Summertime: I'm missing Spain

Wow. Unbelievably, I'm a little nostalgic for Spain today. It's not anything specific, just the realization that Summer has basically begun, but for us here in the U.S. there's little change for anyone who isn't in school any more. Yesterday was Spring, tomorrow is Summer. That's about it.

In Spain, though, the whole world changes for Summertime. First, all of the media is in cahoots to make a big deal about the season. On TV there are all these variety shows and other specials that only appear during the Summer. And on the Radio there's the Songs of Summer, a media-mafia picked handful of songs that are repeated endlessly until September. These are not classic songs, by any stretch, but usually gimmicky dance songs that are also used for television commercials and other promotions as well. Think of the Macarena or The Ketchup Song as examples ("Asereje' ja de je de jebe tu de jebere seibiunouva. Majavi an de bugui an de buididipi.")

In many companies, Summer Hours also start. Throughout the rest of the year the normal work week is 43 hours: 9 hours a day except for Fridays, which are only 7. Then on June 15th, Summer Hours begin, which means that the hours are just like Fridays every day, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (and no lunch). These last until September, and I can guarantee you, that even though the hours have only been reduced a bit, not a whole lot gets done. Well, actually, that's not just because of the reduced hours, but because of the vacations.

Everyone goes on vacation. And I mean *everyone*. It's fact: 9 out of 10 people in Madrid go on vacation between June and September. When's the last time the bag boy at your local Safeway went on "vacation"? Probably never, but my local grocery store closed for the entire month of August, and my doorman at the apartment complex I was living when I first got to Spain had a place on the Med that he and his family used during the Summer. Many people have at least four weeks of vacation a year, so they take at least two of them during the Summer. As a family or as individuals they go off to the beach or to explore Spain and other countries as well. If you ever visit Madrid, you'll notice tons and tons of travel agencies. They're on every other corner, I swear. I couldn't understand this until I had been living there for a couple years and then realized we had all this vacation time on our hands and nothing to do... The trips you could buy were cheap as hell too. I think it cost us 800 Euros apiece to go to Egypt for a week, everything included. With so much demand, it's easy for companies to create inexpensive packaged tours.

What this means for work, by the way, is that at least 1/3rd of the people you're working with are on vacation during the Summer. Getting everyone who needs to sign off on a project in the same room is pretty much an impossiblity for at least two months. I remember once when I was working at Telefonica I+D that our manager came in and told us that his boss's boss was dismayed that we were behind in our project, and wanted us to move our vacation plans ahead so we could get done by the upcoming deadline. After at least three or four people complained that they had already put down deposits on their vacations and couldn't move them, they asked if he was moving his plans, and he of course said no, and they asked if his boss was changing his plans, and he said, probably not... and the discussion ended. Vacations in Spain are pretty much sacrosanct.

For those of you in other countries who are wondering, I get the same 10 days of vacation time as the guys who are hired right out of college. I think if I've been there a few years I might get some more days tacked on... Maybe by the time I retire, I'll get up to a month. ;-) This is pretty much par for the course in the U.S. I bet you at any company in the U.S if, after you got your offer, you said, "I'll take 30% less money for three more weeks of vacation a year" they would say no. Why? Because that would mean you obviously didn't want to work, or because you would be so far outside the normal vacation system, it would be uncomfortable for whoever your manager was. Or just because it's just weird for Americans to have that much vacation.

The other amazing thing about Summer in Spain is how quiet it gets during the day. There's the expression, the only people on the street in Madrid in summer are Madmen and Englishmen. And that's pretty much true. I distinctly remember how relaxed and easy it was to get around in August of my first year there and how amazing it was on September 15th when just about everyone came back from their vacations. WOW. But during the evenings in the Summer it's incredible. Midnight is like mid day in the rest of the world. In the middle of the night in the long central park in the town where my wife lives is filled with children running around and people chatting and drinking a beer and just generally enjoying life. You really have to see and live it to believe it.

Anyways, it's not like I want to give up my little yellow house and great job and pack up for a flat in Madrid again, but you've got to be a little jealous of the Europeans during the Summer. :-)


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