Exploring cultural differences in Spain – API Blog

February 19, 2019

Today’s blog post comes to us from UW-Plateville student & API blogger Josh Weaver! He’s talking about cultural differences he’s noticed during his first few weeks in Spain.

The first thing that surprised me walking the streets of Madrid is businesses leave their doors open during the day, even when the temperature is only 50 degrees outside.

I was reminded the first day in orientation that the Spanish people are much more open and less private than people in the United States. I would attribute the open doors to their open personality. My host mom has been very straightforward in asking what would probably be considered personal questions in the United States. The first day in the apartment, I put my hygiene products in the designated basket. Being curious, she grabbed the basket and started examining what all I brought. While I didn’t mind, it caught me off guard. Spaniards are very straightforward with their questions and curiosity in a way that might appear rude to me as an American, but they mean no ill well. In some ways their straightforward manner is a nice change even if it makes me uncomfortable at times.

Water and energy is very expensive in Spain, so turning off a light when leaving a room, even for a minute, is very important. In our apartment there is a small water heater that looks to be ¼ of the one we have back home. Because of the small size and need to conserve water, I try to keep my showers to a minute-two minutes maximum which is much shorter than I am used to.

I think what has hit me the hardest, despite the forewarning, is the eating style.

In the mornings Spaniards only have a piece of toast and either coffee or something similar. For someone who is used to eating two slices of toast, eggs, and bacon or sausage, this has been difficult. Lunch isn’t usually eaten until 2:00 P.M. and the Spaniards are not snackers, so it is a long wait from 8:00 A.M. to 2:00! In addition, it’s another long wait from 2:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. when supper is served.

In general, the portion sizes are smaller too, though my host mom is pretty good about making sure we have enough to eat at lunch and supper, but the single slice of toast for breakfast seems to be a uniform rule, not just for my roommate and I, but for everyone else in the program as well. I had to break down and buy a snack a couple times already because in my defense, according to my Apple Health app, I have walked 50.4 miles in my first week here in Spain! That comes out to an average of 7.2 miles/day. With this lifestyle, it is no wonder that most Spaniards are very healthy and fit.

As far as eating out, if you want water, you have to specifically ask for tap/free water or they bring you a bottle of water and charge you. The water where we’ve stayed out is safe, but for whatever reason bottled and carbonated bottled water are the default water option. The bill is always together, and the waiters get quite irritated if you ask for separate checks. Tipping is not common practice here either. While relatively small things, they are just some of the notable differences I’ve encountered here.

In the United States we usually notice how culture and fashion trends make their way across from Europe to the coasts and move towards the Midwest. I didn’t realize that the opposite happened, too!

American fast food is pretty visible throughout Spain. The most common American chains I’ve seen in order of popularity are Starbucks, Burger King, Taco Bell, and McDonalds. Another really big impact of American culture in Spain is the entertainment industry. “American” music is everywhere: stores, restaurants, from houses, etc. I think the interesting thing is that when we’ve asked some locals about the music is that they don’t often understand it. When my host mom flips through the channels there are a lot of American shows of every variety with the Spanish translation. Hollywood movies are easy to find and are even in some of the movie theaters here (in Spanish). Of course there are many shows and movies created in Spain that are quite good, but the global influence of American music and Hollywood has really taken me by surprise.

This week I started classes, so I also noticed some differences in Spain’s post-secondary education system.

First, the universities are not campuses like in the United States. All of my classes are held in one building (it is very big) but there are no other university-related buildings within 15 minutes of this one. All the buildings are scattered out individually, along apartment complex buildings and all other types of businesses. While large universities may have long walks between buildings, generally the buildings are somewhat grouped together. There are not many student dorms either as I have found out many students like with family or relatives and attend classes. My main observation is that the university living style in the U.S. could probably be considered its own culture!

One week of classes is already done which is so hard to believe, but I am happy to be back in a schedule. Ciao!



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