If you want to understand the difference between Spaniards and Americans, all you need to know is how we take our coffee. When I'm at home, coffee isn't really something I think about a lot beyond "I need it" and "please give it to me" and "now." I'm only a fledgling journo but I've been drinking newsroom tar long enough to singe my palate pretty completely. I drink whatever's around--a medium black from Dunkin Donuts if I ran out of time in the morning, the coffee my dad made at 6 a.m. when I finally roll out of bed at 11 on a Sunday, and in a pinch even the coffee somebody at the office made last night, warmed up and accompanied by a piece of cold pizza from production night. (Breakfast of broke college journalists everywhere) When I have to get Starbucks--only when nothing else is around, I'm a Dunkin girl always and forever--I say I want a "medium" because I'm just a dick like that.
But the Spaniards. Oh, the Spaniards. Coffee here is an event. The tiniest hole in the wall coffee shop has beautiful, elaborate espresso machines. You might see espresso machines like that in New York City, but I'm willing to bet you could count on one hand the number of beautiful brassy steampunk confections we have like that in New Hampshire. You can only get espresso--straight up, cut with a little milk (cortado) or with a lot of milk (cafe con leche). There are cups, saucers and tiny spoons, not styrofoam with a plastic lid. But that's just details.
The more philosophical side--coffee as a metaphor for life, if you will--is that to-go coffee is an oddity here. (Actually, eating and drinking anything on the go is pretty uncommon.) While Americans are bombing around with our venti lattes with a shot of Adderall and screaming into our Blackberrys, Spaniards actually sit down in the cafe, read the paper, talk to their friends, have a little cafe con leche and maybe a croissant, and--when they're good and ready--eventually head to work. And this is pretty much how everything in Spain works. The waiter will bring you your food when he's good and ready. My history professor will roll into class whenever he feels like it. Those old ladies have a gossip fest in the middle of a busy sidewalk will get out of the flow of traffic when they're damn well done talking.
It sounds romantic, I know. Everyone taking their time, connecting, enjoying. I don't have any data on this, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's a part of why Spain has the second highest life expectancy in the world, despite the fact that they all smoke and live on cured pork products. (I'm generalizing, but not a lot) People are less stressed, less wound up. They know how to chill, not just when they're on vacation but any old time of day. Which is lovely, if that's what you want to do too. If you have to actually get stuff done, the cafe con leche lifestyle can get frustrating fast--especially to black coffee Americans like me. I walk literally twice as fast as most people here. I don't really have a lot of patience for people who don't understand how a sidewalk or a line in a grocery store is supposed to function. I would, on occasion, like to eat a meal in under two hours.
But although my frustration with all of this gets amplified on days like today when I have a considerable amount of actual shit to get done, I remind myself that pretty soon I'll be back in the land of road rage and people murdering each other over children's hockey. And then, I remember to have--and really enjoy-- a cup of coffee. Nice and slow, the way the Spaniards intended.