All European countries are said to share a homogenous culture, broadly referred to as Western, which is at times applied to the Americas as well. However, Europe is a continent divided by mountain ranges, islands, and peninsulas, separating its peoples and providing perfect conditions for unique cultures to diverge and develop from this common ancestor. Recently, I had the opportunity to stay in Paris with my girlfriend for an entire week, giving us an ample opportunity to observe the culture of the city and integrate ourselves into Parisian life. In this week’s blog post, I’d like to discuss the differences I observed between Paris and Oviedo.
The first difference I noticed was the diet. Notably, the organization of meal throughout the day was different. In a Spanish day, you do not eat breakfast; you eat a small snack around noon, have lunch around 2:00, then merienda around 6, before finally eating dinner around 9:30. The French meal structure is very different, starting with a small breakfast early in the day, lunch around noon, similar to the United States, and then not eating again until dinner time, which is around 10. Of course, there are also large differences in their respective cuisines. Spanish food is very meat-centric, the majority of which is pork, and uses a lot of soups. I would say that for most of my meals in Oviedo, I have some type of soup either as an appetizer or as a main dish. French food, however, deals more with breads, cheeses, and wines. Although neither traditionally uses nuts in their dishes, unfortunately for me, peanut oil is the most used cooking oil in France for everything from fries to stir-fry. In Spain, olive oil is the go-to. Most people I ask in Spain say they have never even heard of cooking with peanut oil.
When comparing the French demographic to the Spanish one, there is a notable difference in the median age of the respective populations. Spain, as my Society and Culture professor confirmed, has an aging population; that is to say the majority of Spaniards are middle aged. This contrasts with France, and specifically Paris, which has a much younger demographic. With the majority of the population being youth or young adults, you would expect that France would be cheaper; however, France has a significantly higher cost of living than Spain. This definitely holds true for Paris, one of the most expensive cities in Europe, but in doing a bit of research I found that this trend also applies to both countries as a whole.
Lastly, I want to change gears and discuss the similarities I saw between the two cities. Unlike Americans who, believe it or not, are stereotyped to be very friendly and open, both the French and the Spanish tend to keep to themselves. I was once advised by the Temple Oviedo director, Jaime Durán, that people from Oviedo are very hard to crack, but once you do, you will have a friend for life. While this does not mean that people from Spain, or from France for that matter, are unfriendly, I have found it true that both peoples are generally a wary of strangers. Nevertheless, “cracking” someone is usually as simple as going back to the same place a couple times enough to have someone recognize your face. Familiarity is a great tool when exploring either country.
These are just a few comparisons between the Spanish and French cultures that I observed during my travels. I highly encourage anyone to travel Europe and see for themselves just how diverse, yet similar the cultures of Europe are as you traverse the continent.