I had the fortunate opportunity to spend the first third of my summer in a foreign country. As a now college junior with no money, and a career to figure out, I never thought I would have the opportunity to travel to a foreign country, especially not one of the most-visited countries in the world. Although the majority of my time was spent taking classes, I was able to see and do so much, as well as learn more about Spain and Europe than I ever thought I would. As someone who has seen a part of the world that most Americans have not, here are some tips and insights I can offer to anyone looking to expand their horizons in the most beautiful place in the world.
1. It's always hot. Always!
While northern Spain has temperatures similar to what I am used to as a PA girl, southern Spain is the hottest place I have ever visited in my life. No matter where you go, you will hear people saying "hace calor" (it's hot). I'm almost positive that it is the most used phrase in the Spanish language. With temperatures averaging 120°F, it is not hard to see why.
2. Bring sneakers. You will walk a lot.
Especially if you are going to some of the more historical cities like Sevilla, you will find yourself doing a lot of walking. The streets of Sevilla are all cobblestone and very narrow. If you are staying in el centro (downtown), you can find yourself wandering for hours before even seeing a major highway. Very different from most cities in America.
3. You will always be "the American." No matter how hard you try.
You can walk into a store or restaurant and order in perfect Spanish, but they will still see right through you and address you in English. No matter how hard my group tried, we could never quite figure out what it was about Americans that always gave us away. We could never shake it.
4. Not everyone speaks English.
Despite what you hear from people who have traveled abroad, not everyone speaks fluent English (and if they do, they don't let on that they do). Another added tip, a lot of shop owners hate Americans. They will treat you differently if you come in boasting your English. If you at least attempt to speak in Spanish, they will appease you and speak with you in English if they know it.
5. Toilet paper is non-existent.
While most residencies and nicer restaurants and shops will have it, you might want to invest in a container of wet wipes to carry in your purse. Most public bathrooms will have a toilet and a sink, that's it. If you happen upon a bathroom that has both toilet paper and soap, you should just buy a lottery ticket.
6. Everyone is always perfectly dressed.
Walking down the streets, you will see people who look like they are going to the most important meeting/date in their life. This commonplace in Spain; everyone always dresses nicely. No matter where you go, someone will always have the most amazing dress, romper, or suit; learn to accept it. Also, women always wear the highest and thinnest heels they can find. How they walk down cobblestone streets in heels smaller than my pinky I will never know.
7. People hate the bullfights!
Be careful how and where you talk about them. Spaniards are very protective of the bulls and many are looking to ban bullfights in the state. It is one if the biggest controversies in the country. The EU wants to ban them, but the king has said that they day the EU bans the bullfights is the day Spain leaves the EU. While hailing a cab to the Plaza de Toro (the bullfighting ring), when I asked to be taken there, the driver responded with "Oh, la plaza de asesino?" (the plaza of assassination). Needless to say, the five-minute ride to the plaza was the most silent and most awkward car ride I have ever taken.
8. Gelato is everywhere!
No matter where you go, at least in Seville, you will find small gelato places on every street corner. From La Abuela to Amorino, you will never have to go a day without getting your fix. And, yes, it is common to get gelato every day, so don't feel bad for giving in to your craving and indulging in the sweet treat.
9. There are so many foreigners!
Spain has the second-largest tourist sector and is the third-most visited country in the world. With that, of course, comes a lot of people. You will hear a lot of different languages being spoken on the streets. Of all of the tourists you will encounter, most of them will be British. If you thought Americans were typical tourists, you should see Brits! They are the definition of tourism in Spain, and, I'm sure, in other countries, as well.
10. Make sure to bring your camera!
Spain is unique in that it has cities that have not evolved for centuries. After the Spanish Armada of 1588, the country and its economy were never really the same, and not all of the cities evolved and advanced with the changing times. While this may not have been the best back in those days, it is great now because it means you have so many things to photograph! There are more historic sites and buildings from the 10th century on than in any other place I have ever seen. In some parts of the country, you can even see structures that were built by the Romans and are still standing.
In Sevilla, there is a museum of Roman houses that were only dug up less than 10 years ago and a public archaeological dig site that contains an entire Roman town. Not to mention the old churches, defense walls, plazas, streets and numerous other structures that will take up the memory in your phone and camera.
11. Alcohol is commonplace, but they don't get drunk.
Alcohol has a different place in Spanish society than in America. Spaniards will have a glass of wine or beer with every meal and will go out and get drinks at night, but they don't drink to get drunk. They are casual drinkers, which isn't to say that they don't get drunk from time to time. It's just that it is not like America where getting drunk and partying is seen as a common ritual.
12. Everyone kisses everyone!
And no, this is what you think it is. It's not a free-for-all make out session in the streets. When you meet someone for the first time (in an informal setting, that is) or when you are saying goodbye, it is customary to kiss the other person on both cheeks. While this is a little unusual and unsettling at first, you will eventually get used to it and will be doing it out of habit. Just don't try to bring this tradition back to the States; you may not come out of it with all of your teeth.
13. The lisp!
Even for people who speak Spanish fairly well, getting accustomed to the accent and the lisp that Spanish speakers tend to have can be difficult if you haven't heard it before. For some Spaniards, it is not even a lisp, the Ss are just left out of words! It took me a very long time (longer than I'd like to admit) to realize that "epaña" was actually "españa." Be prepared to hear what will sound like several different dialects from several people of the same city.
While Spain is a beautiful country and should be visited by everyone who has the chance, there are always things to be aware of before entering foreign territory. These tips should help make your stay a little easier and prevent you from being caught off guard by some of the more unusual encounters. Just remember to take in the sights and don't take anything for granted there. Have the time of your life.