How to Survive in the Spanish Home

I’m an introvert. I love going home and just being alone for a while. Relaxing. I love the comfort of being in my own space without any intrusions. This makes living in a Spanish home difficult.  For example, mannerisms differ from culture to culture, and these differences follow foreigners all the way to the Spanish home.

Size: it doesn’t matter in the Spanish home

In the American culture, size does matter. The coolest guys on the block have big trucks with oversized wheels. Millionaires live in mansions that could house a small country. Women get surgery to be bigger in all the right places.

Spain, however, is compact. Spaniards live in just as much room as they need. My house in the states is big enough to host regular parties (with a makeshift dance floor to boot!), but my piso (apartment) in Spain is just enough for the five of us to live in.

I mentioned before that living in a new culture made me love my own culture more. The Spanish culture has also taught me things about the American culture that I would have never seen otherwise. Why do we need such big televisions? Our eyes aren’t any bigger!

Privacy? But we’re a family!

I said it before and I’ll say it again: the Spanish culture is incredibly social. So, it shouldn’t be of any real surprise to find out that personal bathrooms aren’t the most sought after accessory here. For example, when I moved in to my 3-bedroom piso, I knew it only had one bathroom. I’ve been fortunate enough to be sharing the bathroom with decent roommates – I shared a bathroom with 3 other girls in college. Would not recommend. In Spain, however, this isn’t such an outlandish concept. When you leave America, you leave the world of personal bathrooms.

No, but we’re a really close family.

I’ll admit, the first couple weeks of moving into my piso, I was a little confused. That family can’t sleep in one room, the kid is 5 years old! Where’s the other room?

While I admittedly live with South Americans, not Spaniards, the idea is the same. Pisos in Spain offer much less room to go around, and Spaniards take advantage of every inch they can.

Still. We’re still really close.

The Spanish culture is very family-oriented. I suppose it makes sense that people who grew up spending every waking (and non-waking) moment with their parents have learned to appreciate spending copious amounts of time with them. That being said, the Spanish home is often alive with family reunions, sometimes every weekend. While they generally don’t move far from home, if that’s where life takes them they will take life right back to sus padres (their parents).

Walking around barefoot

Don’t do it. Ever. Socks don’t cut it, either. You need some slippers, child, or this culture will never take you in as their own. And that’s all there is to it.

Heating and air conditioning

Throughout the year, Spanish weather is pretty moderate. Summers will reach 40°C, or 104°F, but winters will just barely touch below freezing. Because of this, and because of Spanish frugality, air conditioning is not very common in the Spanish home. While you’ll find it in public places like the metro, most Spaniards are content to grin and bear it. Heaters are similar – you’ll find these everywhere, but they won’t be turned on in the Spanish home until absolutely necessary. Like air conditioning, of course, public places will always be heated.

So, when my poor Floridian blood is left to cope with the weather, I’m going to walk around my piso with a heavy coat. And my roommates are going to tell me to stop being dramatic. And that’s how our relationship is going to work.

Washing your clothes

Right off the bat, my piso‘s washing machine is in the kitchen. Laundry room? What’s that? Second order of business:

Back home in Florida, I’m constantly surrounded by water. Yes, literally, as the state is a giant peninsula, but also kind of figuratively: Florida’s humidity is always through the charts. To the contrary, Spain’s air is very dry, especially in Madrid, which is smack dab in the middle of the country. What does this have to do with washing your clothes? Good luck finding a piso with a dryer! If you walk around Spain, you’ll find old-fashioned clotheslines with clothes hanging off them. Spain’s climate is so dry, all you gotta do is let your wet clothes sit for a bit and they’ll dry right out!

However, I do have a confession. I’ve been cheating on cultural immersion for some time now. I’ve found myself a lovely little laundromat down the street that will dry my clothes in 30 minutes. And, you know what? I’m so much happier for it!

Don’t hole up in your room

I grew up in a culture where you spend your free time alone in your room. What’s more, I grew up in a generation that lives off their computer in their room. Suffice to say, my first instinct when I come home at the end of the day is to go to my room and close the door. This is a habit I have successfully learned to break while living in this new culture.

When you’re at home in the Spanish culture, it’s time to stop being social with your friends online and start being social with your family and/or roommates in your piso! Crowd around some cheesy Spanish drama, have a meal, and enjoy yourself. Remember, be social!


  1. Very interesting post, I did not know a lot of this.

    If it gets up to 104, they need air conditioning!

    In England most washing machines are in the kitchen too, it is weird to me, so interesting that is how it is in Spain too.

  2. I love cultural insights. Being Australian I think we have a lot in common with our expectation of space and airconditioning! In fact, it is the lack of space that really bugs me living in the UK. There are people everywhere and I feel claustrophobic sometimes. Having said that, the focus on family, ‘just enough’ stuff and spending time with each other instead of in our rooms is increasingly important to me now I have my own children. I’m hoping to take ‘the best bits’ of the cultures I experience and make them my own. Thanks for sharing Jamie

    • Taking my favorite bits of foreign cultures and putting them into my everyday life is one of the most important parts of travel to me, as well. I mention in another post about how living in Europe made me more physically active, even when I’m back home in America. I love it!

  3. Sorry, but as a Spaniard I have to say your impressions about wine and beer make no sense at all to me.
    Most mid-budget restaurants upwards, and many cheaper ones definitely have more than just “red wine” or “white wine”. They’ll have at least a few reds, a few whites, and maybe rosés and sparkling wines. In many cases, they’ll be listed in a special section on the menu, in others, mainly in more upmarket restaurants, there’ll be a wine list. I honestly don’t know which restaurants you may have frequented in Spain, where they were and how many different ones to make such baffling generalisations about “restaurants in Spain”.

    As for wine being cheap in Spain, sure, if you go for the cheaper ones or order a glass of the “house wine” without asking what is it. Do some research online, though, and see if you find a shortage of more expensive Spanish wines (hint: you won’t).

    Never order a “cerveza”? Why not? If you don’t specify, the waiter will ask if you want a “copa”, a “caña”, a “doble” and so on, and you can always order bottled beer if you prefer it. Many cheap regular bars won’t have more than one kind of draught beer, as you say, but even those will probably have one or two other brands of bottled beer for sure. And that’s your more basic neighbourhood bars. Anywhere else, you’re likely to have a much wider choice of both national and imported beers.

    I apologize if I come across as a little blunt, but it seems to me you’re making generalisations without having the necessary knowledge and experience to do so.

    • I understand if you feel I am making generalizations, because I am, quite frankly. These are general trends that I’ve noticed in Spain. That isn’t to say that different restaurants aren’t different, or that someone else might experience something more similar to your experiences! As a foreigner living in Spain, these were things that stood out to me, as they were different from my experiences back home. These were my impressions and nothing else. Maybe I only happened upon the restaurants that did these things, but that is the way of the traveler – it’s hard to truly experience life the way locals do, especially in international cities.

      Thank you for your input, it’s important to get a local’s idea of my own experiences as a foreigner!

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