Culture is many things–food, lifestyle, traditions, ways of thinking, celebrations, music– and it can be powerful. It may influence how we interact with each other, how we live our lives, and why we do the things we do. It is a social construct that illustrates the beliefs and ideas a person or people hold in society.
When I moved to Spain, I knew there were going to be a TON of cultural differences. The language, people, the geographical location, the food, government and so many more things are completely different than in the U.S. I’ve lived and worked in Madrid for 10 months now.
I wanted to share EVERYTHING that I found interesting…maybe you will too.
- Dinner is at 9-10pm. This is almost ritual! Spanish people find it very peculiar that Americans typically eat dinner around 5-7pm. Restaurants that happen to be open may not be serving dinner or may just have a lot of open tables! Around 9pm-11pm tables and patios will be packed!
- Your favorite restaurant, store or other business may only be open from 1-4pm and 8pm-12am (or until 6am) It’s true! Since Spanish people eat dinner starting usually around 9pm, most restaurants and some businesses are closed from 4-8pm or even 4-9pm. It is sometimes referred to as “siesta” but this doesn’t mean Spanish people go home and take naps.
- The time is told in “military time”. Yes, time is displayed in military time, as in 20:00 = 8:00pm! Be careful of this when booking flights, meeting friends, scheduling appointments (like at a nail salon) and with business hours.
- The date is written differently, for example June 11, 2018 = 11 June, 2018 of 11/06/18 (Not November 6th!) This caught me off guard when I started filling out government documentation for my visa to live in Spain, and again when I started teaching!
- The windows have no screens! Yes! In homes, businesses, restaurants, hotels, all of the windows have NO screens!
- Pharmacies are potent. The pharmacies in Spain are vastly unlike the ones in the U.S., typically you can’t just grab what you want and bring it to the counter. This has pros and cons! Pharmacists in Spain have the ability to recommend you medicine and a lot of medicines requiring prescriptions do NOT need one in Europe. When you walk into a pharmacy, you go up to the counter and tell the pharmacist your symptoms, and they will recommend a couple medicines (both natural and pharmaceutical) to you of various prices. If you already know what you want, you can just ask if they have some and they’ll bring it right out, no questions asked!
- Breakfast is very light. Meals in Spain are quite sacred. Breakfast is extremely light; it is absolutely unheard of to eat EGGS for breakfast or to get full. You might have coffee, a donut, some toast, or another sweet like churros con chocolate–but never all of these things!
- Lunch is the LARGEST meal of the day. During lunch (1-4pm) many restaurants offer what is called a “Menu del día”. It is typically greatly priced at 10-20 € and comes with a first dish, second dish, drink (wine, beer, or soft drink) AND a dessert! They are pretty hearty dishes too! You may notice the eating culture if you eat very lightly for lunch, your waitress/waiter/host mom/personal chef might say, “that’s it!?!”
- One kiss on each cheek to greet. Handshakes are okay, but not the norm! Spanish people, professionally or personally, greet with two kisses, one on each cheek starting left to right (always).
- Bad words run rampant! Bad words are extremely common, and not seen to be as filthy in the U.S.
- You can PARTY until 6AM! Spanish nightlife is electrifying!!! Most clubs don’t open until midnight and are open until six am, SIX am!!! There are also bars and clubs that literally OPEN at 6am so that the people who want to keep partying can keep going. Most 20-30 somethings don’t start going out until 1-2 am and stay out until 6am when the metro is open to avoid paying for taxis. You will find bars and clubs of every design playing music you love somewhere!
- You can’t drive until you’re 18! Yes, it’s true, you can’t smoke nor drink nor drive until you turn 18!
- Bread is always fresh!! Fresh bakeries are also almost on every corner and packed!! It’s actually super awesome. Walking around Madrid, you can smell the sweet aroma of fresh out of the oven pastries and breads. It’s also the perfect place to grab breakfast or a roll of bread for dinner.
- Smart casual is the style. You will NOT see Spanish people or other nationalities living in Spain wearing pajamas, or “lounge” clothes as is popular in the U.S. People dress smart casual. If you’re wearing “gym clothes” you better be going to the gym!
- More small businesses! Small businesses are EVERYWHERE!!! Chains are very few and far between, for example phone companies (Orange, Vodafone), banks (Sabadell, Bankia), McDonalds, CIEN, and etc. Spain has thousands of restaurants to choose from, many fruterías, mom and pop shops, speciality stores and more for you to explore!
- Personal Space is overrated. Americans love space! But throw that out the window when you move to or visit Spain… When riding on the metro, it gets very packed, and you may rub legs and arms with someone, no big deal! When you work in primary schools, the students love (and are used to) hugging and kissing. When you talk to a coworker or a Spanish friend, they will probably stand less than 5 inches from you even if there’s plenty of space. I got used to it! 😉
- Public Transportation is the preferred method of transportation. Most Spaniards and people living in Spain travel by public transportation. Madrid’s metro/train stations are absolutely seamless and a great way to travel cheaply. It’s easy to meet a friend at a metro stop, most businesses are by metro stops or an easy 10-15 minutes walk away.
- Tapas! When people think of Spain, they may think first of tapas. When you order a drink at a bar or restaurant, you’ll typically get a free “tapa” or a small meal, bread with meat, croquetas, nuts, potato chips or even a small hamburger! Sometimes you’re able to choose, depending on the bar. Tapas are pictured above in the featured image on this blog!
- HAAAAAAAM!!! Ham is HUGE in Spain. Like, literally! Almost on every corner, you will find somewhere to get some fresh cut ham of many different types and ages. It is very common for Spanish people to eat it at almost any time of the day. You haven’t been to Spain if you don’t try some ham!
- Water and Electrical Conservation is country-wide. You’ll notice that in all public bathrooms you go into, the lights automatically turn off after a certain time. You’ll also notice that the toilet water is SUPER low (so aim correctly). Some escalators don’t work until someone is actually about to use them!
- The Dating Scene Spanish men and women don’t typically go out to hook up or find mates as is a heavy culture in the U.S. It is more common to meet their S.O. through friends or family–as told to me by many Spanish friends. Ladies, when you go out–don’t expect to get a free drink at the club, haha unless you find an American man there!
- WINE & Alcohol. Wine is sooooo sooo good AND cheap in Spain. My favorite bottle of wine is actually under $2.50. When you order drinks in Spain, bartenders are NOT stingy…sometimes they will bring the glass and alcohol to your table, start pouring the alcohol and ask YOU when they should stop! For example, if you order a rum and coke, they will probably give you a glass of ice with rum, and hand you the bottle of coca cola to pour yourself to your liking. 😉
- Milk is NOT refrigerated at the grocery stores. Yes, it’s true–and it was a bit strange at first! Milk comes in boxes and sits in an aisle by the water or other unrefrigerated beverages and goods. Of course, once you open it, it must be refrigerated!
I will continually add to this list as more come up in my memory! If you have experienced a particular Spanish culture I have missed, please leave a comment!
Follow me on Instagram at @CravingCultures for more great videos and pictures!