Recently, I have spent a lot of time reading the blogs of the Minerva Fellows from Union College. They are a group of 8 recent graduates who are working abroad in third world countries with different NGOs and some of the most interesting posts have been about cultural differences they have encountered. While Spain is not a third world county and has a lot in common with the United States there are some differences. Some are just a different way of doing things while others take some time to get used to. For example, in grocery stores, the customer is responsible for printing the label for the produce before walking up to the cash register instead of having the cashier enter in a produce code like in the United States. These kind of small differences I find interesting because it makes you realize there are so many ways to do a simple task the American way is not the only way. Below are some other minor differences that I have noticed.
• Almost all stores are closed on Sundays. The only ones that are not closed are in tourist areas such as Sol.
• Tobacco sales are regulated by the state so you buy cigarettes from specific tobacco stores which also sell phone cards and month long metro passes.
• Very few stores open before 10 am and then they close at 2 and reopen between 4 and 5 and then stay open until 7 or 8.
• Often times hamburguesas (hamburgers) are served just as the meat patty and come with another entrée but are not served with a bun, lettuce, and tomato
• Most of the time water is not served with ice, so it often takes a couple of glasses of water to quench your thirst
• When I went to visit my school, I was informed the cafeteria only sells snacks and drinks because the students go home at 2:30 and eat lunch then so they don’t need to worry about providing lunch for the students at school.
• There are tons of plazas where people will just sit and relax. People are not tied to a clock and they leisurely enjoy their dinner and drinks.
• The proper way to greet friends and people you are just meeting is with a kiss on each cheek
• Almost no one has a clothes dryer, it is normal to hang your clothes outside to dry. I think I will enjoy having one less appliance to use but I am afraid after a couple of washing my jeans will stretch out and I may need to find a dryer.
• Not only apartments have heating, so it is important to ask before renting especially considering that it can snow in Madrid
• Time is kept on a 24 hr clock so I constantly find myself doing the math to figure out what time it is
• Tortilla is not a typical Mexican tortilla but rather a Spanish omelet with potatoes inside
Here some things that may take longer to adjust to.
• I am slightly nervous that I have not seen any good Chinese restaurants or bagel stores. For a Chinese American Jew, this is an essential part of my diet. I saw one Chinese restaurant that did not look promising and another chain restaurant called Take a Wok. Hopefully, I will be able to find some more options.
• Surprisingly, I am pretty much adjusted to the daily schedule here. Lunch is served around 2 pm and dinner close to 9 pm and no one goes out before midnight. The only annoying this is the metro closes at 1:30 which means you either have to take a cab home or stay out until 6:30 when the metro reopens. So far, I have opted for the latter and taken cabs back to the residencia the two times I have gone out.
• Jamon (ham) is the staple of the diet, I am trying to open myself to new experiences and try most of the food that is served at the residencia but I am not used to eating much red meat.
• I am sure it is going to take a while to get used to the Spanish lisp and for me to remember to use the vosotros form.
Overall my adjustment is going pretty smoothly and I have not had experienced major culture shock; however it is finally sinking in that I will be living here for 9 months.