Adapting,  Culture

What’s Happening? Kids Out Until Midnight in Spain

Dear Gail,

You probably weren’t here for more than a week before you noticed that something strange happens here with families—kids aren’t bundled away with babysitters but join families as they go about their daily lives, even if that means going to a restaurant at 10:00 pm. This may seem especially weird if you come from a culture where kids are in bed by 8:00 pm and, if parents go out they hire a babysitter, but it’s a cultural thing and it makes sense here for several reasons:

Family dynamics:

The way families are integrated together and taken care of here in Spain is different than other cultures that I know. One of the biggest things is that relatives tend to live fairly close together and, therefore, extended family tends to spend a decent amount of time just hanging out. This means seeing families together, across generations, is common here. Many families gather each week for a big Sunday lunch as well as for less elaborate meals at home on weekdays. So, it shouldn’t be a massive surprise when kids accompany their parents out for an evening meal and/or drink and tapa.

The going-out culture:

In addition, in many cultures the parents of young children might only go out for a drink or dinner every once-in-awhile, but in Spain this is not always true. It is very accepted to go out a couple of times of week with friends, and just because you become a parent, that doesn’t necessarily change. Even though parents will sometimes leave the kids with their grandparents, that’s not something people do all the time and so it’s just as natural for parents to go with their young children―especially if they’re meeting friends with children of a similar age. Which brings us to our next point, babysitting isn’t a big thing.

Babysitters aren’t a thing:

Contrary to what I knew growing up in the U.S., where babysitting is almost a job for young adults, it is something that is slowly gaining… very little ground here. In larger cities, it is a little bit more common than in smaller ones, but still no where near what it was like back home (growing up in a small town where I still could work most weekends when I wanted to). Because the concept of hiring a babysitter is generally not a consideration, kids are either left with the grandparents or taken out with the parents, and most of the time both options are equally acceptable.

The heat:

Another big factor in how late kids are allowed to stay out, especially in the summer, is dealing with the weather. When you don’t want to be on the street from noon until 9 pm because it is so hot, it only makes sense that when the sun starts to disappear, people leave their houses with kids in tow (how else will they burn off all their extra energy?). Because it is only practical to leave the house after a certain time, it makes sense that kids hang out on the street longer.

PinterestThe meal schedule:

Remember when we talked about the different meal schedule here in Spain? Well that plays a big factor, too! In a culture where it’s both normal to start dinner at 9/10pm as well as to spend 2-3 hours eating a meal it adds up that children will still be out at midnight. While this may come as shock to those of us who have grown up putting kids to bed before the aforementioned dinner time, if we compare it to kids being out at 8 or 9pm (the equivalent time after a 5pm dinner) this actually isn’t that odd. It’s timetable is just measured differently.

Like we’ve talked about before, culture has a big impact on how a society works (for example, why there is PDA all over the place). In addition, you probably already know that by understanding cultural differences, your abroad experience will be enriched. Whenever something strikes you as ‘odd’—even the smallest of culture shocks—we encourage you to take a step back and consider that you are probably only finding it odd because of your cultural perspective and that it’s likely viewed differently in the local culture. Either way, it is always interesting to think about how and why cultures are different. Have you seen this phenomenon? What do you think about it?


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