Cultural Differences between Spain and the U.S.

Authored by:
Caroline S.

Caroline S.

When I decided to come to Spain, I knew it would be somewhat of a culture shock. Though it is a developed European country, I know that no two countries are the same – hardly two states are even the same in the US. For me, it’s been a wonderful growth experience. If we spend our entire lives in our comfort zones, we will never know what we are like outside of them. And, if we don’t know that, do we fully know ourselves?

Anyway, for this reason, I decided to focus this article on cultural differences that I have noticed thus far between Spain and the States. Though it is a difficult adjustment to the culture, it is not an impossible one. Of course some things are similar – we are both what I consider “friendly” countries, we both love to eat food and spend time with our family and friends. However, writing this article showed me that the differences seem to outweigh the similarities.

First of all, Spaniards are much more relaxed than Americans in multiple senses. Before I came to Spain, I felt a sense of urgency to leave a restaurant as soon as I was done eating. Now, I am fine with sitting around with friends and chatting for hours. In fact, waiters often do not bring the check until you ask for it. They are more than happy to let you sit there for as long as you’d like. In addition, they like to take their time. They are not in a hurry to do anything – in the States, I find people are typically early or at least on time to most meetings. It is very common for Spanish to be a few minutes late, and this is acceptable. In addition, I find it perfectly okay to wake up and have nothing to do here without being “bored.” On a Sunday, you can often find people wandering the streets, shopping, or sitting outside at a café enjoying the weather and the company. There is no rush, and no reason to be anywhere at anytime. They are much less work oriented and focused on moving up in their jobs, and instead focused on building relationships and enjoying their time without rushing. This is my favorite thing about the culture, because in the States, it feels like a very pressured lifestyle.

Everything is pushed back a few hours. I do not go into work until 10:30 am, I usually eat lunch at 3, dinner at 9 (many restaurants do not even open for dinner until 9), and then I do not leave to go out till 1 or 2 am. In case you hadn’t heard, the clubs here are open until 6 am. When I go out, I feel like I’m reverting back to the American time zone! When we come back from the club at 5 in the morning, the streets are filled with people as if it were 5 at night. It’s a great feeling, because I can be comfortable walking alone without being scared.

Another difference that I came to appreciate was the Spaniards way of being straightforward. In the States, we are always trying to sugar coat things – examples: “oh, um, I’m fine for now!” “I’m not really sure, can I let you know later?” (just say no!) This is what I like to call passive aggressiveness, and I am guilty of it myself. We are so afraid of coming off as rude, that we phrase things to sound nice even if we intend them otherwise just to please others. Here, it is totally different, and its’ great. You don’t want the promotion for 3 free shots? “No.” You don’t feel like staying out? “I’m tired. I’m going home.” You are not interested in the creepy Spanish boy on the dance floor? “The answer is no. Go away.” Our orientation leaders specifically touched on this because Americans are so notorious for smiling and trying to be nice, even if they are not interested. In Spain, smiling at someone expressing interest immediately says that you feel the same. It is perfectly okay to act in a way that is considered rude to us!

Finally, the one that threw me off the most when I first arrived was the kissing on the cheek. Nobody warned me about this one. I walked into class on my first day of school, and literally all of my teachers were kissing me on both of my cheeks. I’m sure the look on my face perfectly described my shock, because it was so odd to me! You do this with men or women, even if you do not know them at all. I once stuck out my hand to give someone a handshake and he looked at me as if I had 3 heads.

I could go on and on, but you will simply have to see for yourself. Though the adaptation was difficult at first, I think Spain has taught me to relax, and it has probably decreased my blood pressure (although the pastries probably make up for that).

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