Ten Things To Know About The Spanish Culture Before Coming To Spain

Ten Things To Know About The Spanish Culture Before Coming To Spain

1) Dress for the Season, Not the Weather


This rule applies to any season. It could be 80 degrees (26 degrees celsius) in the middle of March and everyone will still be wearing their winter jackets. I wanted to wear sandals in spring and a teacher I work with told me that I cannot wear sandals until after May 30th.

Needless to say, pack for the season you will be here to avoid sticking out.

2) Meals and Meal Times


Desayuno (Breakfast): 8am

Sweets, sweets, and more sweets…I have often watched in amazement as my Spanish roommate eats donuts, cookies, and has chocolate milk for breakfast while still managing to be a size 6.

Almuerzo (Mid-morning snack): 11am

Usually a piece of fruit or a sandwich.

Comida (Lunch): 1:30-4pm

This is the biggest meal of the day. I am not joking when I say I have wanted to vomit because of how full I was after eating some of the Spanish meals that have been made for me in the past. Be prepared to eat.

This meal consists of three plates:

First plate: Salad, soup, or an assortment of cheese and meat

Second plate: A sizeable portion of meat, seafood, pasta…you name it.

Third plate: Optional, but the meal is finished with dessert, yogurt, fruit and/or coffee

Merienda (Afternoon snack): 5-6pm

Basically this is the same as almuerzo. The little kid I give private lessons to has a Nutella sandwich everyday. So, this can be different for everyone.

Cena (Dinner): 8:30-11pm

This is a small meal. Usually it is eggs, salad, or leftovers from lunch. Don’t be surprised if it is summertime and your dinner does not start until 10:30pm. This is also the time where people go to the bars and fill up on Tapas. Tapas are small plates of food, and what Spain is world-famous for.


3) Life Moves At a Slow Pace

People walk slow, people get ready slow, service is slow… this list can go on. If you tell a Spanish person to meet you at 1pm they will be there at 1:15-1:30. If you go out to eat, you will be sitting at your meal for much longer than you expected. If you are walking anywhere, you will wonder why a group of friends decided to take up the whole sidewalk and move at a glacial pace. Americans, this might take some getting used to, but you can do it. Yes, it’s frustrating at times, but you oddly eventually grow to appreciate it.

4) People Are Blunt

The Spanish say what is on their mind and they do not think twice.

Prime example: One day I came to school wearing my glasses, which I don’t do often.

Some of the comments I received:

“Profe, you look like a nerd.”

“Profe, I like you better without your glasses.”

“Profe, why are you wearing those?”

On the bright side, you’ll always know where you stand with people…

5) Siestas and Sundays


Ahh, the famous “Siesta”…. what everyone learns about and marvels over in their high school Spanish class. Having a siesta (meaning “nap”) in the middle of the day might sound like an adult’s dream. Not the case. In Spain, the whole country shuts down between approximately 2-5pm. When I was living in Burgos, this was the bane of my existence. If I ever needed anything in that time frame (groceries, post office, doctor, etc.), I was basically shit out of luck until 5pm.

The whole country will also be shut down on Sundays. Sundays are for coffee and loooong lunches to be enjoyed outside at your local Plaza Mayor. If I were you, I would especially keep this country-wide shutdown in mind when grocery shopping for the week, because you won’t be able to on Sundays.

Thank god this does not apply to me anymore because I now live in Madrid. Basically if you live anywhere outside of a big city, the Siesta and Sunday shutdown will apply to you.

6) PDA is Widely Acceptable and Personal Space is Not a Thing

You will see couples making out everywhere.This may either gross you out, make you feel depressed that you are single, or both. Either or, you will get used to it. Which ties into my next point…

You know that unspoken bus rule where if there is a open seat, you take that before doubling up and sitting next to someone? Yeah, no, that does not exist here. People will have no problem bursting your personal space bubble. They also greet each other by giving two kisses “dos besos” on each side of the cheek. No handshakes here, people.

The only time this really bothers me is when someone is talking to me and their breath smells. Other than that, this is also easy to get used to.

7) You Will Be Stared At

In the States, there was never anything special about me. Once I came here, I realized that I was most definitely a minority. This was especially true when I lived in Burgos. I am a 5’ 7”, an American as they can be, blonde. I am an alien by Spanish standards.


