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. 🙂