12 Things Spaniards Get Right That Americans Get Wrong

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After studying abroad in Madrid, I learned a thing or two about Spanish culture. One of the best parts of my trip was meeting locals and realizing cultural norms— usually the hard way. When my travels ended, I quickly noticed there were a few aspects of Spain that I really yearned for because we simply just don’t do them the same way in the U.S. Take a look.

1. Coffee comes in ceramics mugs, not paper cups.

Instead of rushing to the drive-thru before the line gets out of control in the morning, Spaniards sip their “cafés con leche” in ceramic mugs in local cafes. Like Americans, Spaniards love their coffee. However, they also love chatting and starting their days off peacefully. Side note: Spaniards don’t usually drink the nasty drip coffee we do; they go straight for espresso.

2. PDA is A-OK.

In other words, Spaniards are quite comfortable with their sexuality. They can be seen holding hands, embracing and even kissing in broad daylight (oh my goodness!). Next time you feel like giving your loved one a smooch in public, I encourage you to not hold back.

3. Transportation.

Instead of driving two blocks to the corner store, most Spaniards take advantage of public transportation and their own two legs… Madrid’s Metro system is among the most advanced in the world and almost everyone utilizes it. And walking? Well, a lengthy stroll allows you to breathe in fresh air and get some exercise.

4. Work to Live.

My Spanish professor made it clear to my American friends and me that “los españoles trabajan para vivir y los estadounidenses viven para trabajar.” (The Spanish work to live while Americans live to work. Americans have this reputation as diligent workhorses who spend hours on end in their offices. In place of needed breaks, we stress eat, wear our mental selves thin and engorge our physical selves. Instead of letting work consume their lives, Spaniards balance work and leisure more equally than Americans. Think about it next time you’re about to go into work on a Saturday.

5. Alcohol at 18.

Instead of making children wait until they’re twenty-one to legally drink alcohol, Spaniards can drink at eighteen. However, most children drink with their families at a younger age. In Spain, there is no “underage drinking problem” because it simply is not an issue the way that it is here in the states.

6. Fashion.

Goodbye yoga pants and Nike hoodie, hello fashionable cardigan and skinny jeans. Boys, this goes for you too. It is beyond rare to see Spaniards strutting about in their PJs and sweats. Instead, Spanish everyday attire is typically casually chic. In Madrid, many women wore scarves and flats to complement their cardigans and jeans. This outfit isn’t so hard. In fact, I think most women out there are capable of putting together an outfit as simple as this. Men, it wouldn’t hurt if you put on a pair of jeans and a nice sweater either.

7. Honesty.

Aside from being extremely pleasant to look at, most Spaniards are unafraid to be blunt. I realize that the general consensus among Europeans is that Americans are too soft. We tend to work around the truth rather than tell people “how it is.”

8. Siestas.

The Spanish lifestyle lends to longer nights and later mornings. Although some people choose to go without an afternoon nap, many people do. In fact, some businesses close for a couple hours in the afternoon so workers can eat lunch and rest up a bit.

9. Cooking/To-go/Restaurants.

In general, most Spaniards prepare their own meals more often than they eat out. Also, ordering out and delivery are pretty rare. Only fast food chains take part in this strange American fad! Also, if you do happen to go to a restaurant, prepare for an unhurried meal. The dining experience is nowhere near as structured as it is in the States. Unlike American classics such as burgers and fries, Spanish food is typically on the healthier side. Fresh fish made with olive oil, vegetables and bread is a pretty standard. However it’s not all healthy (which isn’t a bad thing!).

10. Spanish Indulgences.

Jamón is Spanish ham; it is typically thinly sliced and ridiculously flavorful and delicious. It’s probably fresher and less processed than the ham Americans buy at the deli. If you have a sweet tooth, most Spanish bakeries or “pastelerías” are equipped with napolitanas, which are chocolate filled croissants. Need I say more? If that’s not good enough, there are actual establishments called “churrerías” that specialize in serving churros. Spanish churros are typically sweet but not too sweet. They are often dipped in a deliciously rich and thick chocolate sauce, which I think makes the world a better place.

11. Nightlife.

Spaniards know nightlife. Nightclubs and bars are packed and stay packed throughout the early morning hours… And they’re usually filled with non-barbaric happy people socially drinking and not drinking to get drunk. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Some nightlife enthusiasts wait until the Madrid metro opens at 6 a.m. to make their way back home and into bed.

12. Rules on lateness.

Punctuality is not entirely vital. Although certain situations call for timeliness, many Spaniards aren’t particularly peeved if you arrive five-ish minutes late to most gatherings.

These are just a few cultural structures I noticed while studying abroad in Madrid. They’re by no means all encompassing. However, I think Americans could benefit from taking into account a few of these Spanish norms. TC Mark

Cross cultures. Read our bestselling travel memoir A Year Without Makeup.

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