Family values, Spanish style

Amie Van Overmeer

The first time I met Oscar, a 21-year-old who lives in an apartment down the hall from me, I thought he was visiting his parents. When I learned that he lived with them, I thought that he must be one of the biggest losers in the country. But in Spain, it’s common for people to live with their parents, sometimes until they’re 30. Seeing young people living in their hometowns well beyond their childhoods makes me think of the people my age who are still living in my hometown. They are either pregnant, trying to relive high school by supplying alcohol to all the minors or working at the gas station that doubles as a high school hangout. For those of us who have gotten out of town, staying in the place where our parents raised us seems less than fulfilling. But Spaniards do not have the same attitude. It’s almost unheard of for 18-year-old Spaniards to leave their parents’ house and live alone or with friends in their own apartment. College students usually live at home with their families while attending school where they grew up. The exception is when students come from small towns that do not have universities; like in the United States, they live in the dorms. Within the first few weeks that I came to Spain, my Spanish mother’s niece Belen had been to our apartment three or four times to visit. I thought this was a little strange for a 25-year-old college student, but in fact it’s abnormal not to visit family on at least a weekly basis. A few weeks later on a Saturday night, my mom told us that Belen didn’t have anything to do, so we should invite her out with us. We had a great time going out with her, but my roommate and I felt terrible. We were sure that Belen was put up to taking her aunt’s “daughters” out on the town every semester. But really for Belen, socializing and visiting family is part of her life. Now that I live in her aunt’s house, I am part of the family. Instead of being mortified that they are still being supported by their parents, many Spanish teenagers genuinely enjoy their parents’ company, choosing to go out on the weekends with them. Many American youth would rather have their wisdom teeth pulled than be seen going to the movies with their parents, but it’s normal for young Spaniards to go out and have a drink with relatives. Part of the reason for all the family love is unemployment. It’s difficult to even find a job in Spain, so it’s just more practical for children to live with their families longer. Yet a larger part of it is different values: in Spain, family comes before all else. The way the daily schedule in Spain reflects the importance of family. During the week, stores and schools shut down in the midafternoon so families can have a few hours together to enjoy their lunch. Sundays, too, are a day reserved for family. Spaniards don’t even consider Sunday a day for shopping; almost all of the stores are closed, even in cities that have hundreds of thousands of people, and families spend time together. Americans are raised to have angst and rage against their parents. With such a high value placed on independence, it’s almost expected for parents to push their children out the door when they reach age 18. Tension in American families is the fodder for talk shows like Jerry Springer and Jenny Jones, shows which can’t be found on Spanish television. Not surprisingly, American shows and movies that portray happy families, like Seventh Heaven and Family Man, have the most success in Spain. That’s not to say that there aren’t dysfunctional families in Spain, but the respect for relatives tends to make family reunions more of a celebration instead of a disaster waiting to happen. But just as Spaniards have different attitudes about the family, they also have different attitudes about friendships. Many times, Spanish parents don’t know the friends of their children, and Spaniards usually don’t bring home their boyfriends or girlfriends to meet their parents until they’re almost ready to get married. Being almost 21 and in my third year of college, it’s difficult for me to imagine still living with my parents. My life would be completely different if I hadn’t had the experience of leaving my hometown and starting my life on my own. It’s a cultural difference that’s impossible to evaluate, but I’m glad that I have the independence to see for myself how Spanish people honor their families. Amie Van Overmeer is a senior in journalism and mass communication from Rock Rapids.