Adapting,  Culture,  Food

Help! What is happening with the service?

Dear Simon,

You probably have noticed that when you go out in Spain, more often than not, you sit and wait for a while before they ask you for your order, you wait even longer for the food to arrive, and if you want the bill you will have to ask for it. For example, the other day I was having some beers with friends and the American girls at the table next to us were talking among themselves about how to get the attention of the waitress. They tried staring at her, talking about getting service loudly, and, after about 15 minutes, she finally decided she was ready to take their order.

When your friends don't want to be bothered and just want to have a beer and talk, waiting is not a problem. This is especially true with young people who may not have money for multiple drinks.If you are used to service where people are asking you constantly if everything is okay or if they could get you something else, getting used to the idea that you have to wait for everything can be a little bit frustrating. You may even consider this to be ‘bad service’ and attribute it to the fact that people here don’t work for tips so they don’t actually feel like they have to make an effort*.

However, the type of service that you get can also be freeing because no one expects you to eat in 20 minutes and won’t bother you with the bill to ‘get you out’ in order to use the table for the next clients. The pressure of a fast life and high turn-over just doesn’t exist here in the same way it does in the States. Even when there is a line of people waiting, the waitstaff is usually more than happy to let you sit around and enjoy your coffee/conversation.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that it is an easy change to accept. At first I was really frustrated with how things are done around here service-wise (and to this day still get annoyed sometimes when I feel like things are taking forever). So I do understand that it can be difficult to get used to this slower-paced way of life but try to look at it a different way; try to appreciate what it offers you. For example, take advantage of the wait time to have conversations or read a new book. Consider the privilege you have of being ‘important enough’ to occupy that table until you are ready to move on.

Part of the study abroad (or living abroad) experience is understanding the cultural differences that we find in different places. This can either be an adventure and exciting, or it can be a pain-in-the-butt. The biggest difference is your attitude towards it.



*I personally like the idea that people working in the service industry don’t rely on tips, but I suppose that is a conversation for another day.

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