Sobremesa Anyone?

Allaina Kling is a student at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Barcelona, Spain.

One of my favorite Spanish words has been sobremesa. Not only does it have an awesome meaning, but it is symbolic of Spanish culture in general.

Sobremesa, literally “over the table”, has no precise English translation, probably because there is no cultural equivalent. “Sobremesa is the leisurely time after having finished eating, but before getting up from the table. Time spent in conversation, digesting, relaxing, enjoying” (

Petit Pot is a wonderful cafe in Barcelona and the perfect spot to sobremesa
Petit Pot is a wonderful cafe in Barcelona and the perfect spot to sobremesa

The sobremesa in Spanish culture means it is completely acceptable to sit at a café or restaurant for an hour or more after a café con leche has been consumed. There is an unspoken agreement between you and the employees that there is no rush. There is no pressure to hurry up, pull out your wallet, run out and leave after the check has been given. Instead it’s sobremesa time.

Unlike Spain, in America there is so much pressure to leave a restaurant or café after you have consumed whatever you purchased. For example, you go to a restaurant with a friend you haven’t seen in years. You finish your meal, but you are not even close to finishing the conversation. However, you feel the eyes of the waiter on you and you know he’s thinking “Are they going to leave yet?” As a waitress, I get it. I understand the importance of having as many costumers as possible, but come on.

Really, what’s the rush? So we can hurry back to work, attend our next meeting, or check off something else on our “To-Do” list? We’re living a lifestyle of how much can I do in a tiny amount of time? This means cutting conversations short, not being fully present while in each other’s company, and constantly checking our phones to make sure we aren’t going to be late. We are never living in the moment; we are robbing ourselves of the sobremesa of life.  We never slow down. We never “stop to smell the roses,” as the Spaniards do.

Spaniards have perfected the art of kicking their feet up and taking a load off. No, I am not just referring to their siesta time, even though it is pretty great whether you’re actually napping or not.

Peniscola, Spain-KLING-Photo 2
The perfect siesta spot…

Unfortunately, this concept of slowing down has given Spaniards a bad rap. Many people mistake this for laziness. For example, they say that Spaniards are not aware of time and are always late. I will attest to this, but it is not because of a lack of respect. It is actually quite the opposite. It is an extreme respect for people and their time. Say the person you are meeting for dinner runs into a friend in the street along the way. They stop and chat, which causes them to be late. Instead of exchanging a quick “Hi, how are you?” like we do in the states, they allow for a conversation to happen.

Another admirable aspect of Spanish culture that is reflected in sobremesa is the idea that living to work and working to live are not created equal. In Spain there is a serious economic crisis; that fact can’t be argued. People are losing their jobs while others are having difficulty finding one in the first place. But what I would like to point out is that, although there is a lack of money in many Spaniards’ wallets, they still take the time to enjoy life. They go out for drinks with their friends, see free live music performances, hang out at coffee shops for hours on end, and stroll around the parks. But the point is that they are ultimately happy even though they are struggling financially. This is because the people in Spain do not live to work; rather they work to live, and they do not forget this.

Speaking of Spanish strolls…

No wonder Spaniards stroll, looking how incredible (and tiny) this street is!
No wonder Spaniards stroll, looking how incredible (and tiny) this street is!

If you have ever been in Spain, you will understand exactly what I mean when I say that Spaniards do not walk; they stroll. Everywhere. ALL THE TIME. There really is no sense of urgency when they are going somewhere.

It wasn’t until half way through my trip that I realized I was doing it wrong. I was half running through this amazing city of Barcelona, getting so bothered by these strolling Spaniards, and worst of all, I wasn’t even enjoying my surroundings. It all came back to the sobremesa.

If you're not taking this all in, you're not doing it right.
If you’re not taking this all in, you’re not doing it right.

Again, it is that awareness of knowing how and when to slow down. Not to be overly corny or cheesy, but there are a myriad of awesome things to see and appreciate everyday regardless of where you are. There is beauty everywhere. So why not slow down and enjoy the ride or in this case enjoy the walk? You are going to get to your destination eventually, so why not take the time to fill your senses instead of getting irritated?

My love for the word sobremesa is not just because of the not-so-direct translation, but also because of the beautiful symbolism it has for the Spanish culture overall.

So…who wants to sobremesa?

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