The strange case of meals in Spain

We have been in Spain for about 3 weeks but have never fit into the meal culture.

Since we are here for a while, staying in Airbnb’s, we often cook and eat at home, but sometimes in the evening we will walk into town to eat. This is usually a strange experience. The streets are filled with cafes and bars and restaurants and these are filled with people sitting and talking with friends. But no one is eating.

Instead people will be drinking coffee, drinking beer or wine, or eating ice cream. No one will be eating food. Sometimes we ask for food and are told that the restaurant will start serving food at 9 pm.

This has all been rather disconcerting so I decided to do some research. Here’s how the typical Spaniard eats. It does make me wonder how they get any work done, but then perhaps they don’t. Spain has long been one of the basket cases of the EU. Interestingly the basket cases are all the southern EU countries, where life is warm and sunny. These are the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain), although with Greece being the current big basket case it seems the others don’t get quite the same attention as they once did.

Anyway, here are the mealtimes. Things are changing in the big cities where people can’t go home for their after-lunch siesta, but most stores and business are closed between 2:00 and 4:30 pm.

Breakfast (Desayuno): 7:00 – 9:00. Usually light and limited to carbs, or just a coffee or hot chocolate. The workday usually starts at 9 am.

Mid-morning snack (Almuerzo): 10:30 – 11:00. Coffee, juice, maybe a muffin or croissant.

Lunch (La Comida): 2:00 – 3:30  This is the big meal of the day, usually with two courses plus bread, a drink, and coffee or dessert. Often lunch will last until 4:30.

Mid-afternoon snack (Merienda): 5:30 to 7:30. (Mid-afternoon?? Not in my world! This is dinner time where I live in the US.) Often something sweet such as pastries or ice cream, with coffee or beer. This is when we usually wanted to eat dinner and couldn’t understand why people were drinking coffee and eating ice cream.

Tapas: 8:30 – 10:00. Small plates, usually cheap. You often get a free tapa when you order a drink.

Dinner (La Cena): 9:00 – 11:00. Lighter than lunch.

MeriendaThe mid-afternoon snack (merienda) is when lots of people are out socializing. I can’t imagine everyone eats dinner out every night, but there does seem to be a lot of socializing going on with just coffee to drink. It seems like a wonderful way to live because you get to socialize and meet friends on a regular basis without our Happy Hour obligation to drink alcohol and eat.

And yet despite the incredible opportunities for easy socializing, which is one of the keys to happiness, Spain only ranks 34 on the 2017 World Happiness Report. Perhaps it’s because unemployment is high, and having a purpose in life is another key to happiness.

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