10 culture shocks foreigners experience in Spain
Some little quirks of Spanish life take time to love but it's hard to complain about a country that has a vibrant bar culture and openness to PDA and nudity.
1. Men live with their parents until their late 20s
You’re talking to a guy and things are going well, and perhaps you want one of those 'netflix and pizza' nights (substitute pizza with spanish omelettes), but you learn he still lives with the parentals. And he’s pushing 30. Eek. In America, the idea of moving out the parents house is not only a dream, but it happens as soon as possible.
2. Mothers do everyone's laundry
Piggy-backing off of #1, that will likely include any 30-year old son. Laundry isn’t a solo chore that you learned to do on your own as a teen. When your love interest still has his mother folding his undies, you can’t help but cringe. My highly-acclaimed, 12-year laundry career is no match for this.
3. The amount of acceptable PDA
We get it; you have sexual feelings for another person and you want the world to know how much effort you’re putting into setting the world record for ounces of saliva swapped. Whether it’s 14-year olds on the late night metro or a couple who’s finally escaped their crying toddler for a few hours, they hold nothing back – the moans in front are at least in tune with the rhythm of the ass-slapping from the couple behind you. Now who said romance is dead?
4. Fast-food chains look like club lounges
You’re in front of La Sagrada Família, admiring its 130+ year existence. The sangría is flowing, the PDA’ers are PDA’ing, and, oh look, an American burger franchise to your right finishing off the perfect mood of la vida. Except when you walk inside you feel like you’ve just stepped into a 4-star restaurant. If you’re lucky, there’s a security guard at the door but he knows deep inside he’s really a bouncer. There are cushioned seats, comfy enough to sleep on and the lights are dimmed low so as to hide your dollar/euro menu purchases.
5. Bars in Spain stay open late enough for you to go straight to breakfast
While bars in America close at 2am, most people in Spain don’t even start their night until then. I never knew true regret until I had my first proper night out in Madrid and found myself re-emerging into the world at the ripe hour of 7am. This also validates the need for a siesta during the day. There is no way a normal person can do this every weekend without their liver imploding. Yet, here we are.
6. Knowing someone for five seconds warrants a two-cheek kiss
There are no strangers in Spain. If a friend introduces you to their friend, then we’re automatically all friends by default and your greeting is a proper cheek rubbing. In some cases, men will actually give you a moist smooch on each cheek. I’ve never been to first base with so many people within minutes of meeting them. My mother would be so proud.
7. Little Spanish girls don’t wear bikini tops with two-piece swimsuits
You would never see this in America. The first time I saw a little naked girl running around the beach followed by her slightly older sister with just bikini bottoms, I wasn’t sure if I was being pranked or not because pretty soon they were followed by an army of nine-year olds with no tops on. At that age, I guess they have nothing to hide anyway. Touché, Spain. This however, doesn’t apply to the topless women you’ll see on several scattered beaches.
8. The catcalling is redonkulous
It doesn’t take much to get catcalled in Spain. You could be toothless, bald or walk like you’re constipated; they will still get excited. If you’re really lucky and a woman of colour as well, the men might even ask how much you charge an hour and automatically assume you’re a prostitute, because how else could you afford to live in Spain, right? Ahhh, the stories I’ll get to tell my future kids about why I left Spain after just three months.
9. The prevalence of pickpocketing
If you haven’t had something stolen from your possession or from a friend’s, perhaps you haven’t lived in Spain long enough. I’m dreading the day I pad down my pockets and find something missing. It’s simply the way it is. The thieves are good at what they do and pickpocketers run rampant especially during high tourist season, which in Barcelona means all year round. Oh joy.
10. The colorful ways Spaniards tie lines of curses
I never knew the exquisite beauty of the Spanish language until I heard them string together a line of insults. Not only was I confused, amused and concerned for the things I thought I understood, but also the way they can take their adjectives and use them as nouns and verbs, like in one of my favourite insults 'Me c–go en tu p–ta madre', is nothing short of pure talent.
While I can’t bring myself to ever say this, not that the situation has ever presented itself, just know that phrase along with that gem of a word 'c–ño' is heavily used and doesn’t carry nearly as much weight as it does in America. The first time I heard a parent of my teammate yell, "Vamos cñ–s!' from the stands of our basketball game, I thought he was mad at us. When my teammate laughed through tears trying to explain that it can be used in a positive way, it was that moment in time where I knew I was living in a whole different world.
Gloria Atanmo is a gal with expensive dreams and an affordable hustle. After booking a one-way ticket to Barcelona, now in between lapses of regularly butchering basic Spanish jargon, she can be found playing semipro basketball and travel blogging about her 15+ countries of adventures. You can follow her journey at The Blog Abroad. Photo credit: Angel James de Ocampo.
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