¡Estoy en España! [I’m in Spain!]
The first two weeks since arriving in Spain have flown by; I can’t believe how much my classmates and I have done since we got here (including the 6 hour nap I took the first day—bad idea!). Reminiscing over these last two weeks made me realize how true it is that time flies when you’re having fun. The first five days – when my group and I were in Madrid for a culture orientation – I had some serious culture shock that I am only now getting used to, after constantly repeating the phrase one of my high school Spanish teachers always said: “It’s not weird, it’s just a little different.”
First, Spaniards eat three meals a day and typically take two breaks—one between breakfast and lunch, the other between lunch and dinner—to have coffee, eat a snack [pincho or merienda], and socialize. Spaniards spend a lot of the time socializing; they are not rushing to get back to work or get home to start dinner, as would typically happen in the States.
Speaking of food, everything I have eaten has been delicious! The fruit is always juicy, and warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven bread is something everyone needs to experience. My least favorite cultural difference at the start of our orientation week had to be eating dinner at an extremely late-to-me time of 8:00 p.m. It is typical of Spaniards to begin dinner anywhere between 8:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m. and, as with their two snacks, they take their time. Lunch and dinner are almost always served as two courses, and wine is drunk with both meals (yes, even at a 2:00 p.m. lunch). Also, as I have noticed, everyone eats everything here. Excluding allergies, I have not met a Spaniard yet that did not eat/like everything that is put in front of them at a meal. Being an extremely picky eater, this absolutely boggles my mind.
Second, going out for la marcha [going out] does not necessarily mean going out to a club and getting drunk. Instead, Spaniards will go out with friends to a bar or cafe (lots of cafes I’ve seen are bars also), eat tapas [small plates] and drink socially. After, Spaniards do one of two things: go to a discoteca [a term for a club] or another bar, or they go home. Being so used to my 8 hours or more of sleep at home, I have not yet been able to stay out past 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., but many of my friends have. The nightlife seems similar to that of the States, with just less public drunkenness (it’s actually really frowned upon to be extremely drunk in public).
Third, the Spaniards I have met tend to be fairly direct and opinionated. This can be a good thing, but to an American, some statements can at first come off as rude. In Spain, it seems very common to refer to other people by their race or ethnicity, but it is simply used as a descriptive and is not perceived as offensive. On top of that, many Spaniards with whom I have spoken have come across as assertive. At a restaurant in the States, you might ask the waiter “Could I please have a water with lemon?” whereas in Spain it seems more common to say “Un agua con limon” (simple as that, but is not considered rude).
Also, whether or not you actually know what a Spaniard is saying, you can understand the message they are trying to get across, whether they like or dislike something or whether they agree or disagree with something. For example, with my host mom, who speaks super fast (I’ve had to ask her to repeat phrases a lot!), I could understand how she felt about a Spanish actor through her facial expressions when he came on the screen, as well as hand gestures—she shooed him away as if to get him off the screen!
Finally, as far I have noticed, Spaniards are generally happy, positive people. They eat great food, socialize often with family and friends, and never complain. Whether in assisting with the language or helping to cook dinner, Spaniards are willing to do a lot for others and are happy to do so. This just adds to the hospitality I have noticed in Spain thus far.
P.S. – My favorite food so far has definitely been coffee and tortilla espanola—an egg omelette that can contain any or all of the following (and then some!): potatoes, ham, bacon, vegetables, cheese.
Below are some pictures of my first two weeks in Spain: