I’ve learned a lot about the Spain over the past few weeks, from the history to the language to the culture. Here are some of the cultural differences I’ve found and hopefully this will help you act like a local if you ever decide to mosey on over to Spain!
Personal Space DOES NOT Exist
Whether you’re walking down the street, browsing the sales rack at Primark, or just talking to a new friend, your personal bubble does not exist. I’ve noticed that people don’t attempt to move out of the way when they see you walking towards them. I’m constantly bumping into everyone and swerving like a snake in the grass. It’s like I’m in high school trying to move past around freshman. Spaniards will also reach over you in shops to pick out clothes they want and they’re not going to wait for you to move. I find myself cheek to cheek with someone checking out the same shirt I am and to be honest, it’s a little uncomfortable. But it’s a very normal thing here. People here are also very touchy. They might touch your arms or grab your wrist while talking to you. It’s also customary that you kiss hello and goodbye. Kiss LEFT FIRST, THEN RIGHT. I know in other countries they kiss right first but Spain is NOT one of those places.
The Spanish have a very weird schedule that I have yet to get used to. During the day, most stores close between 2pm and 5:30pm for siesta but a lot of restaurants close between 5pm and 8pm. Many restaurants will stay open during siesta because that’s when people eat lunch, the biggest meal of the day in Spain. I kinda sucked that restaurants closed at 5pm because my classes ended at 5:30pm and I was always hungry afterwards. I would have loved to been able to find a traditional Spanish restaurant instead having to settle for Taco Bell. There were definitely better options but I just love Taco Bell too much to walk past and NOT go in. Anyways, store hours are super whacky so just prepare to change your eating, shopping, and sleeping routines while in Madrid!
Speaking of no sleep, I am convinced the Spanish do not sleep! The night life here is crazy and tends to end at 6am on any given Wednesday. Dinner usually ends round 10pm or 11pm and then it’s off to the clubs and bars. We went on a few bar crawls during the week and they all started heading to bars at 1am. That means we didn’t actually reach the clubs until 3am. In Philly, clubs shut down at 2am so it was definitely a shock to see anything open past 3am. The night scene is always good here. Locals and tourists love going out and meeting new people. I’ve also found that people are very conversational in not just Madrid, but all over Europe. It’s weird to whip out your phone at a bar. You’re expected to talk and make friends. Not a bad concept, eh?
I’ve learned that Europe really doesn’t have “college campuses” per say. They have a cluster of university buildings in a large city but that’s it. The concept of a college town doesn’t exist here. My teacher, and other foreign friends, was fascinated by the American college lifestyle. teachers are also very open, nothing is off limits. That might also be because my class had students above the age of 18 but I think teachers hide less from their students.
Thankfully, tipping is not a thing in Madrid. The price listed is what you pay and that makes my bank account a little bit happier. Service is also not fast here. It’s not because they have no motivation to get their job done. Some tourists I’ve met would tell me that it’s because they don’t get tips so they don’t need to work quickly, but that’s just no true. Service is slow because people actually have deep conversations with each other and don’t want to be interrupted by a waiter. When you go out eat, phones are no where in sight and conversation last for hours. People take their time eating and talking so servers don’t try and rush them out.
If you ever get to go to Madrid, just be aware of these differences and embrace them. There are always gonna differences in cultures when traveling and some might be harder to understand or get used to but you just have to roll with the punches and act like a local!
Until next time, Hasta Luego!