Last week I came across the article "Strangest Habits I Picked Up Living in 23 Countries" by Benny Lewis. The Business Insider posts points out interesting cultural norms, such as sentimental hellos and goodbyes in Latin America, taking 2 hours to drink a shot of espresso in Italy, and haggling in India. It got me thinking about how I have adapted to the Spanish culture and if I have picked up any unusual habits while here. Come to think of it, I definitely have.
1. Eating late
The first and most obvious cultural difference. In the US, we tend to eat breakfast when we wake up, lunch around 12, and dinner around 6 or 7. Most restaurants in Spain don't even open until around 1 PM and close from 4-8 for a "siesta." While most authentic tapas bars follow this schedule, your only luck throughout the afternoon and night to grab a bite are the chains.
2. Making time for a siesta
Speaking of the siesta, immediately following a large lunch, most Spaniards head home to enjoy a nap or period of relaxation (time varies). Many Spanish families actually leave work and school to eat and spend time together. Spanish lunches are more like American dinners than lunches, with heavier foods and more time spent around the table.
3. Splitting and sharing almost all meals
One thing that I had to get used to very quickly upon arrival is splitting almost all of my food with the people I'm eating with, regardless of how well I know them. The Spanish love tapas, which are small plates that you can order for the group and get a little taste of everything. Spanish dinners are typically tapas-style. My take is that it's a really quick way to get to know people, and food is always a good talking point.
4. Staring at people
The Metro, or subway system, is the place you want to go if you're looking to get stared down. For some odd reason, you can't sit down without having at least three sets of eyes on you. When I first got to Spain, I was really self-conscious about this and thought everyone could tell right away that I'm from the United States. However, after talking to some locals and even my program's staff, it's become clear that staring is very natural in this cultural and people just like to take in their surroundings, but they really mean no harm by it. They're just curious people.
5. Greeting everyone and anyone
The first few times I walked down the streets alone in Spain, I was a little bit taken back that seemingly everyone had to say something to me. It seemed a little bit creepy at first, but greeting everyone and anyone is just the Spanish way. Walking into a restaurant, bar, or cafe, the staff always expects a greeting. It's really a nice way of both establishing your presence and thanking the hosts for having you.
6. Ignoring personal space
Again with the friendliness. A classmate and I arrived to our university's huge library early in the morning when the space was practically empty. We sat on the far end, expecting the room to fill up later, and were extremely surprised to notice that the next person to enter sat at the SAME TABLE. There were probably thirty other tables completely available, but no. He chose to sit with us.
Americans and Spaniards have a very difference perception of space. In the US, you choose where you want to sit on the first day of class and pretty much stay there for the rest of the semester. There's no name tag or setting to reserve it, but everyone is aware that it's yours. We are way more protective of our personal space and once you choose your spot it's yours. In my classes with Spanish students, you choose a new spot every day, while in my class with American students, we have set spots.
7. Heading out to the clubs well after midnight
Spanish discotecas, or clubs, are a huge deal and a large part of the nightlife, mainly due to the fact that they are open allll night. My friends and I usually start to get ready around midnight and only make it out for the clubs around 1 AM.
8. Ignoring lines
Every single day that I go to my university's cafeteria, I struggle to find a place to stand so that the two servers will interact with me. There is always some layout of people that bears vague resemblance to a line, but just doesn't quite make it. The servers have actually started ignoring the line at this point, as lines are just not a Spanish custom.
9. Wearing a full down jacket when the temperature drops to 60 F
Absolutely no one is ready for it to be cold in Spain. The summer days were long and temperatures during August were around 100. So now that it's 60 degrees, it's a biiig deal and it's not uncommon to see someone sporting a parka during the Fall, though it's really not all that cold out. Not sure how they're going to deal with the winter? Updates to come. I have picked up on this habit after getting so accustomed to the warm weather.
10. Having bread with every meal
Everyone here loves to enjoy their meals with lots of bread, meaning I feel compelled to eat it too. Bread comes with every meal, even with tortilla (potatoes and eggs) or a bread-based meal.
11. Arriving late
It's not all that surprising if you get to class late only to find that your professor hasn't showed up and hasn't let you know if he or she is even going to. I have even waited for thirty minutes on a few occasions. Meetings, dates, and gatherings are no exception.
On mornings when I have class at 9 AM, the streets are practically empty on my commute. Things open much later than in the US and close a lot later too.
12. Casual drinking
Because of the more stringent alcohol restrictions in the US, having a drink is a way bigger deal than it is here. In Spain, most people have a beer or a glass or wine for lunch and dinner. My program director told a funny story of a girl who complained that her host dad was an alcoholic and then later revealed that he would just have one beer with each meal. That is completely normal here. Buying a drink with your meal actually makes sense too, since you would have to pay for water anyway. Having a couple beers is more of a social thing and not just a way to get intoxicated.
13. Wearing shoes in the house
The second I stepped my foot in my host family's apartment for the first time, my host mom reached down to a drawer filled with pairs of slippers and asked me for my size. In Spanish culture, it is very strange to walk around barefoot or in socks and wearing shoes or slippers is much more normal. Apparently, most families have this drawer full of slippers near their door too to offer their guests.
14. Not hanging out in your room
In the US, if I want to spend time with my friends, I usually just go to their rooms. Here, your room is merely a place to sleep and dress. Hence, eating out or just getting a drink is much more common here because it's an easy way to spend time with friends.
15. Drinking a beer before class
A concept. My university's cafeteria actually sells beer to students. Professors and students alike spend breaks sipping a beer with friends instead of the American norm of using free time to go to the library or chat with a friend. To reemphasize my point that drinking is 20x more casual here, one time my friends and I ate at a nearby restaurant that's a student favorite and we were the absolute only people that did not have a drink in front of us.
Sooo… please excuse me if I continue any of these seemingly unusual habits when I get back!