Lessons learned from Spain

by La Sevillana /
La Sevillana's picture
Jun 03, 2010 / 2 comments

I've struggled over the topic for this final entry. Do I just say farewell, sign off and go on my way? Make the final entry just like any other blog and leave the goodbye dangling unsaid? Wax poetic?
Well, I’ve chosen to wax poetic…but not so much about Spain.

As most of you who frequent this website must know, you can’t truly understand your own culture until you’ve been for a good amount of time in another. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder – it also brings with it a certain wisdom, as well. As an anthropologist, I’ve learned things while in the field that no textbook, no matter how complete, no university-level instructor, no matter how gifted and inspired, could teach.

Those things of value that I’ve learned from my time in Andalusia include how to appreciate and enjoy the simplest of pleasures, that the worth of a man (or woman) cannot be measured by how much money he or she earns, or how many flat screen televisions he or she owns, that it is correct and good that eating should be at the center of every social occasion, and knowing when to get to work and when to just let it all go.

Fat dog in the hot sun

The fat dog at the left has internalized that Spanish mañana attitude. Sometimes, you just have to know when to let it all go...






I’ve also learned that, despite everything I’d been taught as student, although every culture may contain many things of value, each also possesses its share of things that appear to have little value whatsoever for most people, even when understood in their proper cultural context. This is because, of course, cultures are created and maintained by human beings – which are imperfect. Therefore, while all individual human beings may be equally valuable, all individual cultural traits, quite frankly, are not. I’ve discovered a few of these questionable cultural traits here in Spain. And with the insight that only great distance and a little time can bring, I’ve found them in my own culture, as well.

Happy guy

The fellow featured at the left insisted that I take a photo of him while I was snapping shots in a train station in Seville. Doesn't he look happy? 






That there was something deeply flawed in the worldview and values of my own culture was made startling clear to me during my last visit to the U.S.  Although I was overjoyed to see family and friends after having been away for so long, after a few days I suffered from a case of severe homesickness, not because I missed my husband, my cat or my friends (although I did), but because of the general unhappiness and sometimes palatable anger that I found during my stay among some people.

This came as quite a shock to me, as I’d grown accustomed to being surrounded by people that are more or less content and happy despite the fact that they experience many of the same troubles as do the Americans that I know: loved ones with drug problems, struggling relationships, economic insecurity and a government with policies that divide the country. I realized during my visit that, despite the fact that the U.S. has enshrined in its Constitution the right to pursue happiness, many (many) Americans are profoundly unhappy.

Old Spanish menThese old Spanish men meet nearly every morning in this same spot and remain there until lunch or the sun gets too hot - whichever comes first. The value placed on strong networks of social support is one cultural trait that makes Spain such a great place to live.



Something has obviously gone horribly awry, and that something cannot be laid at the feet of the government, illegal immigration, Muslim extremism, single mothers or any of the other social or political ills that so many Americans tend to focus intensely on when casting about for a reason for why things just don’t seem right. I believe that the problem lies, more than anything, in a worldview that elevates earning money to the detriment of family and life’s simple pleasures while promoting spending money and accumulating material possessions as de facto paths to happiness.

I find it tragically ironic that so many Americans feel the need to continually assert that they live in the best country in the world, while so many appear by all accounts to be so very unhappy where they are. Maybe if each American had the opportunity to learn the lessons that I’ve learned in Spain, and to take those lessons back home with them, they’d be much happier and content despite life’s many difficulties.

Dan in JaenI’m not sure if I’ll ever permanently return to America. Maybe I will; perhaps not. You never know what’s on the horizon and I prefer to keep that horizon open to new possibilities. I do hope, if I ever do return, that I won’t forget all the lessons that I’ve learned from Spain. And I hope that, in the process of learning, I have imparted some of those lessons to you.




The photo at the left is of my husband surveying the rolling hills of olive groves in Jaén (a province in Andalusia, Spain).

Comments (2)

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    14 years 1 month ago

    where to next? i think that living somewhere where people are happy is wonderful. THANK YOU for all your great contributions to Wandering Educators - i have enjoyed your articles so very much - such an insight into spain and andalusia. 


    Jessie Voigts, PhD

    Publisher, wanderingeducators.com

  • Dr. Debra Payne

    14 years 1 month ago

    Traci, Thank you for everything you've written here at WE. We'll miss you. Great article! Please keep in touch.

    Un abrazo fuerte,

    Debra Payne, PhD  


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