In January, I flew over 3,500 miles to study abroad for a semester in Seville, Spain. Since then, the famous Spanish siesta, a custom not found in the U.S., has become an irreplaceable time of serenity for me. Siestas allow me to take time out of my day to decompress without feeling ostracized as an introvert.
This week, after being sick with a cold and still having to go to three classes, I was mentally exhausted. I was also experiencing severe homesickness, and I could barely maintain eye contact with the people I encountered throughout the day. But I came home, had lunch, and was able to collect myself by journaling in the comfort of my room. Even better, my roommates were napping and the street was quiet. Spain seemed to call for this moment of silence.
Siesta is a familiar term, meaning “nap.” But in the Spanish sense, it embodies an entire life perspective. This is a solution to the American cultural mentality: hasty, impulsive, immediate, and demanding. That mentality isn’t ideal for introverts who, by definition, flourish in environments where they have time to recharge.
If we examine what defines a Spanish siesta, however, we can see how beneficial it is for an introvert. Here is everything a Spanish siesta is:
- A break between 2 and 5 p.m. when people return to their homes to eat lunch.
- A time when boutiques, pharmacies, and other shops close, although restaurants and coffee shops are still open.
- An opportunity to nap, read, watch a movie, take a walk — basically whatever your heart pleases.
- A chance to spend quality time with your friends, family, significant other, cherished pet, or others.
- A break from a hectic and laborious day.
- A break from people, if you choose.
Siestas are personal. Not everyone spends their siesta the same way. For introverts, who become stressed and exhausted from social interactions, this is a gift. If we consider all the factors that leave introverts craving personal space, we can appreciate siestas.
Siestas Restore the Balance Introverts Need
This morning, I started my internship, and I have never been more grateful to be able to siesta. I thought I was prepared for my 45-minute ride to work, but I did not fully anticipate every other morning commuter who also relies on the C2 bus at 8 a.m. The bus was so crammed that I didn’t have enough time from seat to door to push through the sea of people at my stop. Consequently, I missed it, and I forced my way out at the next one.
I know I will have to prepare myself to be around dozens of strangers on these draining mornings, making me long for a siesta even more.
Western society places importance on social interactions, group meetings, face-to-face contact, and other mentally tiresome activities introverts struggle with — to the point of getting an introvert hangover. While I don’t advocate for entire isolation, I do believe there is a balance that introverts (and extroverts) need. Siestas restore that balance.
As Western culture is substantially biased towards extroverts, introverts living in Spain are living the good life. Yes, American introverts may find peace when they come home from their 9-to-5s, but siestas are specific. Meaning, siestas are designed to allow people space and opportunity to have time to themselves and enjoy life. People who live a 9-to-5 life generally don’t have time to slow down and reflect as a Spaniard would during siesta.
Choose a Mindset of Rebalancing
My professors have told me time and again not to stress about assignments. In discussing the differences between U.S. and Spanish cultures, one student told the class about his experience with a waiter. This particular waiter took half an hour to greet my classmate and his friends, then left them to go on a smoke break. My classmate found him three blocks down after waiting nearly two hours to pay the check.
This is the distinction between the two countries. Spaniards go out to eat as a social event, so the service is not the same as in the U.S., where waiters rely on tips and see each table as profit. Spanish waiters are not tipped, and because of this, the service is slower. This may seem annoying to those who are not used to it, but to the Spanish, it’s a way of life. The service comes across as less forced and more casual.
How is this connected to siesta? Well, the Spanish have a slower, more thoughtful, carefree outlook on life. This is reflected in their siestas, which aid in eliminating the everyday anxieties of life.
Unfortunately, in the U.S., we probably won’t be getting a culturally sanctioned mid-day break anytime soon. Maybe 20 minutes is all you have to take a walk, meditate, listen to a calming playlist, or take a nap. It’s less about the duration of the break and more about the mindset of choosing to rebalance oneself in the middle of chaos.
Siesta is another way to express self-care. By thoughtfully engaging in a way to decompress, reflect, and rebalance, you can show up better in your relationships, at school, and at work. And that way, everyone wins.
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