Home Life in Toledo, Spain — The North Star Reports – by Charles Bray. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

Home Life in Toledo, Spain — The North Star Reports – by Charles Bray. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal


[Photo: 106 degrees Fahrenheit: just a slightly above-average temperature in the heart of Spain]

Typical Spanish home life is not so different from what most of us are familiar with; many Spaniards nowadays follow the nuclear family model, keep cats and dogs as pets, and eat a diet composed of the same basic elements that we find on our own plates. But as I realized over the summer I spent living in Toledo and travelling to many other parts of Spain, there are certain distinctions that take some getting used to.

The difference that struck me immediately was the meal schedule. Breakfast is nothing alarming, eaten at whatever time one gets up to start the day. A little more uncomfortable for the average American is lunchtime, eaten at 2, 3, or even later. I learned to sustain myself with snacks until then, scrounging for leftovers in my family’s fridge and buying bocadillos or fresh fruit from a café or marketplace. Finally, dinner can be served anytime from 9 to past 11. For my family, the norm was to start mealtime preparations around 9:15 and hope to begin eating by 9:45. However strange this arrangement seems, it makes sense when one considers the Spanish practice of the siesta and the sweltering climate that makes it necessary; as outside temps soar in the afternoon, no one cares to do much of anything except sleep for one or two hours after lunch. When it reaches 108 degrees outside, you’d best be unconscious, trust me. As a result, dinner is eaten later when people—and their stomachs—are feeling a bit more active.


[Photo: The sun beats down, and the streets empty. Is it three o’clock already?]

Another aspect of Spanish family life, which alarmed me at first, was the relationship I had with my host mom, and the general reduction of personal space. The average Spanish mother has few boundaries in her own household, as I quickly discovered after I came home one day to find my room cleaned and arranged for me. She had touched my things, and moved them all around! Outrage! But then again, in Toledo my room’s motherly touch was more of an expectation than any sort of violation. Privacy, and especially the thought of personal space, is not as highly regarded in the Spanish culture as it is in our own. This convention can be observed in casual conversation—a practice accompanied by plenty of touching of one’s conversation partner on the elbows, shoulders, or maybe even a few pokes in the chest when harsh words are exchanged—as well as salutations, which can include a side-peck on each cheek when saying hi or goodbye. Interacting with my family members in a comfortable home setting helped normalize this kind of close-quarters communication that I would deal with throughout my time in Spain.


[Photo: Entertainment by a local traditional band was my first experience with the up-close-and-personal Spanish way of interacting. The band members were hardly shy, approaching students and handing them their robes and instruments to join in the music!]

Another part of living in a Spanish home that I saw first-hand was how close-knit my family was. Although the norm of one’s extended family inhabiting the same household has begun to fade as Spain has seen more and more international influence, time spent with family and friends remains an important focus of the Spanish lifestyle. I ate lunch and dinner almost exclusively at my house; even my host sister, at a very independent 24 years old, would rarely let other plans interfere with her attendance of family meals. At times I felt like I was intruding on the home of my host family, but I’ve come to realize that this impression was due to the fact that its members were so close, and so in-sync, that it was easy to feel like an outsider. Friends and family are of the utmost importance in Spain, and there, to not maintain close ties to loved ones is somewhat of a personal failure.

To a certain extent, any home outside of one’s own will seem a little strange. Moreover, moving in to a household in which even many basic assumptions differ can be an additional transition. It was no different in the case of my summer in Toledo, Spain, an experience that was surprising and intriguing in equal measure, and left me with a more complete picture of how Spaniards think and feel, interact, and live as a family.


[Photo: Me, my host brother, and my host mother in Toledo, Spain.]

Charles Bray is a student at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. Charles kept a travel blog at: http://www.chuckstrip.wordpress.com

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal’s online learning community and outreach program with undergraduate and K-12 classes around the world. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:


The North Star Reports publishes edited essays from our students, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Students have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, Colombia, Norway, northeastern China, Nicaragua, Micronesia, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, El Salvador, England, Finland, Russia, Cyprus, and Haiti. We also publish student reviews of books, documentaries, and films, and analysis of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers. We thank The Department of History and Politics and the School of Arts and Letters of The College of St. Scholastica for their generous financial support for The North Star Reports and The Middle Ground Journal.

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.

Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu


Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

20 responses to “Home Life in Toledo, Spain — The North Star Reports – by Charles Bray. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

  1. Matt Breeze

    The differences of the Spanish meal schedule seem like something that would be very hard to adjust to. Taking a break from all activities when it is so hot is a great idea that maybe should be adopted more in the United States. Going back to the meal schedule, the importance of family meal time and being together for meals sounds wonderful to me. Sitting down for family meals can be so rewarding and bring the family together and keep members updated on each other. It just seems like a nice tradition to uphold.

    • Connor Lehto

      As someone who gets hungry pretty often, I think the difference in meal schedule would be a pretty stark difference for me. Naps are also something pretty foreign. I do appreciate the value in sharing meals with family, however. Connecting over a meal is pretty powerful, in my opinion, and family connections are important to maintain.

  2. Meghan Lozinski

    Although I have only spent three days in Spain myself, my brother has been there twice and we had a student come spend a month with us last summer so I feel pretty acquainted with it. Nacho, the student who stayed with us, also had no personal boundaries. We had never met him before he stayed with us but he had no qualms about taking sips out of our cups and no sense of personal space, just as you said. It is an odd experience when you meet someone like that because it makes you more aware of how standoffish our own culture can be.

  3. Tabetha Filzen

    I remember in my Spanish classes in high school, we talked about the culture of Spain for a Unit. However, we talked more about the life outside of the home.It is amazing to learn that families are so close knit in Spain. I liked that this article was more about what happens in the home, rather than the street.

