As an American trying to immerse myself in the Spanish lifestyle, I have learned much about the differences between their culture and ours.
Mealtimes in Barcelona
Firstly, the biggest difference you’ll find when coming to Barcelona is that their mealtimes are completely different from ours. Spanish people wake up and get breakfast at any of the thousands of cafés located throughout the city. They’ll dine on a fresh baked good such as a croissant or pan con tomate (bread rubbed with olive oil and tomato), and enjoy their morning coffee. Most often, I’ll order a cafe con leche (coffee with milk) but it is a staple for many local Barcelonians. Lunch is normally served after 1 o’clock when many will take a couple of hours to eat with friends or co-workers. Then it is siesta time! This normally occurs between 3 and 5 p.m., and many restaurants will close and take a break until dinner. Personally, the biggest eating-related difference for me was dinnertime. Most locals don’t eat dinner until after 9 o’clock! In the states, I am used to eating around 6 or 7 p.m., but I have had to adjust my eating habits to dining later at night. But, as many nightclubs don’t open until 1 in the morning here, most will dine late and go out late! Barcelona has quite the nightlife.
On Sundays in the United States, I will do my weekly grocery shopping, catch up on homework, and clean my apartment. Here on Sundays, the streets are packed with people getting fresh air, enjoying the Barceloneta beach, or hanging out at Ciutadella Park. This is a day for relaxation and catching up with friends. Most shops and grocery stores are closed to allow workers to enjoy this day off, so you have to make sure you have enough groceries to get you through the weekend! On many Sundays, I have taken the metro down to the Barceloneta stop, where I walk the boardwalk with my friends. There is normally a little farmer’s market with empanadas, fruit, and spices to walk through along the pier. The Caprese empanada is my favorite. Just this past Sunday, April 17th, there was a medieval festival going on by the port with performers, face-painting, local jewelry, and cheeses! I walked through it and it was hard not to buy all of the local goods.
No tips, but having to pay for water?
Some more random differences in cultures are water and tipping. Water is something you always have to pay for! At restaurants, when you sit, it isn’t an obligatory thing for the waiter to bring you water, you have to ask and pay for it. Moreover, you have to make sure you ask for still water because more often than not, I have paid for sparkling water by accident, but I do like it as well. Whereas this is something I will not miss about Barcelona, I will miss the tipping culture. Servers and bartenders are paid higher wages here than in the United States, so tipping is not necessary or expected by most. But this comes with a downside, where waiters are not constantly checking up on your table or ensuring that you have a drink topped off. Personally, I have never had bad service, but you do have to wave down most waiters to get your check.
Spanish culture is quite different from that of the United States, but I really enjoy it. People here work to live, rather than live to work, and it shows. Many locals spend most of their days enjoying life rather than trying to get through the workday, and that is something I will miss the most when returning to the United States.
Josie Morgan is a college student at University of Colorado Boulder. She is an ISA Featured Blogger and is studying abroad with ISA in Barcelona, Spain.