Naked Eye: Comparing Spanish Culture & Stretching Your Mind

Julia Chernicky is a student at the University of Pittsburgh and an ISA Featured Blogger. Julia is currently studying abroad with ISA in Granada, Spain.


Some of my favorite things about studying abroad are the moments of enlightenment when I suddenly understand a little more about the Spanish culture. This post is lengthier and much more serious than my last, concerning tapas, but I hope you enjoy it and absorb some of my passion for the topic! I am also straight up and honest, so feel free to leave comments agreeing or disagreeing with my observations. Everyone has different experiences and I would love to hear about yours! Without further delay, here are a couple of things I have noticed in my time in Spain, and have became fully acquainted with this week:


Enlightenment #1:

Spanish life is slow. It’s painfully slow compared to America’s fast pace, never-slow-down-or-you-won’t-catch-up lifestyle. Waiting in line for anything takes three times as long as in America; eating out at a restaurant can easily take hours, and you will never hear the phrase “the customer is always right.” Also, as I have discovered, very few things warrant an emergency. Case in point: two nights ago I was locked out of my studio apartment. I have never been in this situation in America, let alone in a foreign country. To make it better, it was 1:00am and I had no way of contacting my realtor or landlord. My phone, wallet, shoes, and everything except for the clothes on my back were inside my apartment. While saying goodbye to my friends, one of them had closed the door not realizing I did not have the keys to get back inside! Luckily, one of my friends graciously took me to her homestay for the rest of the night. I had walked there barefoot, so she gave me shoes in the morning so I could go to my classes. I went to the realtor’s office at 10:00am when they opened, hoping they would have a spare key. At my apartment in Pittsburgh, a friendly face with the key to save the day was just a phone call away. But I was quickly reminded that I was indeed in a foreign city when the realtor told me he did not have a spare key, and furthermore he was not sure if the landlord did either. He told me to return at 5:00pm and left me with the realization that the only set of keys to get into my apartment, were taking a cozy nap on my soft blankets inside my apartment. For seven hours I went through every creative solution I could conjure up to get inside my 3rd floor apartment. I even considered a jet pack. The ending was much less dramatic. The landlord brought a spare set of keys that evening and my world was golden once again. The entire day that I was locked out I was thinking how efficient and prepared America is for every situation. Multiple keys are held safely in different places so that any inconvenience can be averted. In Spain, every step of the process was painful and drawn out and sympathy was hard to find amongst the people we would normally look to for help in America. This made me stop and think…  The Spanish people are very social; that is fairly well known. They rely on each other, on friends and family and those closest to you. They do not rely on a business or a company. When they are in a pickle, they do not call their landlord to get them out of it because he is busy living his own life or at another job. They call their friend, because in return, your friend will call you when they are in need. It completely defies the self-reliant, “I will take care of this myself” method that I have always utilized at home. Not to say that friends in America do not help each other, but the Spanish have a different relationship. Without the help of my friends that night and the next day, it would have been far more painful than it was and would have taken much longer to get back into my apartment. Considering that, the ordeal was quite smooth and reminded me how important it is to have people you rely on, and who can rely on you. Moral of the story: do not be afraid to accept help from a friend!


Enlightenment #2:

Media censorship seems nonexistent. There is some race-y stuff on television shows and movies that would make the average American blush lava-red while watching with the family during a meal. It borders with pornography on some occasions, when coming from a conservative world of PG-13. However, my professor brought up an excellent point today. We were discussing “La Celestina,” which is basically Romeo and Juliet, but Spanish style. Her words were, “We censor children from seeing violence, but not naked bodies.” That hit me hard. BOOM! *lightbulb moment* I thought: “How beautiful to show what is natural and promotes love, rather than what is gruesome and feeds aggression” I realize this is an idealist perspective. Consider the advertisements for movies and television shows, and the news stories every night in America. What is the most popular theme? Violence. How immune many of us have become to watching blood and gore, in some cases enjoying it and cheering the most powerful protagonist to victory. Now consider this: according to, which lists a variety of statistics on specific crimes related to population size, the United States has 97 times more murders by firearms than Spain. We also have 2436 times more police officers, yet 13 times more total crimes than Spain. Spain has higher crime rates in other categories, like petty theft and pickpocketing, but are far lower in physical attacks. This also has to do with gun laws in Spain which make it very difficult to own a weapon, but now I am getting off track. Back to my professor’s comment and my reaction. I appreciate that Spain still embraces artwork and the beauty of human anatomy. I hope you realize that I am not arguing that one country or society is better than the other, only that they are different and the effects of cultural differences throughout society are fascinating to discover first hand. I strongly urge you to travel, anywhere that calls you, and open your mind to a different way of living and thinking!

“A mind that is stretched my new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

5 thoughts

  1. I, too, studied abroad in Granada and realized these same things about Spain. One of my professors told me that, “In Spain they work to live, and in the U.S., they live to work.” This one hit me because I feel like people in the U.S., in general, are always looking for more money for more things as a way to “get to the top.” I’ve never really related to this as I would rather live a happier life then one where I make a lot of money and then after retirement get to do the things I want. Plus, who even knows if we will make it until retirement? I graduated college 3 years ago and have been working a 9 to 5 job which pays well but is unsatisfying.This fall I’ll be leaving my job to teach English in Spain. ever since returning from studying abroad I’ve wanted to get out, travel, and live. However, I got caught up in the rat race that is the money-making U.S. culture. While it’s scary to escape it, I know it’s what I need to do. Sorry for the lengthy comment. I look forward to following along about your time studying abroad because I can definitely relate. Thanks, Julia!

    1. Thanks Mike! I loved your “lengthy comment!” I’ve had that same conversation with many people in my time here too, with foreigners and with locals. I like how they spend their money on social activities- getting a drink and tapas at lunch, getting gelato, shopping at local stores, etc. The social aspect and live-in-the-moment attitude is something I admire and identify with, and hope I can take back to America. Though like you’ve pointed out, that’s hard to do. Our culture is very different. Definitely come back! I hope to teach/work/live abroad someday too, there’s so much of the world still left to see!

  2. Ooh, I love this.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Experiencing the differences in cultures and weighing the highs and lows of it all is truly a wonderful and under-appreciated opportunity.
    You put it in wonderful words :)

  3. Missing my time in Granada. This post reminds me perfectly of all that I love about it, but can’t quite explain to family and friends.

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