The cultural differences between various countries are fascinating, and often, surprising. Whether you’re from Europe, North America, Asia or anywhere in between, coming to Spain can be a bit of a culture shock for you! Each country has it’s own traditions and opinions, and Spain is no different. Here are five things that international students might find the most surprising about Spain.
Super relaxed and friendly
First of all, Spaniards are very relaxed. This may be different from the pace of life you are used to! For example, going to a restaurant in Spain doesn’t mean you have to leave as soon as you are done eating. It is completely fine to sit around with friends and chat for hours after your meal! In fact, waiters often do not bring the check until you ask for it. What’s more, they like to take their time and are often not in a rush to get to somewhere exactly on time, being late is just not viewed the same way as it is in other parts of the world.
In general, Spaniards are more open to chat than most other european cultures. You can find yourself in the middle of a conversation at the local shop lasting for 10 minutes or more and even have a good chat with drivers in the public transport. When you ask for help, they will try to help you as much as they can.
The 2-cheek kiss:
When you see a friend or even meet someone for the first time, rather than shaking their hand, it is proper for women to give a quick kiss on either cheek. For men, it is common to shake a man’s hand but give a woman two kisses. This goes for any situation, whether you’re meeting a friend of a friend, in the workplace, or ran into a friend you know on the metro! This can also apply when you’re saying goodbye to someone. For some, this can be confusing, as it seems too personal, too fast. However, to the Spanish it is perfectly normal!
In Spain, you’ll find that the locals eat meals at times you’re not accustomed to. Breakfast is very small (or non-existent) and then around 11am they have “almuerzo” like brunch, where they will stop for a sandwich/mid morning break. Lunch is a huge meal, often consisting of several courses and a dessert. The Spanish also enjoy a mid afternoon snack (around the time you might be used to eating dinner) anywhere between 5 pm to 6:30pm called “merienda”. Finally, the Spanish eat dinner anytime between 8:30 pm to 10:30 pm. Dinner can also last for awhile. In Spain, meal times are not about simply eating your food and moving on. Rather, its about hanging out with friends and family, talking about your day, and enjoying each other’s company.
Of course, if you don’t speak Spanish, then the language may come as a surprise to you. In many European countries, most of the citizens speak both their home language and English, however, this is not always the case in Spain (although the Spanish education is changing this for the younger generations). In Spain, when speaking with members of the middle-aged or elderly population, its unlikely that they speak English. This gives you the opportunity to learn Spanish and most importantly, practice! And even if you speak very little at first, people will be happy to help and try to understand you.
Spanish stay quite late in the office, in many cases until 7pm and longer. The image of the so called “siesta”, the afternoon break between 2pm and 5pm, is very popular outside Spain, it is indeed a part of the country’s image, but in reality in many jobs especially in the north of Spain and in the big cities people do not take “siesta”. In the south of Spain due to the hot weather the public service businesses, like administration, supermarkets, shops etc. do take a break between 2pm and 5.30pm. Besides most shops in Spain stay open until 8.30pm and they do have a break in the early afternoon.
The best way to immerse in the Spanish culture is obviously come to Spain, commit to learning the language here, and take the time to experience the culture, traditions and delicious cuisine of this lovely and sunny country. Click here to learn more about our Spanish courses taking place in Valencia, Spain.