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When in Granada, you don’t do Nada

By bensacks

Section: Features

February 13, 2009

A view of the Spanish Alhambra, a 14th century fortress.<br /><i>PHOTOS BY Ben Sacks/The Hoot</i>

A view of the Spanish Alhambra, a 14th century fortress.
PHOTOS BY Ben Sacks/The Hoot

I went to a Moroccan-style restaurant the other night–a Tuesday, I believe, at about 9:30 p.m.–and walked out of that place about two and a half hours later, still hungry, and having paid the waitress a tip of zero percent. None of my friends tipped her that night either. In fact, no one did, because in Granada, Spain, where I am studying this semester, tipping is not customary. And as a result, efficient service is not customary either.

It’s possible that we could have finished dinner in under two hours, but after we ordered, our waitress took a 30 minute break, so our orders weren’t placed with the kitchen for quite some time. Since in this part of the world such behavior is perfectly acceptable, my friends and I were confronted with the choice of never going out to dinner, or allotting a generous amount of time for a seemingly simply activity. Even should we choose to go out to dinner, serving sizes are often no larger than a generous appetizer since lunch is the meal of the day here.

Welcome to Granada, where people don’t say “excuse me,” mopeds cut in front of buses with reckless abandon and people take off from work between 2 and 5 p.m. for lunch and a “siesta,” a Spanish afternoon nap. This is the city where people go nowhere fast and enjoy life to the max every day, including Tuesday.

Ben Sacks '10 and Jillian Rubman '10, the sole Brandeis representatives to Granada, pose on the Apujarra mountain range, a subsection of the Sierra Nevadas.<br /><i>PHOTOS BY Ben Sacks/The Hoot</i>

Ben Sacks '10 and Jillian Rubman '10, the sole Brandeis representatives to Granada, pose on the Apujarra mountain range, a subsection of the Sierra Nevadas.
PHOTOS BY Ben Sacks/The Hoot

I live with a Spanish host mother, a 64-year-old woman named Carmen who loves to cook and is very similar to the stereotypical “housewife” presented in many of the 1950s black and whites. She spends much of her time in the kitchen and doing laundry. She goes bread shopping almost every morning, and makes me wear a jacket if the weather is cold. But she has a Spanish twist–if I come home from a late night out at 1 a.m., there is a good chance that she will still be awake.

Another cultural twist in Granada is that lunch is at 2:30 p.m. That’s not because my host mother, Carmen, told me so, but rather because in Granada, lunch is understood to be at 2:30. Period. And you eat it at home. There have been days when I have had to walk a half hour home from school in the middle of the day, and then another half hour back, because in Granada you must be home for lunch at 2:30.

Leisure is the way of the world here. A typical day might include a simple breakfast at around 8 a.m., followed by a coffee break at around 10:30 a.m. Then after four and a half hours of diligent work, lunch and siesta, from 2 to 5 p.m. During these hours, most stores are closed. Then, back to work until 8 p.m., with another possible coffee break around 6:30.

Restaurants begin opening for dinner at 8:30. If it’s a weekend, or even a Wednesday night, then dinner might be followed by bars at 9, followed by the discoteca (dance club), which opens at 2 a.m. and closes at 7.

These leisurely people have the honor of living in one of the most beautiful cities of the world.

On my way to school each morning I face the Alhambra, a large, no, enormous fortress occupying the hillside to the Northeast. Built during the 14th century, it was the last stronghold of Muslim rule in Granada, under the Nasrid family. The fortress housed royal families for generations, and is so grand (a palace later built by Charles V sits inside of the fortress) that it nearly made the list of the “Seven Wonders of the World.”

On my way home from school each afternoon I face the Sierra Nevada mountain range, snow covered at the peaks. One can almost see the springs that flow from the mountains and provide Granada with pristine drinking water.

One can’t help but notice the Moorish architecture of most of the buildings along Recojidas, the city’s main artery. Filed with intricately carved stone, brass-plated statues and fountains throughout, this city screams old school, back when rulers could afford to construct grandiose structures at the expense of the peons below them. Almost every building looks like $1 billion.

Granada has downsides, though. Since no one goes to bed early, trash collection occurs at 1 a.m. Exiting a bar without smelling strong whiffs of cigarette smoke is simply impossible. And forget about getting somewhere on time. Should you agree to meet someone at a predetermined hour and arrive as planned, you will most likely find yourself alone for at least a f ew minutes. And of course, there’s always the chance of getting run over by a motorcycle.

All said though, Granada is amazing. To quote “The Rough Guide to Spain,” “If you see only one town in Spain, make it Granada.” That is a valid suggestion. The tapas (hors devoures) are free with the purchase of a drink, the people are nice and the view is to die for. The siestas aren’t bad either.

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