Where I come from (the United States), there is a not-so-unspoken expectation that everyone is busy all the time. If your agenda is not overflowing with errands to run, places to be, or things to buy, something is wrong. Conversations tend to revolve around how much there is to do and how no one has time to do any of it. Coffee breaks have devolved into coffee moments, and lunch is often consumed in front of a computer.
Among the infinite lessons I have learned since moving to Europe nearly three years ago, the most difficult one for me to implement into my daily life is the action of doing nothing. This continent knows a lot about taking a step back and reflecting on absolutely nada. The examples below highlight three nations´ proclivities to (in my own words) chill the F out and move well-being and social connection into the spotlight of normalcy.
Sweden - Fika
The Swedish tradition of taking a fika in the afternoon is quite possibly my favorite do-nothing indulgence thus far. During visits to Gothenburg and Stockholm, each day the afternoon called for ducking into a dark and soothing tavern or cafe and ordering Sweden´s famously strong coffee with a sweet side. Cinnamon buns are the standard accompaniment, but due to my dedication to expanding my cultural understanding, I also sampled carrot cake with cream cheese icing.
Hungary - Palinka
A slowly dissipating tradition in the Eastern European nation of Hungary is to begin every day with a shot of palinka. Elderly Hungarians wake up in the morning to a refreshing pour of the brandy as they believe it contains copious health benefits. With an alcohol content of nearly 35 percent, the spirit is one that I politely declined upon my 10 o´clock arrival at my first Budapest hostel.
Spain - Vermut (and siestas)
Spaniards have mastered the skill of moderation which is ever evident in their alcohol habits. Daily walks take me past cafe upon cafe where diners nurse glasses of wine at all hours of the day. Regardless of the hour, it is a common occurrence to take part in a vermut, which is not only a fortified wine liqueur but also a low-key social pleasantry. Normally an ingredient in many cocktails, vermut (i.e., vermouth) is consumed solo in Spain and is usually accompanied by tapas such as fried seafood or olives.
Regardless of the type of momentary pause built into the day, I am gradually learning how to sip (and live) more slowly, for drinking a hot beverage too quickly can result in a burned tongue.