One of the most surprising things I discovered shortly after arriving in Spain was that Barcelonan people look much like American people. I had assumed that my reddish hair and freckles would equate to a giant “I AM AMERICAN” stamp on my forehead as they do in other parts of the world, but most of the time when I walk into a local store or restaurant, I’m addressed in Spanish. Contrary to what I expected, all of the local people assume I’m a Barcelonan just like them.
The absolute best way to learn about and understand a culture is to allow yourself to become a part of it, and that usually means dressing or behaving somewhat differently than you might in your home country. If you want the full experience of being a Spaniard, you have to act the part! It may be a little uncomfortable at first, but it is so rewarding to be treated like you’ve lived in your new country your whole life. Here are a few easy ways to blend right in:
1. Give kisses to say hello. Spanish people greet each other with besos: place your cheek next to the other person’s, make a kissing noise, repeat with the other cheek. Handshakes are still acceptable but are considered formal, so give besos to the new people you meet.
2. Dress for the season, not the weather. Barcelonans don’t break out their shorts and flip flops just for one 65 degree day in February; their wardrobes follow the seasons. Research what normal attire looks like for the time of year you will be in Spain and dress accordingly.
3. Don’t wear gym clothes unless you’re going to gym. The only time Barcelonan people wear athletic attire is when they’re on their way to do something athletic. This is an extreme difference from most American college campuses, where sweatpants and t-shirts are everyday attire. If you want to look like a Spaniard, opt for a pair of jeans and leave the leggings at home.
4. Be informed on current events. President Trump has been on the news in Barcelona every day since I arrived, and you will be asked about your opinions on political issues. Spanish people are much more interested in and open about their views on any range of topics and you should be prepared to discuss what’s going on both in your home country and internationally.
5. Speak Spanish! This seems extremely obvious, but the #1 easiest way to be recognized as an American is to speak English. Language is an integral part of any culture, and one of the easiest ways to make connections with Spanish people is to speak with them in Spanish. (The use of Catalan as the primary language in Barcelona adds an extra twist, but most people speak Spanish in normal conversation.) Even if your Spanish is rusty or you don’t know much, the locals really appreciate the effort and you will speak like a Spaniard in no time!
The world awaits…discover it.