6 Cultural Shocks in Spain


Leticia Siquerios is a student at Benedictine University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Madrid, Spain.

As an introvert who has to struggle to leave the house every day and prepare to converse with other humans, the idea of traveling to another state has terrified me enough. However, when I was presented the opportunity to visit Madrid, Spain, I pushed aside any fears or doubts and made sure that I was going to take part in this once in a lifetime experience. I don’t think I considered how much of a shock I would experience within my first few days, which is what I would like to share with you.

Toledo selfie

1. Sunset

Where I’m from, the sun usually sets around six or seven in the evening, which is a cue to Americans that the day is almost done. That is not the case in Spain as the sun often does not set until almost ten at night! It really boggles my mind how much of a difference that makes. It may feel like it’s only 6:00 when it’s actually 9:45. When it’s 10:00 pm in America, people are usually preparing to sleep, if they are not already, while the Spanish still have energy and continue their days until the early hours of the morning.

2. Stairs

Stairs are not unusual in America, but there is almost always an alternative such as elevators, escalators, or even ramps for the handicapped, elderly, or simply lazy people like me. In Spain, however, stairs seem to be the only means of transportation in many of the buildings, namely the ones that have been standing for centuries. They are beautiful inside and out, but walking to any floor above the second can prove to be a challenge for anyone who is not an athlete. My host family lives in the second highest floor and it has proven to be struggle just to leave or enter the home every day. This has truly limited how lazy I can be, which is something I have needed for a long time.


3. Personal space

I am the type of person who needs at least a two foot radius when socializing with others. Hugging is only something I do with close friends and even then I often require someone to ask for permission to push the boundaries of my radius. However, that rule was challenged the moment that my new Spanish friends greeted me with a kiss on each cheek and consistently hugged me without a thought. When someone wants to be your friend, they go the extra mile with Spanish friendliness which includes close talking, hugging, and often kisses on the cheeks.

4. Walking

In my Arizonan hometown, everyone has a car and uses it even if their destination is only a mile away. The roads are spacious and hardly ever occupied, so no one argues the wide usage of personal cars. We don’t even have a metro system because our city is not busy enough. However, in Madrid, it is common to use the metro, buses, or simply walk to one’s destination. The streets are small, complicated, confusing, and often packed with taxis, buses, motorcycles, compact cars, and any daring pedestrians who, despite their red light, know that they have enough time to cross the road before the next vehicle arrives. Jaywalking is a normal part of life that is easy to grow accustomed to since the majority of the roads are a fraction of the size of American roads and therefore only take a few seconds to cross.

Calle cava baja

5. Dinner

It is true that Spaniards do not usually eat dinner until 9:00pm, or even later than that. For someone who is used to being asleep by 9:00 pm, this new dinnertime will prove to be a struggle. It can be difficult to adjust to having dinner two hours later than usual, but having snacks in between meals and consistently making plans to eat dinner with others this late can also make all the difference. As a result of having dinner so late, that also means that the night life starts late as well. It is not uncommon to hear people loudly enjoying their cervezas and tapas into the late hours of the night because they still have enough energy to keep going.

6. Air conditioning

“What air conditioning? Just open a window.” That is a common response from many Spanish people who are obviously more adjusted to the heat without the help of air conditioning. I am used to buying fans, putting on the air conditioning, or even holding something from the refrigerator to cool myself in the summertime. In Madrid, that’s not necessary, as opening a window will let in the warm air from the outside. However, the night air will eventually cool down the rooms with no A/C.

The world awaits…discover it.

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