In Spain, life rarely runs on time. The bank may advertise that it opens at 8 AM, but that does not mean that it will actually open at 8 AM; it will most likely open at 8:05 AM, or even 8:15 AM. Most hours of operation are a guide and not a strict schedule—except for closing time. Spaniards do not mind being late to the beginning of an event, but they hate when they have to stay later than expected!
This idea of time as a flexible construct is not something we are used to in the United States; if the bank says it opens at 8am and no one opens the doors until 8:01am, customers want to talk to the manager. If you make plans to meet with a friend at noon and they show up at 12:30pm, Americans find that to be frustrating and disrespectful. In Spain, that is not the case, and that is where tranquila comes in.
Tranquila translates to “calm” in English. This term is something that Spaniards use all of the time. When apologizing to someone for making a mistake, Spaniards do not respond with, “It’s okay!” or, “No worries!”—they typically respond with, “tranquila.” This word signifies that all is well, and there is nothing to worry about; instead, you are told to remain calm.
Tranquila can take on many forms, from remaining calm when you make a mistake, to remaining calm when life does not go exactly as planned. Tranquila is not just a state of being, but a lifestyle. It is one thing to remain calm in frustrating situations, but it is another thing to adopt a lifestyle of tranquila, where all is good and the little things roll right off of you. My Resident Director told us that if the bank opens at 8 AM and no one shows up until 8:10 AM, you have two choices: you can either be annoyed for those ten minutes, or you can choose to enjoy the architecture around you, and be grateful for the opportunity to marvel at it.
I think the Spaniards got it right with this concept of tranquila. In life, there will be many small things that can cause irritation or anxiety, but it is important to recognize that these are little things; the bank opening 10 minutes late will not kill you, and viewing your time as flexible brings greater joy to your life. Although being on time is important in many contexts (such as doctor’s appointments and catching a flight), it is of great value to see the little things for what they are: the little things.
Tranquila is a lifestyle that I hope to continue to practice when I return to the United States. Living by this mantra for the past three weeks has brought me great joy, and I recommend trying to live like the Spaniards do: enjoying every moment of life, and remaining tranquila.