10 Cultural Differences between the USA and Spain ~ Week 3


Hola amigos,

I am now halfway through my program in Valencia and have really been getting accustomed to living here! The culture shock that I experienced at first was very real and a little overwhelming, but with time and experience I have learned to value and respect Spanish culture. Here are the top 10 cultural differences that I have noticed here in Spain:

1. Eating animals that we are not accustomed to eating in the U.S.

In Spain, it seems as if there are much fewer vegetarians and vegans than there are in the U.S. because meat is a huge part of the meals here, especially ham. However, I have seen other kinds of meats that I am not used to seeing, such as rabbit, horse, and octopus. For one of my classes, we visited a local market in which the vendors were selling different products made from these animals. One of the vendors was also selling pig faces, which was honestly a little hard to look at. During this visit, our professor had us try blood sausage which was surprisingly not bad.

The city of Valencia is known for its paella. Before moving here, I thought traditional paella included seafood, but this is not the case. Traditional Valencian paella includes rice, different types of beans, spices, chicken, snails, and rabbit. I had tried snails and liked them prior to this trip but had never tried rabbit. During one of the excursions for my program, we went to a huerta (orchard) and learned how to cook paella. This paella did not include snails, but I was brave and tried the rabbit. It was a really cool experience and I am glad I was able to try new things.

Me cooking paella!

2. The lack of personal space

This one may sound a little strange, but it is pretty accurate. Our program directors warned us of this difference before we moved to Valencia because of how respected personal space tends to be in the United States. However, here in Spain it is common for others to touch you, stand really close to you while speaking, or physically move you out of their way if someone is trying to pass. At first this was a little weird but I have learned that it is customary and is usually not meant in an offensive or inappropriate way. 

3. The prevalence of public transportation, walking, and biking

In the U.S., I rely on my car as transportation approximately 70% of the time. Here in Spain, I have traveled by car (other than taxis) only one time, and it was when my host family picked me up upon my arrival. Rather, I get around by walking, taking the bus, or even biking. There is also a metro system here that many Spaniards use. This change in transportation was difficult to adjust to because it means being tired often from walking, having to leave earlier than usual if it is a far walk, and having to learn how to use a bus card. I have become really accustomed to the bus system, however, and walking around has allowed me to familiarize myself with the city. I also enjoy the extra exercise that walking everywhere allows me to have. 

One of our excursions was a bike tour of the city!

4. Smoking

Smoking is extremely common in Spain. I cannot recall a time when I left the house and did not run into someone smoking outside. This was probably the hardest change to get used to as I really do not like inhaling the smoke as I pass by. Sometimes, my hair will smell like tobacco after a night out due to the amount of people smoking. I have learned that even though I choose not to smoke, it is important to respect the decisions of others whether you agree or not. When I come across people smoking, I pass by regularly and try my best not to inhale too much. 

5. Meal times

The meal times in Spain are very different from the meal times in the United States. Breakfast is the only meal time that is about the same, as I usually eat breakfast at 8:30 AM before class. The difference is that breakfast is very small. For breakfast, I will have either a yogurt or toast with a coffee. The time for lunch is much later than in the U.S., however, as lunch here is usually between 2:30 PM and 3:00 PM. In the U.S., I would eat lunch around 12:30 PM to 1:00 PM. Dinner is the same way and is very late in Spain, between 9:30 PM to 10:00 PM. Adjusting to this took a while because I would often be sitting around hungry while waiting to eat. I have learned to keep a couple of snacks on me in case this happens, but adjusting to the meal times has become easier over time.

Tortilla de patatas (eggs and potatoes) that my host mom made for dinner! This meal is delicious and very common here in Spain.

6. Staring at other people

This is another difference that seems a little strange, but is accurate. In the U.S., if you are caught staring at someone, it is usually an embarrassing moment. Also, some may take it as rude. However, in Spain, many people tend to stare at others whether it is walking past each other on the street, riding a bus together, or in other situations. At first, I thought I had something in my hair or on my shirt and was wondering why everyone would look at me. One of my professors who is from Spain explained that it is just common here and is not meant in an insulting manner. It is just a customary difference that most would not notice if they did not spend time living in both the U.S. and Spain.

7. Staying out until the wee hours of the morning and then taking a siesta the following day

In the U.S., a late night out usually ends, at the latest, around 2:00 AM. In Spain, the discos stay open until as late as 7:30 AM. This was a huge difference as the discos here also open later, most not opening until 12:00 or 1:00 AM. My friends from the program and I checked out a local disco and stayed out as late as 4:00 AM. I felt like a complete zombie. However, Spaniards handle staying out late by taking a “siesta” the following day. Siesta is a time typically between 2:00 PM and 5:00 PM in which some people go home to relax. Many stores are closed during this time as well. I love siestas and will definitely miss my frequent naps when I return to the U.S.


We stayed at this disco until 4:00 AM!

8. Tipping is not as common

In the U.S., it is customary to tip an employee 20% for their service. This is not the case in Spain. Here, it is common to tip much less, around 5-10%, or not leave a tip. Often times, people will leave their spare change on the table as a tip. There was one time in Madrid where a waiter actually refused my tip because he did not want it. I felt like not tipping was rude at first but I have learned that the customs here are simply different. I usually still leave a tip, but it is smaller than what I would pay in the U.S.

9. The prevalence of fútbol (soccer)

If you think sports fans are wild in the U.S., you have to come visit Spain. I have never seen fans more dedicated to a team or a sport before. I was lucky enough to be in Valencia for a huge game between Valencia and Barcelona. Valencia, the underdogs, won the game and the entire city celebrated the win. In the streets after the game there were fireworks, chants, and lots of people dancing. I had never seen anything like it. The day after the game, the team came home and the people of Valencia filled up the entire fútbol stadium to celebrate. This was one of my coolest experiences here in Spain. You can now consider me the newest fan of the Valencian fútbol team!

A couple of friends and myself at the stadium celebrating the win!

10. Paying primarily in cash

In the U.S., I pay for everything with my debit card and rarely carry around cash. Here in Spain, it is very common to pay in cash as some places will not even accept card. Also, if someone tries to pay a small amount with a card, it is regarded as strange. Carrying cash has taught me the importance of being safe with my belongings and remaining alert. This is another change that took some adjustment to get used to. 

My experience with the culture of Spain has taught me so much about respect and understanding. Every day I work hard to remain open-minded and to push myself to try new things. I have loved my experience with the culture and would encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zones from time to time! Check out my blog post next week to hear some more about the classes I am taking in Spain!

Hasta luego,