find out that Barcelona, and actually much of Spain, has a different conception of dining than the United States, much of which is related to their value of time and money.


In Barcelona, it is customary to eat many small snacks or meals throughout the day. This can be a small coffee, pastry, croissant, or bocadillo, a small sandwich with tomato spread on it and sometimes meats or cheeses. The main event is lunch which is typically a heavy, three-course meal eaten between the hours two and four in the afternoon. Many locals do not eat dinner but rather have tapas or small snacks later in the evening around nine or ten that can be patatas bravas (boiled potatoes with creamy cheese on top) or pinchos (pieces of bread with a variety of toppings that are differentiated by mini sticks). The reason for this is that the body has more time to digest more food earlier in the day than late at night right before it is time to sleep.

Lucky for my housemates and I, our host mom recognizes that it is customary for people from the United States to eat dinner, so she cooks for us in the evenings. At this point you are probably thinking that it is not too unusual to eat more meals of smaller portions since this system is commonly what is recommended for a healthy diet. However, the experience of dining outside of the home changes the entire picture.


It is customary in the United States to expect speed. When we are running late, we ask for our items to-go so we can eat and drink them while we walk to the train. In Barcelona, most people who have somewhere to go are tourists. Some restaurants are not even equipped to package items to-go because it is so uncommon and not customary. In Barcelona, it is expected that one is looking for an experience when they sit down to eat at a restaurant or café, one that will take lots of time. For this reason, it should not be expected that wait staff will be quick or ask you for anything. It is upon the customer him or herself to ask for what they would like when they would like it. After waiting for a bill for more than forty minutes, I realized that they would not bring it to the table until we asked. This is seemingly the case in all of Barcelona. It is a full experience, more than just going through motions. Even though it is so different from what I know, I love dining in Barcelona. I have learned how to take my time and really enjoy the atmosphere, people, and food in that moment. Others have not found it so easy to adjust but reminding myself why things like time and dining may be different from what I know, helps me to overcome those differences and appreciate them more.