Ah, la familia. Mothers and fathers. Sisters and brothers. Cousins, aunts, uncles. Grandparents. Godmothers and godfathers. “Aunts” and “uncles”. The friends who feel like family. In Spain, there is a saying, or perhaps more of a refrain: Madre, sólo hay una. You have but one mother. If I’ve learned anything about Spain—and oh, there is much to learn—family is important. And mothers … well, you’ve only got one.
The stereotypes are (somewhat) true: Spanish children don’t leave the nest as early as those of us in Anglo-Saxon countries. The average age for leaving home in Spain is 25.2 years old (source). This is not seen in a bad light here; it isn’t shameful. In fact, even if a 20-something does have a job, they may choose to stay at home with Mom and Dad, just because they can. After all, why pay rent when you can stay at home rent free?
I know plenty of people my age who lived at home for a time after college before getting a job. Not everyone was able to get a job right out of college, so it made sense. After all, if you’ve got student-loan payments and no viable source of income, how are you going to shell out $500 for rent every month? (Let’s not even get into what it might cost to rent on the east coast or in California.) But usually these people moved out once they got a job.
There are usually two points of view on this subject, both of them equally judgmental and, in my opinion, both of them equally flawed:
- Spanish youth are lazy. They just want their mother to iron their clothes and cook their meals for them. As long as they can get away with it, they will.
- Anglo-Saxon/northern-European youth don’t care about family. They move out as soon as they can, because family isn’t important.
I read those sorts of thoughts a lot, and my hackles always go up, because these sorts of opinions are overly simplistic, and they can do a lot of harm. In my case, I was expected to go away to college, even though college in the U.S. is absurdly expensive, and living away from home only made it more so. And I was ready for the adventure! It was exciting to live in a dorm and to have roommates. (This roommate enthusiasm would soon fade, however.) After living in a dorm for a few years, I got my own apartment. My brother did the same—first a dorm and later an apartment. We moved away from home. Did this make us not lazy? (No.) Did this mean we didn’t care about our family, because we chose to live farther away? (No.)
Many—if not most—Spaniards choose to go to college close to home. That way, they can continue to live with their parents, and they save a lot of money on housing and food. Some do go away to university, as evidenced by Mario’s choice to study at the University of Granada—not exactly a hop, skip, and a jump away from Zamora! But a lot do elect to stay close by. They may eat lunch at home, their moms may do their laundry, they may not have to do any housework. Many would be ready to judge this as “lazy” or “shameful,” because they don’t even try to understand where Spaniards are coming from.
In Spain, family is important. What does this mean for them? La comida, lunch, is almost sacred. Why would you choose to eat a sandwich at the university cafeteria when you could have a home-cooked meal and time at home? Why would you choose to live in a dorm in your city when you could live at home with your parents? Independence is not as highly prized, not because they are lazy, but because being with your family is essential.
Some Spaniards I’ve come across have told me that, in the U.S. and other Anglo-Saxon countries, we don’t care as much about our parents. I can’t deny that being close to home is not as important. But I do take issue with the idea that, because we choose to become independent earlier or live farther from home, we don’t value family. I haven’t missed a Christmas, even though I’ve lived in Spain since 2009 (basically). My mother’s side of the family still gets together every holiday, though all the grandchildren are grown and off having families of their own. We make an effort to be together—no matter what. The distance makes it difficult, but it has brought with it myriad opportunities to grow, learn, and create a future for ourselves. I’ve been in Spain, perfecting my Spanish and learning more in five years than I thought possible. My brother is off in Nevada, working as an engineer, and spends every weekend skiing (winter) or hiking/biking (summer). We’ve seen a lot of the world this way.
So: conclusion time. No, just kidding—there isn’t one! In Spain, they value family; in the U.S., we do too … perhaps in a different way, in a way that is hard for some Spaniards to understand. In the U.S., we value independence; in Spain, they do too … yet again, maybe it’s a form of independence we don’t always get, but it’s not essential to understand it 100%. What is essential is accepting that everyone’s different, and that doesn’t make them inferior.