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'No Pasa Nada': What The Spanish Art Of Relaxation Taught Me About Chilling TF Out
Life & Travel

'No Pasa Nada': What The Spanish Art Of Relaxation Taught Me About Chilling TF Out

I first moved to Spain in December 2018, bright-eyed and ready to dive into the culture. While I have loved every minute of my life abroad, I definitely received my share of culture shocks in Spain. Some were hilarious, some were surprising, and no matter how many times I was warned about others, they were still shocking!


When I first arrived in Spain, I was so used to the American mode of constant productivity. It almost caused me anxiety how relaxed most Spanish people are about everything.

In the United States, your career defines you; everything must be done correctly the first time and on time, and even your relaxation time should be productive. Spain is the opposite.

I learned to embrace it because if they’re not freaking out about it, why should I? It was an instant release. Spanish people place value on making time to relax, enjoying good company, and being outdoors in the sunshine. My mental health and ability to handle setbacks in stride improved a ton in Spain.

So as I near five years living abroad, here are the biggest lessons the Spanish taught me about chilling the fuck out.

Lesson Number 1: “No pasa nada”

My first day working as an English Language Assistant in Spain couldn’t have gone more wrong if I tried. The bus that took me to the town where I worked never showed up. When I finally got to the town, hours later, I couldn’t find the school. When I finally managed to make it to a class (after missing my first three of the day), the presentation I had prepared didn’t work.

I remember looking up from the computer screen to a class of eager students and my enthusiastic co-teacher (who also happened to be my boss). My heart sank into my stomach, “I can’t open the presentation, Mabel.”

No pasa nada, just talk to the kids, let them ask you questions.” Just like that? The kids were so excited to meet someone from the USA that the questions just kept coming, and they thanked me for a fun class.

No pasa nada translates to something like no worries, or it’s not a big deal, and I must’ve heard it at least 10 times a day every day in Spain. If something ever goes wrong, “No pasa nada.”

You can’t control everything all the time. Is anyone bleeding, dying, or injured? No? Then it’s not worth losing your head over. Just come up with the best solution you can think of at the moment and roll with it.

Courtesy of Ambar Mejia

Lesson Number 2: “Teacher, Did You Not Have Time for Breakfast?”

When I was working in the U.S., I often had all sorts of meals at my desk. Breakfast, lunch, coffee breaks. It wasn’t uncommon for me to sit in front of a screen, clacking away on my keyboard while taking bites and sips in between thoughts.

One day, in Spain, I showed up to school with a thermos of coffee and was sipping away while I led the class. One student raised his hand, “Yes Miguel?” “Uh, teacher, did you not have time for breakfast?”

Count on children to call you out! I thought he was just being an 11-year-old until later that week, a teacher asked me to go get coffee in between classes. When I went up to the counter to ask for it to go, she looked at me like, “What are you doing?” I said I was just grabbing it to go so we could get back to work. She said, "Yeah, we don’t do that here." And in fact, they didn’t even have a way to give me this coffee to go.

She later explained to me that it’s not usual for Spanish people to drink or eat while they walk or work. “Certainly you have 10 minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee and relax.”

(ENJOY my coffee? Interesting concept. I was just going to consume it for energy.)

In another instance, a Spanish friend of mine saw someone walking while eating a sandwich and said, “How depressing that they don’t even have time to sit and eat a sandwich.”

And actually, if you think about it, that is sad, but it’s not out of the ordinary in the U.S. But our bodies need food, and when we don’t even take those 10 minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee or actually chew a sandwich, we’re saying work is more important than caring for our bodies.

Even taking those 10 minutes to just focus on your coffee and be present can help you slow down and relax throughout the day.

Courtesy of Ambar Mejia

Lesson Number 3: “Y la sobremesa?”

I learned over the years living in Spain that food and meal times are sacred. It’s not just about getting something in to carry you throughout the day. Meal times are a moment to pause, relax, and unwind, and it’s always at the table!

Meals are also a time to gather with family and friends and have rowdy conversations about any subject under the sun (except work, as they consider this stuffy conversation).

This tradition of chatting after a meal is so important, it even has a proper name 'sobremesa' (over table). Long after the plates are cleared, the sobremesa will continue over drinks, coffee, or dessert. It can last several hours! (I once had lunch for five hours, four of which were just the sobremesa.)

If you try to get up without it, someone might ask, “Y la sobremesa?” like “What about the after-meal conversation?”

There is so much emphasis on connection in Spain, whereas American culture is more individualistic. Now, while I’m not suggesting all Americans have 5-hour lunches or do everything in pairs, there is something therapeutic about prioritizing your meals, not rushing, and being in good company.

Courtesy of Ambar Mejia

Lesson Number 4: Go have some sangria, walk on the beach, and try again.

In my second year teaching English in Spain, I moved to a different city in Spain and had the strange luck that my new boss was the strictest Spanish person I have ever met to this day.

When I couldn’t get an appointment to renew my residency card in time, she told me if I didn’t have it sorted by January 1st, she wouldn’t be able to let me stay in the country.

I made an appointment in a nearby town, but when I showed up for the appointment, the police officer told me I had to do it in the town I lived in. I started bawling. As a child of people who had immigrated to the U.S., I was in panic mode.

He tried consoling me and begged me to calm down, but I only started shaking and crying more, “My boss won’t let me stay if I don’t have my card renewed.”

And I will never forget his next words, “It’s okay. It’s okay. This isn’t the U.S. We’re not going to come looking for you.” (In retrospect, it is kind of funny.)

“Why don’t you go have some sangria, walk on the beach, and try again.” This did not feel like the time for this “no pasa nada” attitude, but I took his words of advice.

I had the sangria. I walked on the beach. And I went home to try again, and guess what? I did in fact find the appointment.

Courtesy of Ambar Mejia

Lesson Number 5: Sundays are for soaking up the sun.

Everything in Spain closes on Sunday. Everything except restaurants. So you couldn’t even run errands if you wanted to. This is usually a day for family and friends to gather on the beach, in the park, at a restaurant, or out on the plazas underneath flowering trees.

Sunday is just about connecting with loved ones and enjoying the sunshine at your leisure. I’m sure you can notice a theme here, Spanish culture is all about letting things flow.

Something that struck me most about Spain was how much less they complained about their mental health. It feels like almost all of my friends in the U.S. are struggling with anxiety or depression, and not without good reason. American lifestyle can feel like a pressure cooker, but what I think we can learn from the Spanish is to slow down, take life as it comes, have moments throughout the day and throughout the week where we can just be, and always make time for good company.

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Featured image courtesy of Ambar Mejia

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