Even though I’ve lived in Spain for three years now (not consecutively), there are a number of Spanish/European norms I still have issues adapting to. Many of these are probably silly, but on a day-to-day basis some of them continue to confuse me after growing up in the United States.
When you go to a restaurant in Spain, the tip is already included in your bill so you may receive a funny look if you leave extra money for the waiter. While it’s polite and expected in the United States, this is not the case in Spain.
Any expat will agree that the standard paper napkins in Spain are less than satisfactory. Not only are they incredibly thin, they also feel rough and waxy. You’ll need a handful to clean up whatever you spill…
Writing the Date
In the USA, we write the month, day, and then the year. In Spain, they write the day first, then the month and then the year. For example, February 6, 2017 is 6 de febrero de 2017. The short version would be written as 6/2/17. I still have to slow down and process the dates carefully!
Using the 24 hour clock versus the 12 hour clock will forever force me to count the time on my fingers like one of my students. At least I have 15:00 = 3pm and 18:00 = 6pm semi under control…
When you greet someone in Spain, you give them two kisses on the cheek: first right and then left. I’m used to hugging people, especially friends and family. There have been a number of instances where I automatically go to hug someone while they are leaning in for the two besos.
When you go to the movies in the USA, you can waltz in and sit wherever you’d like after buying your ticket. In Spain, you can also choose where you sit, but only before entering the theater. The cashier will often turn the computer screen so you can point to your area of preference. If you buy your tickets at the last second, chances are you don’t have many options and you’ll be assigned a seat automatically.
In the USA, people traditionally wear their wedding rings on their left hand. In Spain, they wear them on their right hand. In addition, women in Spain wear basic bands instead of rings decked out in diamonds.
When you walk into a public building in the USA, the ground floor is considered the first floor. In Spain and the rest of Europe, the ground floor is floor zero and the next floor up is the first floor. Remember, 1st floor Europe = 2nd floor USA.
In English, we capitalize most of the words in our titles (nouns, verbs, adjectives…). In Spanish, they only capitalize the first word (as well as names). For example, Charlotte’s Web would be La telaraña de Carlota.
The metric system is the worst for me when it comes to reading Celsius. My rule of thumb is -0 is cold, 21 is comfortable and 32+ is HOT.
When I first moved to Spain during my year abroad in Sevilla, I remember my fellow Americans and I freaking out seeing milk and eggs sold outside of the refrigerators. This is common throughout Europe’s supermarkets. The milk is pasteurized which gives it a long shelf life and to my knowledge, eggs are not washed which also gives them a longer shelf life. Chickens are vaccinated for diseases such as salmonella.
Students Addressing Teachers
One of the strangest things I observe in Spain is that students will address their teachers by their first names. In the USA, I was strictly taught to formally address my teachers (i.e. Mr. Smith, Mrs. Williams, Miss Taylor…), especially in elementary school.
One of the most notorious Spanish habits for Americans and others is eating dinner anywhere between 9:30 and 10:30 pm. Or excuse me, between 21:30 and 22:30. I’m getting better at eating late now, but my first year in Spain was rough following this schedule; regardless of a large lunch. An afternoon snack or merienda is necessary!
Finally, making coffee with cafetera italiana is still out of the ordinary. I’m used to making a POT of coffee with a coffee maker rather than two cups at a time. This isn’t to say that Spain doesn’t have coffee makers, but it will save you a lot of room in your kitchen to have a cafetera italiana!
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