13 Differences Between Spanish and American Culture

The worst things the Spanish do...

This kind of post is always a fun one. I get all sorts of comments and such from people crying out “you’re generalizing!” “that’s horrible to say!”. Well, you’d be absolutely correct. Everything I’m about to say is generalizing. There are a lot of negative things, matched by a few positive which I'll address in a sec. But, if I can talk about how Americans are fat, I can say that there are some things I don’t like about Spanish culture, and that’s okay.

So let’s get right into the meat of it, yeah?

Do not confront a Spaniard

Ever. You will not solve the problem. You will not find yourself talking out your feelings or addressing some silly miscommunication. Trust me, I’ve tried, and I’ve ruined a lot of friendships with Spaniards. Americans are pretty confrontational, just as a generalization, and I’m one of the most confrontational people I know. Let me tell you a story.

During my winter in Madrid, I knew that I had to go to the mountains and see the snow. First of all, I’m a Floridian. Snow is literally magical. It also usually doesn’t snow in Madrid itself, so I knew I was going to have to go the extra mile if I wanted this experience. I reached out to a friend who I had done English/Spanish language exchanges with, and asked her if she wanted to come with me next week. She agreed and I got really excited to go into the mountains and see snow and speak Spanish the whole time. It was a win-win!

So, day of, I send her a Whatsapp checking in with her and finding out where/when she wanted to meet. I then found out that her father had called her this morning to let her know she was going to some family thing that day. Which meant my plans were effectively canceled. Oh.

So yeah, I admittedly flipped out. Cultural differences will piss you off. I felt disrespected that not only had she just ditched me without a second thought, but also that she hadn’t even told me as soon as she knew - she had waited until she heard from me to say anything. I was really excited for that trip and then...nothing. When I brought it up to her, that conversation didn’t really go well. At all. We haven’t spoken since. Do not confront a Spaniard. I don’t know how you’re supposed to solve problems, but I now know not to do that! She was pissed that I had the expectations of her time that I did, which brings us to my next observation.

Family before everything

The Spanish are an incredibly family-centric culture. It’s one of the reasons why adult children live with their parents until they get married. It’s just a thing. They’re really close. What took me some time to realize is that that meant that I, some random American stranger they might’ve had lunch with a time or two, do not compete. Which means my plans with Spaniards were canceled on the regular.

As I mentioned above, that always makes me feel terrible about myself. I haven’t quite figured out how to get into the Spanish mindset with that one. I take pride in being dependable even when it’s inconvenient for me, and treating everybody with respect. I love that about myself, but that’s apparently not the way to go with Spaniards. My priorities are all wonky, apparently, so it means falling into pit of “well, you literally knew that was going to happen, so why’d you do it?”.

Why the rush, kid?

According to the Spanish, Americans rush everywhere. We’re too anxious about getting where we need to go as quickly as possible. We need to slow down and enjoy the journey. Which I absolutely get, the whole thing about enjoying the journey. It’s a philosophy I live by and makes me happier...except when it comes to the metro. Okay I’m sorry, there’s really nothing about the journey through the metro for me to enjoy. It looked the same last time I was in that station. Now, I had anxiety about being late instilled in me from a very young age, so please move so I can get to where it is that I need to go!

When a culture as a whole is slow when it comes to transporting their own bodies from point A to point B, it’s only logical that it means they’re commonly late to things. So, if you find yourself running 10-15 minutes late, don’t worry about it, because you’ll be the first one there. In reasonable situations.

What you don’t want to do is be the guy who’s an hour late to work every day for their first week. Then maybe your Spanish coworkers won’t like you so much. How do I know? Yeah, that was me. I’m really not proud of that and it got me off on the really wrong foot when I was teaching English in Spain. I’m used to making bad first impressions, but hoo boy did that get uncomfortable!

Smoking

This one caught me by surprise when I first moved to Spain. Smoking (like real actual cigarettes, not e-cigs) is still pretty common. I’m told by Spaniards that it’s getting less and less popular, but you’ll still see it and smell it while walking out and about. When I was staying with a host family, I usually couldn’t keep my bedroom window open because it opened to the building’s courtyard, where everyone liked to smoke. It’s really not the best smell to have in your bedroom.

That being said, while smoking is still pretty popular, I’m assuming they have common sense laws because Spaniards will always step outside for a smoke. But, this popularity does mean that you’ll find people of all ages smoking, adults and teenagers alike. If I had to guess, I would say it’s still cool for the youngsters to start up, for whatever reason. I always thought that died out with the grunge movement, but I guess not in Spain!