For example, there was the same old man that I would see every day walking to my school in Burgos. Honest to god, this man would stop in the street and pivot to watch as I walked by. It became so frequent that I used to wave at him. In Madrid I am not as much as a rarity, but I do get the occasional “rubia!” (meaning “blonde”) shout and stare down. I have learned to accept it, and want to tell you all that it is not anything harmful and/or creepy. Spanish people are just a very curious and shameless bunch.

8) Stand on the Right Side of the Escalator, Walk on the Left

Simple, but powerful advice. This will save you from being trampled.

9) Drinking Until 7am is Not a Rare Feat


I am convinced that the Spanish were born with this super-power that us expats do not possess. They can go out Thursday, Friday, Saturday and drink continuously. My first summer in Bilbao, I was able to witness this superpower first-hand. My friends told me that we were not going to be able to go home until the metro opened up again at 6am. I thought they were crazy. Somehow I got used to this, but in no way can I compete with the Spaniards that were born with this I-don’t-need-sleep blueprint. Prepare your livers.

10) Work to Live, Do Not Live to Work


The Spanish live by the “tranquila” lifestyle, basically meaning “relax”. They are very adamant about separating work life and home life. This perhaps is my favorite part about the culture. Work is important, but enjoying life is the highest priority. I cherish this mentality, and have learned a lot from it. Life is not meant to be rushed, and we can all learn a lot from this very important aspect of the Spanish culture. All in all, the Spanish culture is hard to beat.

Moving or traveling to Spain? I’d love to answer your questions! Shoot me a question in the comments below. 🙂


13 thoughts on “Ten Things To Know About The Spanish Culture Before Coming To Spain”

  • 1
    Laia on May 9, 2016 Reply

    I loved reading your post, I’m from Barcelona so it’s very interesting for me to see Spain with different eyes. What is normal for us it’s not in other places… and viceversa 🙂
    I smiled with the first one, it’s true that we usually stick to seasons so when the weather is warmer/colder than usual it doesn’t work very well! And since I lived abroad it was hard to remember that shops are closed from 2 to 5pm.
    I’m happy you like it here 🙂

    • 2
      Finding Bridget on May 11, 2016 Reply

      Thanks so much! I love seeing what people from Spain think about their own culture. 🙂 glad you enjoyed it and I absolutely love living here!

  • 3
    Alie on May 10, 2016 Reply

    Great tips, I’m heading to Madrid soon so this was really useful!

    • 4
      Finding Bridget on May 11, 2016 Reply

      Thanks so much! You will not be disappointed 🙂

  • 5
    Camilla on May 10, 2016 Reply

    How are the ‘over 50 crowd’ treated?

    • 6
      Finding Bridget on May 11, 2016 Reply

      My parents and grandparents have come to visit and they have never had a problem. They were actually surprised at how Spanish people reacted to them as being tourists. The Spanish are a truly wonderful bunch and you shouldn’t have a problem! Just be aware of the cultural differences and you’re good to go. 🙂

    • 7
      James Morris on May 12, 2016 Reply

      My family and I just moved back to the US a few months ago after three years in Spain. One of the wonderful things about Spanish culture is the inclusion of the entire family in daily life events. Children and adults of all ages can be found out quite late at night enjoying one another’s company. Public spaces with taverns and street side bars and cafés are routinely populated with old and young alike as well as parents with babies in strollers out having a drink. We have nothing but fond memories of our time there.

  • 8
    Kelsey on April 4, 2017 Reply

    Hi Bridget! I am actually currently teaching in Greece and am looking to move to Spain or Thailand next year to teach! And get this, I am from Chicago too! I thought it may be helpful to reach out to see if you would be able to provide me a bit more information about each place, what made you switch from Spain to Thailand!, and if you would suggest one over the other… I know difficult question! Anyway, I hope we can catch up soon when you have a chance!

    • 9
      Finding Bridget on April 4, 2017 Reply

      Hey Kelsey! Of course! E-mail me : findingbridgett@gmail.com I’d love to answer all your questions! So jealous you’re teaching in Greece!

  • 10
    Sarah on August 7, 2017 Reply

    Hi Bridget!

    I’m moving to Bilbao in September for the Auxiliares program. I’d love to pick your brain (as I’ve already read all of your posts about it) about the program, Spain, and Bilbao! I’m also from the Midwest (Wisconsin, with family in Chicago). If you’re willing, it would be great to talk to someone who’s been there, done that. Thanks! Love your posts.

    • 11
      Finding Bridget on August 13, 2017 Reply

      Hey Sarah, that’s so exciting! You can email me at findingbridgett@gmail.com and I’ll answer all your questions 🙂

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