November 17, 2016 6:00 am Late Nights in Spain
Before leaving on a recent trip to Spain, we were warned: Spaniards don’t eat lunch until 2, and no one eats dinner before 9:00 PM! Since my husband and I are early risers, and not big breakfast eaters, I knew some adjusting was going to be in store. But I couldn’t help thinking how convenient such a schedule was for parents. Basically they could feed their children dinner, and get them into bed before going out in the evening. No guilt trips and not much hassle for babysitters either.
Night life in Barcelona, Grenada and Seville is lively and the weather in October was warm, so the crowds spilled out of the tapas bars and onto the sidewalks and streets, carrying their drinks and eating from plates placed on the roofs of parked cars. There was considerable noise well into the evenings. And, to my surprise, there were also lots of children, walking around, sitting on the curbs, playing with friends, getting tapas from their parents, who seemed to keep one eye on the kids while chatting with friends. It was not unusual to see children running around at 10 PM. They didn’t seem tired or whiny; they seemed perfectly at home with and used to the experience.
In Madrid, we were seated in a very nice restaurant around 9 PM when a Spanish family came in: youngish grandparents, two sets of their children and spouses, a teenage daughter and a baby carriage, which they pushed up to their table. Two American couples sitting nearby exclaimed with surprise, “A baby?”
“She’s asleep,” her mother responded in English. The family ordered bottles of wine and appetizers and settled in, but eventually little sounds emanated from the carriage; the mom and her sister peering in at the baby, and cooing. When she wanted out, the family passed her around the table adoringly, bestowing many kisses on her rosy, chubby cheeks. They were delighted with her presence. After less than an hour, the mother fed her, rocked her to sleep and put her back in the carriage. The meal resumed, with everyone ordering main courses. The little outing was still going strong when we left around 11:00 PM. The baby was asleep and the family was having a great time.
If we were to imagine a similar situation here, dinner and bar crowds would spill out of East End, Sundown Saloon, Mediterraneo and Harvest while their children played on Greenwich Avenue, looking in store windows and running in and out of the alleys. Picture someone wheeling a baby carriage into Le Penguin or The Ginger Man. No way, we all say. Our children are better off home in bed at a decent hour, watched over by a nice babysitter or nanny.
Yet the families in Spain seemed at ease and happy to be together. Maybe the long siesta in the middle of the day enables Spanish children to stay up later at night. Maybe they don’t use babysitters the way we do. As different as they might appear to us, these outings in Spain seemed normal, enjoyable and a way of life.
Marianne Riess is the former head of the Putnam Indian Field School in Greenwich, CT. She has 40 years of experience in working with young children.