FUN Cultural Differences Between Spain and the U.S.A.

FUN Cultural Differences Between Spain and the U.S.A.

Contributed by: Alissa Gamberg

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First time in Spain? Flamenco, tapas, architecture, Spanish men (yes, they do count as an attraction)…of course you’re going to be giddy with excitement! However, while you’re packing your best sundresses and cutest going out outfits, don’t forget that you’ll be in a different country. In addition to the obvious language barriers you might experience, Spain has its own unique culture that you should be aware of. You may find yourself confused by certain differences between Spanish style and American style. That’s why we have compiled a brief list that may help you understand what you can anticipate.

Saludos

Fact: meeting and greeting people in Spain takes a lot longer than it does in the U.S. This is because everybody kisses both cheeks. Men shake hands with eachother, but Spanish besitos are a very central piece of their culture. So if you’re headed to a dinner party, brace yourself, because it might take a little while before you actually sit down at the table. But don’t dread this part of coming to Spain; once you get the hang of it, you might realize it’s actually quite charming. We don’t always experience this kind of closeness in the U.S.

On a similar note, in Spain it’s also customary to give a proper goodbye when leaving a local store or entering an elevator, for example (it’s seen as rude to leave without saying anything). Hasta luego is the more frequent and friendly phrase, but adios is okay too.

PDA

Though not unique to Spain, public displays of affection (PDA) is quite common here. In America, the most you’ll see happening between couples on the streets (generally speaking, of course) is a hug, a kiss here or there, and hand-holding. But the Spanish do not hold back like we tend to in public. Whether you’re in Retiro Park or on the metro, don’t be surprised if you see couples engaged in a lot of physical touch. It’s the norm here.

Siesta and mealtimes

You’ve probably heard of the Spanish siesta before, and although not every Spaniard actually does echarse una siesta (to take a mid-day nap), the concept still dominates the very structure of Spanish lifestyle. Basically, many mom and pop businesses close down between the hours of 2:00 and 5:00. You’ll find some streets vacant and silent during these hours. Major chains like Starbucks, H&M, Mango, Bershka, Carrefour (Spanish supermarket), McDonald’s, etc. will stay open, but boutiques and local shops won’t; that’s because they’re literally out to lunch. Also, mealtimes in Spain are much later than in the U.S. For example, breakfast is very light, usually coffee with a tostada (toast). Lunch is usually between one and four in the afternoon, and dinner doesn’t begin until about eight at the earliest. This actually feels ok during the spring and summer months because the sunsets at 10pm. Yes, 10pm!

Go with the (slow) flow

Sigh…this can be a frustrating one for Americans, who definitely live in the fast lane. Everything in the U.S. is go, go, go. But in Spain, not so much. Don’t get me wrong — you’ll definitely find fast food and self checkout lanes at the grocery store, but in general, life in Madrid (yes, including the capital city) is at a slower rate. People just aren’t in a hurry here the way they tend to be in America. They are not thinking about the time, where they’re headed or really anything but the present moment. This is another page Americans could take out of the Spaniards’ book. The fact is, the Spanish care more about socializing, interacting, and being present rather than worrying about what’s ahead (or being punctual!). They can take forever deciding which bar to go to in a group of friends, for example, and while an American may see this as a time-waster, the Spanish appreciate these moments spent with their friends while they make even the simplest decisions.

These are just a few basic tips about what to expect while you’re immersing yourself in Spanish (more specifically, madrileño) culture. We hope you’ll enjoy the experience of gaining new perspectives and broadening your cross-cultural awareness. When it comes to making international connections, remember that there is always something you can learn and teach!

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