This blog is usually dedicated to my adventures and how I’m spending these four months traipsing around Spain and Europe. But I’m going to take a page out of my friend Lorainne’s book and do one on culture. You can check out her study abroad blog here.
So what is different between Spain and the USA? So much.
New Cultural Differences: May 13
In America, water is pretty expensive; even store brand isn’t that much cheaper. But in Spain, water is so cheap! In Málaga, I bought a 5 Liter [1.32 gallon] jug of water for €0.75. That’s $1, folks. A gallon for a dollar. When was the last time that happened?! Exactly.
New Cultural Differences: April 18
In America, dogs are always on leashes. Always. Not even a question because if not, the dog got hit by a car – God forbid. In Spain, it is COMPLETELY NORMAL for your dog to roam the streets with no leash. They just trot alongside their owner like this isn’t the most absurd thing I have ever witnessed. But they behave, unlike American pups. They wait outside of the restaurant or store for the owner without being tied to a tree and don’t jump in the street after a squirrel. Cool trick for Spanish dogs; never gonna happen for American ones.
This one is a big one. During the time of Franco’s dictatorship, a lot of things were prohibited. So when he died, the Spanish population gained a lot of their privileges back but took them to an extreme because they could. And one of them was sex. It is adorable to see couples, young or old, holding hands or arm in arm walking around. And literally everyone is a couple. If you’re single in Spain, it’s horrible for your self-esteem and you’re doing the culture wrong. However, there is a line between adorable and disgusting. It is a common occurrence to see couples kissing aggressively as if they are in their own house or having sex in parks [majorly awkward for the unknowing group of Americans] For Americans, this is too much for us and are really uncomfortable as PDA is generally frowned upon in public situations. I do love the couple-ness about Spain and we should bring that back to the USA but not the making out on trains. Like please wait until you get home.
How this could possibly be a cultural difference is beyond me, but it is. At the corner of each street, there is a crosswalk. Simple enough, right? Not for Spaniards. Crosswalks are often in the middle of sidewalks and not on every corner. So sometimes to get somewhere, you have to walk a block, cross the street and walk a block back to get to where you want to go. #annoying.
Original Cultural Differences: April 5
America’s favorite pastime is baseball. If you don’t love baseball, people will say you’re Un-American. [And let me be clear, you are]. And obviously, people are also loyal to basketball, hockey and American football teams and rally around their teams in a strong fandom, living for rivalries and wishing ill on all that makes the enemy happy. But not all Americans are sports fans. In Spain, EVERYONE is a sports fan. [Finally, a country that understands my needs]. And they aren’t just a sports fan – they are a die hard fan. Spanish companies have taken breaks from the work day to watch the game at the office and when you go to a game live, the energy is electric. At American sporting events, people are hyped up, don’t get me wrong, but when was the last time you saw “The Wave” go around the stadium 5 times in a row without stopping? Right. The designated fan sections at games are filled with people waving flags, screaming all of the chants perfectly and even jumping in unison. I have mentioned the fandom at Atleti games in previous posts but it is still amazing to see every time.
Why pre-schoolers have the right idea and the rest of the American population doesn’t is absolutely beyond me. But the Spanish have it down to a science: siesta. Taking a nap in the middle of the day is the greatest tradition ever known to man. Who disagrees with this idea? Oh, no one. I thought so.
Holidays and Vacations
America is a religiously tolerant country as we were founded on the principles of religious freedom by the Pilgrims in the 15th century. We are also a country without a national religion. Therefore, in American schools, we get days off for holidays like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, both of which are Jewish holidays, as well as getting off for Christmas and Easter week. But the Spanish are very Catholic and school holidays are dramatically different. For example, December 8, the day of the Immaculate Conception, is a national holiday and nobody has school or work. There are no holidays for the Jewish faith and Spring Break week is always during Semana Santa [Holy Week] to enjoy the processions as they prepare for Easter.
Ashes on Ash Wednesday
This one was really weird for me. Ash Wednesday in the USA means the priest makes the sign of the cross on your forehead in ashes and you wear it as a sign of your faith all day. In Spain, the priest sprinkles ashes into you hair and makes the sign of the cross over your head to bless the ashes.
Spain is stuck 20 years behind the USA with music. Restaurants play the best music because it’s all throwback from anywhere between 1998 and present day, with the majority of music being played between 2000 and 2006. And it’s great. I ordered food the other day listening to old Maroon 5. But because of this, the following for boy bands, like the Backstreet Boys, which I first-hand witnessed, is like they think they’re Americans themselves. I love it.
Hostels , Hotels and WiFi
Do we have hostels in the USA? I had never even heard of the concept of a hostel before deciding I wanted to study abroad. I really don’t know if we have them because I’ve been so lucky to have stayed in hotels my whole life. Hostels for the most part are pretty solid, except the one in Switzerland, but nothing beats a hotel. But something different about Spanish hotels is that they are equipped with twin beds, side by side. If you’re a couple, you have to specifically ask for a “cama de matrimonio” [marriage bed] And of course, WiFi. Because of roaming charges, most of us depend on WiFi while in Europe. There are usually 3 places I can get WiFi: my house/hostel where I’m staying, school and restaurants. All you have to do is order something and then you can ask for the WiFi password. This does not happen in the United States. I have never even thought to ask for WiFi because we have data plans. Does the USA have WiFi for paying customers?
McDonald’s has an awful reputation in the USA about being disgusting, fatty and cheap. In Europe, it isn’t. McDonald’s is regarded as a restaurant and most are two stories tall with easy check out machines that you can customize your order without talking to the cashier. The food is made well and is more expensive and Spaniards love it! [But they don’t have Wendy’s here, which is only mildly soul-crushing]
Concept of Time
I live in New York and go to school in Washington, DC. People we have to go, go, go, take names and kick ass, accomplish more than 7 things in one day or else you’ve wasted time etc. These people have ZERO concept of time. Lunch could take 1 hour or 4. But the best example of this is with clubbing. When Spaniards party, they stay out from when the metro closes at 1 am until 630 am when it reopens. It is completely normal to do that on a Monday night, go home, take a shower and head to work or class, with a quick nap in there if there’s time. Every American who first hears about this is in a state of shock: “What are these people thinking?! A Monday? I don’t think so. Friday or Saturday only. Thursday if I really need it, but not until 630 in the morning, just because”. It’s a great time. Still overwhelming, but awesome. However, on the other hand, because of their complete lack of time, these people meander. This is not something that I can handle. When I get behind a slow person in America, I get impatient, but here it’s maddening. Some people walk like they’re stuck in molasses. Sorry, but I am American and I have to things to do.
I’ll be continuing to add to this post, as I remember more things. Be sure to check back in every now and then!