What I’ve Learned About America’s Culture by Studying & Living in Bilbao, Spain

Danielle Day is a student at The College of Idaho and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Bilbao, Spain

  1. The U.S. has a different understanding of “on-time”

I come from Boise, Idaho. It’s not a small town but it’s not a big city like New York City, Seattle, Portland, etc. Now, in the U.S. we have that “9-5” work schedule, and here in Bilbao, that’s not the case. In the U.S., when we say we will be somewhere at 5:00pm, being there after 5:00pm is considered to be late. However, here in Bilbao, late is definitely on time. Leaving home for your destination at 5:00pm if you are meeting at 5:00pm is completely normal. The city also embraces siesta time. Bilbao is one of the bigger cities in the Basque Country of Spain, but the shops close down from 2:00-4:00pm or 3:00-5:00pm for lunch and siesta time. Some people work later due to the lunch and siesta time, but either way it provides a nice break to rest which I now greatly appreciate. I can’t vouch for all college students, and maybe some universities back home have similar breaks in their schedule, but I feel that college students around the world would benefit from this mid-day break time.

  1. The U.S. has a different definition of “touchy-feely”

A regular greeting here in Bilbao is a kiss on each cheek. It can be more of an air kiss or it can be a light side kiss. I’m sorry for those of you that are huggers– I hate to disappoint you– but hugging in Bilbao is considered to be too much PDA here. Back in the U.S., some of my friends were not huggers so I refrained or they made an exception for me. After living in Bilbao, it’s clear that the U.S. can be considered more of a “touchy-feely” culture than here.

  1. We both eat a lot of food, but not the best kind of food

Yes, Americans eat a lot of food, but we also waste a lot of food in comparison to other places. In Bilbao, you also eat a lot of food, but not much goes to waste. The fast food places in Bilbao are also different from what you would normally find back home. In Bilbao there is McDonald’s and Starbucks and a few others, but in general the food here is healthier that what I’d find back home. It’s that Mediterranean diet! While some of us may follow the Mediterranean diet back home, we should all embrace it in order to live healthier. Our bellies will thank us.

  1. Americans seem like they live lonely lives

I am very independent person. I am also an American. Here in Bilbao, if I don’t go out, my host family sums it up to my nationality. People seem to understand if you go by yourself to work out or go to events by yourself to meet up with your friends or family, but they are always going out. Salir (to go out) is a key verb here. Go out! Go out and enjoy Bilbao, this beautiful city.

  1. Learning a new language can benefit you in America

Here in Bilbao, you are in the Basque Country and they speak Basque. You do not need to speak Basque at all times, but if you try to at least learn the basics, the locals are more inclined to open up to you. In the melting-pot that is the USA, being open to learning a new language, or even just learning basic phrases in a new language, can bring you closer to anyone.

The world awaits…discover it.


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