  4. Carley Nadeau

    I felt like this post was really insightful and interesting. I think the hardest part to deal with would be the personal space. What I really like about their traditions is how close-knit the family is. I think it would be so interesting to be apart of that and must of been an amazing experience for you.

  5. Thomas Landgren

    Great article Charlie! I would feel growing up in the states with a very early lunch time adjusting to the meal times in Spain would be hard. It’s interesting how the family acts compared to what most of us are used to. I feel most people in the U.S. wouldn’t be so physical with each other. I have learned a little bit about the Spanish culture but every time i hear the talk about a siesta it just seems so crazy. I really enjoyed how you focused more on family life in Spain than the same old monuments you see in articles. Great article!

  6. James Fuerniss

    Dang, 108 degrees is really really hot! I don’t blame them for wanting to sleep to beat the heat. The one question I’d want to ask is whether or not it’s humid in Spain or not? I couldn’t imagine 108 and humid! Other than the weather, Spain sounded like a really cool experience!

  7. Logan Davey

    I myself am planning on traveling abroad, so it’s great to know what to expect through reading this. I’m curious to what time most people went to bed, since you ate dinner so late at night? Also what things did you go out and do while you were in Spain? It’s great to get a feel for what it’s like living with a host family, so thank you for that.

  8. Bryce Gadke

    The heat would be by far the biggest transition for me, residing in the midwest my entire life and complaining any time the weather spilled over in the 90’s I would hide in the basement of my house for as long as possible. The way you described the family unit is quite interesting and quite different than the institution of family in the US. What has caused most families in the US to stem so far away from the close knit feeling the author described of his host family? The time at which lunch and dinner makes perfect sense based on the weather but is also something that I can’t imagine surviving for the first week while adjusting to the eating schedule as I’ve developed a quite different habitual schedule in the past three weeks relying on Greenview Dining Room.

  9. Deng Dimayuga

    I’ve understood the later almuerzo y hora de cenar is a shared cultural experience in Latinx culture. I have vivid memories laughing about how late my family ate with other Latinx peers. Because our families were so close-knit, something you noted you observed, it was natural for us to wait until every member of the family was home before cenando. It’s a unique sense of unity that I truly appreciate.

  10. Delaney Babich

    I would probably have a very difficult time with the meal times and the loss of personal space. I’m sure by the end of your stay your stomach was well trained though! While the loss of personal space would be somewhat annoying, it seems to be endearing as well!

  11. Jimmy Lovrien

    Interesting piece! I’m fascinated by the meal schedule there. I was told that in the U.S. the 3 meals per day schedule came from the schedules followed by workers in the industrial revolution. How was this not picked up in Spain? Additionally, I found the mention you made that extended families living together was starting to dwindle a bit because of international influences. Just what is affecting that change?

  12. Becca Smith

    I think this culture would be difficult for me to adjust to, but what a rewarding experience! It’s interesting how we value independence so much where Spain values the close relationships. I think it would be interesting to study the level of happiness in the two countries. This sounds like it was an extremely rewarding experience!

  13. Kaytlin Hintz-Knopf

    I had a very similar experience with meal times when I stayed with a host family in Russia for 2 weeks. It’s incredibly hard to adapt to. I don’t think I could handle to heat though! I love winter. I think the personal space idea is really quite interesting.

  14. Jenna Algoo

    How interesting it is to immerse ourselves in another culture and try to become acquainted in a short amount of time. Did you find it became easier in a short amount of time or did it take you awhile?? I had a similar experience when I traveled to Spain in 2011. The people are so incredibly close, and the shop owners always got a touch closer than I was used to. That being said, I thought the culture really made people feel accepted, don’t you think? That heat is difficult, though. Especially for people who are from areas such as Minnesota, it’s really difficult to keep on keeping on in extreme heat.

  15. Roman Schnobrich

    Did the heat make you want to return home to Duluth? The meal schedule makes sense since Spaniards seem to stay up that late every night, but I feel like Americans go to bed much earlier on an average weeknight. Does that mean they don’t get up as early for work as Americans do? Or do they just require less sleep? The personal space issue must have taken some getting used to.

  16. Kyle Hellmann

    I think I would really like the meal schedule, as I always want a nice nap after lunch! I can see why they do it in Spain though, too hot to do anything! I do wish that my family had that Spanish closeness that your host family did, as everyone gets so busy at times. Thanks for sharing and I’ll let you know that it was 40 degrees here in Duluth when I woke up!

  17. The intense heat in Spain and the intense cold in Minnesota are two weather extremes. I’m sure both would be difficult to adjust to for anyone. Thus if someone from Spain were to visit here perhaps they would find some difficulty in adjusting to the cold winter. I would hope there were a good number of nicer days that you could enjoy the heat on. I also wonder if your own family at home is particularly close? Of course you noticed quite a difference compared to what you were used to and what your host family was like. It must have been interesting to learn about the Spanish family dynamic through first-hand experience.

  18. I think that this meal schedule is perfect, I have a tendency to snack throughout the day because of hypoglycemia. This keeps your blood sugar level throughout the day. However I think that having suck a long period between breakfast and lunch could get a bit aggravating at times. I find it interesting when I think of family dynamics. My family is not big on touching, however we do not have space boundaries and privacy is not common. That certainly must have been a little shocking.

  19. Sarah Plankers

    Thanks for the sneak peek into Spanish culture! I have lived in South America for an extended period of time so I understand some of those big cultural differences you’re referring to. Meal time and size are so so so different in all parts of the world, so adjusting to a late night dinner is just something that happens when you’re abroad I guess. Personal space is also something interesting to think about in a culture context because I think North American culture is dominantly about personal preference when it comes to touching and space. All together, I’m glad you shared the highlights of your time in Toledo and your experience with a host family!

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