6 Differences Between Barcelona and the US


Laura Lam is a student at the University of Tennessee and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Barcelona, Spain

It has officially been three weeks since I have landed in Barcelona, and I have already fallen in love with this city.  If you are deciding whether to study abroad here or visit, do it!  While I expected some differences, I did not expect there to be quite so many, between Barcelona and the US.  Here are some of the most unexpected ones I encountered (mostly food related):

1. English is not common. For such a touristy city in Europe, I expected it to be very English-friendly. However, unless it’s a super touristy area, most employees and locals will speak minimal English. Menus and store signs will be in Catalan, or Spanish as well. So please practice some basics!

Menu in Catalan at a tapas restaurant.


Menu with three different languages at brunch.

2. Water is not free. If you order a water at a restaurant, expect to pay at least 1.50 euros. For just a quarter more, you could get a soda or coffee. Also, do not expect free refills. The price you pay is the price for one drink only.

3. An early dinner is at 8 PM. While it is uncommon in the US to get dinner past 7, most people here do not eat until 10! This may seem strange, but you get used to it. Don’t worry about feeling hungry and having to wait because food here arrives very quickly – within 5 to 10 minutes of ordering.

Half of an amazing seafood Paella, near Eixample.

4. People do not eat on the go. You will rarely see anyone eat food on the go because for them, a meal is time to enjoy with family and friends for a few hours. Do not expect to see anyone eating food on the street or sipping a ‘to-go’ cup of coffee unless they’re American.

A rare coffee to go cup!

5. Portion sizes are bigger and smaller. Sizes are confusing here when it comes to food. For the most part, I think meals are bigger and more affordable than the US, especially if you order the Menu of the Day for lunch; it includes an appetizer, entrée, dessert and drink for around 10 euros! However, the coffee sizes are much smaller. If you order a cup of coffee, expect to get a cup the size of an espresso shot.

“Café” – Café con Leche half the size of a pastry.

6. PDA is everywhere. Upon the first night of being here, my friends and I went to a tapas restaurant close to our residencia. During our entire meal, a couple at the next table made out openly in front of everyone. You will not only find this in restaurants, but also in parks, the metro, stores, etc. People of all ages are very open with their affection.

Overall, these cultural differences do not make Spain better or worse than the US. It’s what makes each country unique and special. The biggest reason I decided to study abroad was to experience new cultures, and I can’t wait to learn more about Barcelona in the next few months!

The world awaits…discover it.


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