THE BLOG

Baffled in Barcelona

10/14/2010 09:10 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's official: we have become our parents.

Remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry's visiting his mom and dad in Florida? If he wants to eat dinner it has to be before 5:30 p.m. That's the cut-off for the early-bird special.

We oh-so-hip baby boomers chimed right in with the laugh track.

For the past several months I've been traveling the world, thanks to my husband's work. My blogs for HuffPost have touched on women's rights, terrorism, health, art, parenthood, and career.

But for those of you who know me, it's always about the food. I've tried to play that down in favor of more current affairs, but this week's visit to Spain leaves me hungry for an explanation.
How can it be possible that no authentic restaurant in Madrid or Barcelona even opens its doors for dinner before 9 p.m.? And you'll pretty much only see Americans before 11.
As they say, "when in Rome..." So when in Barcelona our jet lag abated enough to stay up for the real deal. Without question, the best meals of the trip went on well beyond midnight. Remember, some of us have to get up the next morning for work (not me anymore, my husband!) And what about the rest of this country? These meal times are nightly, not just on weekends. The typical shift here is 9 to 6, so with dinner starting at 11, does happy hour last five hours? And why isn't everyone in this country obese (or at least one in three like the good old US of A?) We're talking full-course meals with wine and then sleeping on it.

My reporter curiosity peaked; I set out on a fact-finding mission. What I've learned (and observed) is that this is a culture that works to live, as opposed to lives to work. So something's gotta give, and it appears to be sleep.

Since my Spanish is limited to a few naughty phrases I picked up in high school, my "random sample" consists of the one woman who understood my questions. 33-year-old Montse Grifol is well aware of the trouble we tourists have adjusting to Barcelona time. She's a concierge for the W Hotel Barcelona.

Montse tells me many of her colleagues need coffee and a cigarette to wake up. In fact, she knows no professionals who get more than six hours of sleep. Adults without kids may grab a nap on the weekends... but that's for the weak. The average work day is 9-2, an hour for a "quick" lunch of tapas (small dishes), then back to the daily grind from 3-6. Early evenings are for working out, shopping, or kids' activities. And culture! Museums here are open 'till at least 8 p.m. Barcelonans are very into cuisine, and their dinners are not rushed. It's not unusual for a restaurant to have a single seating. Montse believes obesity is not a huge problem in Barcelona because a) everybody buys and eats plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables at the ubiquitous markets and b) fast food chains are patronized by visitors (not the Spaniards.) I'm thinking the skinny may stay that way with the help of cigarettes and coffee too. One more caveat: Those late Barcelona dinners do indeed include wine, but a glass, not a bottle (at least on week nights.)

By the end of our trip we were with the program. And now that we're back to our time zone, dining at 7 is like dining at 1 a.m. in Spain. So take heart, fellow baby boomers. Maybe we're not on our way to searching out the early-bird specials. Besides, eating early allows for all that culture. How else could we catch re-runs of classics like Seinfeld?

Not that there's anything wrong with that!