Culture Shocks

Programs for this blog post

Teach In Spain Program

Authored By:

Diamond W.

     After living here for eight months, there are days where I feel like a local. But there are other days I feel like a long term tourist, which in a lot of ways, I am. Every day, I find new stores, streets, cafes, and fun things to do, which adds to the excitement of living abroad. Along with the new things, I find that there is never a shortage of culture shocks. I picked out some to list below:    

The List

1. No one says “excuse me” on public transportation.- The first month of living here, I was in a constant state of irritation when taking public transportation because people shove and push by without saying “excuse me”. How I grew up there was a tendency to apologize as often as we can, especially when invading someone else's personal space. That is not the case here. Now after eight months when I get shoved, I shove right on back.   

2. Walking everywhere- Walking everywhere sounds like a great form of exercise until you realize how out of shape you are. For the first two months, my calves got a full workout. Now I actually enjoy walking everywhere. I am able to check out new stores, architecture, and enjoy the ever shining Madrid sun. 

3. Dress to impress at all times  - The citizens of Madrid wake up with the notion to slay at all times. To wear sweatpants out in public other than to go to the gym is screaming that you are a tourist and may be slightly lazy. There was a bit of pressure to impress at all times in the beginning, but now it's my new norm. We all know that if you look good, then you feel good.  

4. Change in eating habits- Mealtimes in Madrid go like this: a light breakfast around 8-9am, then a snack “merienda” around 10-11 am. Next is a huge lunch around 1pm-3pm. Then, if your job allows you, you can take a nap “siesta”. Yes, napping is real around this time. You will even see some stores closed at this time. Then you have another snack around 6-8pm. Lastly, to finish the day, dinner is around 9pm-11pm.    

5. Coffee sizes.- As a coffee addict who went to Dunkin Donuts back in the States more often than I care to admit, adjusting to the European coffee sizes was a shock. They do not go big or go home here. Which is fine, I just end up having multiple cups a day.  

6. Grocery shopping- Grocery shopping in bulk is not common. Most people buy what they need for the week and carry it in their hands. Or they'll pick up what they need for the day on their way home. I tend to hate going back out for things once I am home, so I bought a grandma cart to assist me in my bulk shopping. I go to Aldi for my meats, canned goods, and some other specific things, and my neighborhood corner store for my fruits and vegetables.  

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7. Public Greeting - I noticed this more while at work. In the teachers’ lounge, anytime a teacher enters, a loud “Buenas”, “Qué Tal”, or “Hola” is announced to whomever is in the room. In the beginning, I found this quite irritating. My American mindset is that you try to draw the minimal amount of attention to yourself and try not to disturb the peace. But now I realize that it is polite to do so, and when I do not greet people when entering the room, it can be perceived as rude.   

8. Going out on a week night -In the States, going out at night is usually reserved for the weekends only. But in Spain, going out during the week is normal and relaxed.  

9. Eggs and Milk are not refrigerated in the grocery store- This needs no explanation. It still doesn't sit well with me.  

Photo for blog post Culture Shocks
Photo for blog post Culture Shocks

10. Volume of talking -In my opinion, there is only one level of talking amongst Spaniards. Loud. This was most notable to me while traveling on a plane. Spaniards impressively are always joyously laughing and talking at a high volume. Endearing at times, but highly irritating when all you want to do is nap.  

 11. Socialization -At any time of day, place, or city within Spain, you will see Spaniards enjoying one another's company in conversation. Rarely, are they looking down at their phones. I noticed this pattern recently. When I was having dinner with a group of Spaniards, I realized then my slightly addictive and rude tendency to look down at my phone. My hypothesis is that it begins at a young age. At my school, you are automatically in trouble if you are seen with your phone. With that threat looming over the kid’s heads, the majority of kids will go eight hours without using their phones. They have been training for the marathon of holding conversations from infancy. By the time they are adults, they have Olympic level conversation skills.  

12. Love of literature- At any given morning on the metro, I will see at least ten percent of the riders reading a physical book. It is amazing. From all ages and genders, you will see people engrossed in literature. They even have libraries at the subway stations! 

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13. Low grasp of the English language- Spain has a lower grasp of the English language in comparison to other European countries and I marveled as to why for a long time. It was only after I went to Sweden and Denmark, that I found a possible reason as to why these countries speak English so well and Spain does not; TV. My Danish and Swedish friends told me that they watch a good amount of movies in English, their programs are rarely dubbed. This differs from Spain, where the TV and music are all dubbed. Granted, this is just one observation. Of course, there are other institutional factors that influence this.  

14. Money does not drive happiness here- It was only when I returned to the States in December, that I noticed the suffocating air of capitalism and never ending talk of finance in the USA. It's not good or bad, but different cultures prioritize different things. In America, money and material possessions  are the driving force while in Spain, I’ve noticed that most people are happy with earning less while enjoying more things that money can't buy.  

15. Cleanliness -Madrid takes very good care of their streets, roads, and parks. There are people who are always cleaning as part of their job, but even if it's not their job, regular citizens will pick up trash without hesitation.   

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The Take Away

To summarize, despite the quantity of culture shocks I experience, I never have a boring day in which I do not learn something about myself or the culture I now live in.