Cultural Differences and Advice for Living in Spain
It has been almost 7 months since I’ve moved to Spain to teach abroad. It is crazy to think about that last September, I was freaking out about moving abroad to a new country. Now, I feel much more relaxed. Of course, there have been many cultural adaptations I’ve had to make to enjoy myself more in Spain.
For starters, most things do not start on time in Spain. For meetings with friends in the city or going out to eat, everything starts later than originally planned. At first, this bothered me because I was so used to having a set schedule for living day-to-day in the United States. As an American, we are used to things being in a set way or order, and when an event starts even 5 minutes late, we start to internally freak out a bit. But, living in Spain is not so rigid. In Spain, time is much more flexible than compared to the United States. An event could be planned to start at 8 pm but not start until 8:30, or even later. I’ve even been to events that didn’t start until an hour later than originally planned. So, my advice is to relax and go with the flow. If things are late, that’s okay. No one is going to be upset that you showed up to the restaurant 20 minutes late in Spain.
However, always show up to your job on time or early. I always leave early in the mornings because sometimes the train I take can be unreliable. Sometimes, the trains can be delayed for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or even longer. So, I am always leaving the apartment early in order to be ready for unexpected delays.
Furthermore, get ready to have your personal space invaded a bit. In the United States, most people like their personal space and stick to themselves. (Especially after Covid-19). Since living in Spain, I cannot count the amount of times I have been smushed to fit into the crowded train or metro, shoulder to shoulder with the people standing next to me. Spanish metro is not for the claustrophobic. At one point or another, you will be in a train feeling like a sardine packed into a tin. For someone who has never used public transport until coming to Spain, this was quite a change. But, over time, I got used to it. Now, I feel fine getting on a crowded train because I know I will find some space for myself to sit/stand, even if it is shoulder to shoulder.
However, be aware of pickpockets in Spain. Always carry your important personal items inside your person, like on the inside of your jacket pocket. I try not to carry things using my outside jacket pockets, where someone easily can sneak their hand in and steal my wallet. Or, I hold it in my hand. A common trick pickpockets in Spain will use is to bump into you to distract you, and then steal your stuff while you are distracted. Be extra aware during crowded times using the metro or train, because it is a lot easier to get your things stolen while it is busy. My advice is to invest in a fanny pack or purse that you can carry on the front of your person and have full visibility of. Furthermore, you can cross your arms over your chest and protect your important items while you travel with it on. Overall, my advice is to be aware of your belongings and others around you while using public transportation in Spain.
So, my final advice to you reading this is to relax and take things easy in Spain, but also not relax. Very contradictory, I know. Seriously though, just be alert using the metro or train in Spain and you should be fine. Overall, Spain is an amazing place and I have really enjoyed learning and adapting to Spanish culture through living here the past 7 months.
As I sit on the train on my way to my first day of school, I share some reflections on my first week as an Aux in Madrid.