It’s The Little Things: Small Differences Between Spanish and American Culture

When it comes to studying abroad in a foreign country, some things will obviously be different such as the geography, language, and people. However, some things would fly underneath the average person’s cultural radar. Here are some small differences I’ve picked up between Spanish and American culture.

In Spain, love is always in the air! Holding hands in public is extremely common here, from young twenty-somethings all the way up to the elderly. I’d never seen an older couple hold hands in the street until I got here. Middle-aged women link arms as they walk through downtown as a display of comradery. It’s really quite sweet. Americans are not nearly as forthcoming with displaying their affection.

It’s the little things that matter. And “little” is a fitting word as most things in Spain are smaller than an American would be used to. The streets and sidewalks are narrower, elevators are tighter, and living spaces have less dimension. Being squished with strangers in an elevator only meant for 3 people takes the phrase “love each other!” to whole other level. Perhaps that’s why Spaniards are so touchy: they have no choice!

Here is the view of a residential area near my host university. As you can see, all the houses are in pretty close proximity.

Another (somewhat specific) difference is meat preferences. In America, we love our chicken. Chick-fil-A, KFC, and Popeye’s are all big business. I, personally, cook everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, with chicken. Baked chicken and rice, baked chicken with vegetables, pesto chicken pasta, chicken noodle soup, the list goes on and on. However in Spain, chicken is nowhere near as popular. Jamón serrano and jamón ibérica, both types of pork, are the meats of choice. The Spanish eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, on sandwiches, and in soups. In the south and near the coast, seafood is hugely popular as well.

Lastly, we have retail. America is known for its one-stop-shop super companies like Wal-Mart and Kroger, where you can buy almost anything you need in one place. However in Spain, everything is localized and product-specific. There are entire shops dedicated to selling only fruit, bread, perfume, ice cream, and paper. An American drugstore like Walgreens sells medicine but also functions as a mini-market with food, makeup, and soap. But in Spain, a drugstore sells drugs. No more, no less. It’s so neat to walk along the Spanish roads and see all the various little shops. They’re warm and cozy; small but purposeful.

It’s amazing how much living in a new place can make you notice the details of the life you live, regardless of your destination in that moment.

Brittany Johnson is a student at University of Kentucky and is an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Granada, Spain.

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