Warning: Do not call Spanish homes between three and six in the afternoon! Let me explain the painful lesson I learn at the beginning of every summer.
Every summer, my wife Carmen finishes teaching Spanish at a New York City school and heads to her hometown in Spain with our two young sons for some rest and relaxation. I stay in New York City tied to the classic American rat race work responsibilities.
While summer separation presents plenty of challenges to a marriage, one of the cultural clashes my wife and I face is the siesta phone call.
In southern Spain it is normal for a family to eat lunch during the summer between two-thirty and four in the afternoon. After lunch, many Spaniards take a siesta, a nap lasting from fifteen minutes to a couple of hours at most, before heading back to work in the late afternoon.
My wife and her family are strict practitioners of the siesta. After the plates are cleared from the dining table, all family members head to take a siesta. Down come the heavy metal shutters over the windows, off go televisions, radios, computers and the dog is put outside on the patio. The noise of the traffic in the streets fades.
During this restful moment is generally when I make my mistake.
I arrive at my office pick up the phone and call Carmen to check on her and the boys before I get too caught up with work. The phone rings. And rings. And rings. Finally, I am greeted by a fumbling phone sound as someone on the other end reaches to pick-up the handset but struggles to get a clean grasp on it. I hear a voice, the voice of my wife's father. It is an anxious voice, the type of voice that I use when I pick up the phone when I receive an unexpected call in the middle of the night. "¿Sí? ¿Quién es (who is it)?" he utters.
On the other end of the line I answer with caffeinated, American accented Spanish, "Hola Fernando. Soy Bant, desde Nueva York! ¿Cómo estás (how are you)? ¿Puedo hablar con Carmen (can I speak to Carmen)?"
This is when I hear the change in his voice from anxious to slightly irritated. "Ar, um, hola Bant, sí, errr, es siesta. Un momento. Voy a llamar a Carmen. (I am going to call Carmen)" He drops the handset and walks down the hall to wake my wife.
Soon I hear my wife on the line. "Bant, is everything ok?" she asks in a concerned voice. I answer, "Absolutely, how are you? How are the kids?"
When my wife realizes that all is well and that I am just calling to chat she shifts from concerned to angry. "What are you doing? Do you know what time it is? It is siesta! This is time for sleep, not talk. You woke my father, my mother. DO NOT CALL DURING SIESTA!!! We'll talk later." I hear a click as she hangs up on me.
Not a great marital conversation, but cultural lesson learned. If calling a home in Southern Spain, especially in the hot summer months, do not call between three and six in the afternoon. Do not mess with sacred siesta.
And maybe we can learn from the siesta. There is something extremely refreshing about grabbing a nap, even for only fifteen minutes, resetting the mind before tackling the second half of the day. Could we ever incorporate an idea like siesta into the US working day? Could we set aside our five-hour energy drinks for a nap instead? If we can, I will learn the lesson from my siesta phone calls and make sure my phone is off the hook.