1. Personal space
You walk up to a street corner where people are patiently waiting to cross the street. How close do you stand to the next person? If you’re like most Americans you probably leave at least three feet between yourself and a stranger, and you’ve also probably never thought about it.
I thought that standing a certain distance away from a stranger was just human nature, but it turns out it has a lot to do with culture. In Spain the personal bubble is much smaller than the American one, and it can be very uncomfortable when strangers come up and stand right next to you or when your co-workers have conversations 2 centimeters away from your face.
2. Gigantic drinking glasses
Everything is smaller in Spain. The streets are narrower, the people are skinnier, and the food is rarely served bucket-style.
Living in Spain is strange in that most restaurant portions are only large enough for one person to eat, and you cannot buy a 48oz slushie for 79 cents at a gas station. Even drinking glasses at home are smaller.
I had no idea bagels were an “ethnic food” until I realized they were nowhere to be found in Spain. It turns out that kicking a certain religious minority out of an entire country can really limit your breakfast options.
Living in Spain also mean saying goodbye to blueberry muffins, because Spanish muffins (“magdalenas”) only come in one flavor.
Immigrants make up a significant part of Spain’s population, (12.3% apparently) but they’re mostly from countries like Romania, Morocco, Ecuador, the UK, Colombia, and Bolivia. Mexico does not even make it into the top 20 countries.
Sadly, it’s going to be a long time before I have authentic guacamole again, or hear a Mariachi band play, or get called a “pinche guera” in a Food City parking lot.
American service workers have a direct incentive to be nice to customers: tips. If an American waiter is rude, they make less money in tips and could even lose their job. If a Spanish waiter is rude, it’s just another day at the flamenco bar.
But it’s not just about tips, American businesses are built around a “customer is always right” philosophy which means that employees are trained to be not just be nice to customers, but overly-nice.
After I got back from Spain last time, I thought every single cashier and store employee was hitting on me.
6. People who watch Glee
It’s easy to take for granted that you can make a reference to a popular television
all of your favorites have made it overseas.
To make things even more confusing, some titles are kept in English, others are translated literally into Spanish, and still others are changed completely.
Titles I’ve learned so far include:
- 500 Days of Summer is “500 Days Together” (500 Días juntos)
- Gone with the Wind is “What the Wind Carried” (Lo que el viento se llevó)
- The Sound of Music is “Smiles and Tears” (Sonrisas y lágrimas)
- Family Guy is “Father of the family” (Padre de la familia)
- Die Hard is “Crystal Jungle” (Jungla de cristal)
7. American Halloween
In Spain Thanksgiving does not exist, St. Patrick’s Day is another country’s religious holiday, and Cinco de mayo is just the day after cuatro de mayo. But saddest of all is the absence of American Halloween.
As a kid Halloween is the only day of the year that you are not only allowed, but encouraged to ask strangers for candy. As a college student it’s a reason to feel good about dressing up like Superman and staying out until 3:00AM on a Tuesday night. As an American living in Spain it means going ballistic that the corner store does not sell candy corn.
8. Not having to explain things about America
Americans are often portrayed as being ignorant of other cultures, but the truth is that people like that exist everywhere. It can be shocking how little people know about the place you come from and have lived all your life.
Real questions I’ve been asked about the US include:
- “Estados unidos? What part of England is that in?”
- “California is next to New York, right?”
- “New Mexico? There’s a New Mexico?”
- “Do you eat fish and chips all the time then?”
- “The UK won the soccer game last night, aren’t you proud?”
9. The American internet
Goodbye Netflix, goodbye Hulu, goodbye Pandora. Hello error message informing me that this content is not available from my location.