by Erin Elaine
In Spain, every worker (no matter the job) is legally guaranteed at least 22 paid vacation days per year. Once you factor in weekends and public holidays, this amounts to about 5 weeks paid vacation per year, minimum. Through union contracts, etc, the actual average is closer to 6 weeks paid vacation. This number is virtually unimaginable for anyone living in the US, the only developed country in the world that doesn’t mandate any paid vacation.
So, with all that vacation time, what do Spaniards do with it?
The almost universal answer: They go to the beach.
The geography of the Iberian Peninsula is roughly a square, bounded on 3.5 sides by beaches. This makes it extremely easy to reach a beach, and you have tons to choose from. Every summer, the interior of the peninsula is practically emptied, deserted, as everyone makes a beeline to the beach. They often take all of their vacation days at the same time, and spend 6 whole weeks doing nothing but laying on the beach, swimming, etc. Sounds like a pretty bitchin’ life, right?
I was speaking with a Spaniard friend who asked if it’s similar in the US – “Do families spend the whole summer or half of the summer on the beach?” It was a two-part answer. No, because a) the country is so huge that tens of thousands of people have literally never been to the ocean in their entire lives, and b) paid vacation is not required, and when it is given, it is usually 2-3 weeks per year if you’re lucky.
To further illustrate this point, I’ll describe what happened in science class today. The students had been asked to look up the water consumption of their household. On the bill it is displayed in meters cubed per household per 90 days. The students were supposed to convert it to liters per person per day. The first student who raised her hand gave an answer of 32 liters per person per day. The science teacher was surprised and said it was normally closer to 200 liters per person per day. The second student who raised his hand said he had calculated it as liters per person per month, not per day. The teacher said okay, tell me that answer. The student answered 25. As in 25 liters per person per month. The teacher was speechless and I asked, “What bill did you look at? Was this from the summer when your family wasn’t at home for 2 months?” The student responded, “The bill was for July-August-September.” The teacher sighed and changed the subject, knowing that not a single student in the class would be able to give appropriate numbers. All of them would be at least a little skewed due to spending so little time at home over the summer.
Learning about cultural differences is pretty fascinating. What kinds of cultural differences stood out to you when you moved abroad?