When you gotta go, you gotta go

Madrid in particular is a pretty dog-friendly place. There are plenty of dogs all over the place, and they like to leave little presents, too! While I’ve been told that it’s illegal, I’ve absolutely seen plenty of cases where a dog left a little gift somewhere on the sidewalk or road...and that’s it. It’s just left there. Nobody picked it up. I don’t believe I’ve seen a strong case made for “here’s a free trash bag, pick up your dog’s crap”, either. That being said, just watch your step!

Dogs are one thing. People are another. I don’t know how common it is outside of my own experience, and how legal/illegal it is, but I have witnessed quite a few people peeing in public. One my fondest memories was going to the grocery store and walking past some woman holding her son’s penis so his urine didn’t hit the cars he was peeing between. So, while watching some drunk guy pee on the corner is, well, imaginable, that one took the cake for me.

PDA

Oh, this one’s fun, too. When you’re walking around and you see a couple going at it pretty hard in a public place, I’m never really sure what to do. Like, obviously, don’t disturb them, but am I supposed to feel as uncomfortable as I do? Maybe that’s an American thing to get over, I don’t know. I mean, I’m not talking at the club or at a party or anything. I’m talking about going into metro station and there being two or three people standing around, a couple playing tonsil honkey on one half of the bench, and then someone else sitting next to the couple on the bench without a care in the world. Am I the only one who would feel uncomfortable there??

I am quite aware that Americans are known as antisocial, unaffectionate, unfriendly people. The Spanish kiss on the cheek would be really weird coming from someone who’s not a close friend or relative, and we do have a considerable respect for personal space compared to the Spanish. But really? I’m all for some good ol’ affection and fun, but it’s weird for me!

Why send one text when you can send 17?

While I was in Spain, I definitely tried to reach out to Spaniards, both for practicing my Spanish, and for the fact that if I spent my entire time in Spain around Americans, what I was I doing there? I had a couple contacts that I used to practice my Spanish with, so I was texting a few of them from time to time. And boy, do I hate it.

Sometimes, I’m really awful at answering my phone. I just am, sorry guys. But the Spanish really knew their way around that! When I’m chilling in bed on a Saturday and my phone buzzes over and over and over again, my initial thought is to check it and see who’s dying, right? I had to get over that with the Spanish. My phone might go off 12 times, all for the simplest “hello, how are you” message that could have very easily be accomplished in one. But why?? Why is that necessary?? I still can’t figure out why the Spanish have that habit, and what good that does them. But it is what it is!

...but Americans can learn a thing or two!

No, the Spanish aren't all horrible. I love Spain! I seriously do! For real. Trust me. In a lot of ways, Americans suck just as much as the Spanish do. There were a lot of parts of my Spanish lifestyle that I could take home to America, but I unfortunately just couldn't.

They know how to live

I mentioned somewhere up there that a pretty common critique of the American culture is that we’re always rushing everywhere to get to a place. We don’t enjoy the journey. And I get it. It’s true. So, while I hate how slowly the Spanish move, I can’t ignore the fact that they know how to live. They know how to relax and enjoy life and chill.

Like, at a Spanish restaurant where you can sit there for hours on end after ordering one thing and nobody will care. I love it! Nobody asks you how your food is, or if you need anything else, or if you’d like the check (hint hint, nudge nudge), which, as an introvert, is incredibly stressful. In a Spanish restaurant, you have to flag a Spanish waiter down to get their attention to order more food or pay a bill or something. Otherwise, they will let you sit there and live. Just live. And it’s wonderful.

Architecture

So, Spain is beautiful. It’s a part of Europe, so of course it’s gorgeous. It’s ancient and old and interesting and has literally thousands of years of history to it. And that’s all in the architecture, which is my absolute favorite part about Spain. Spain has been ruled by a few cultures throughout the centuries, and you can see so much about that all in the buildings around you, it’s great!

For example, if you walk down Gran Vía - which admittedly isn’t old but is still absolutely stunning - you can find some seriously elegant-looking buildings. If you go in others, you’ll find tiny little buildings without elevators because they’re old and only a couple floors high and back in the day, there was no such thing as handicapped entrances. If you didn’t have the legs for stairs, you just didn’t get to go places, I suppose. And, of course, when you can find staircases, they’re generally old and twisty and very early 20th-century elegant. Absolutely gorgeous.

Safety

A big thing with women when it comes to traveling is safety. There are a lot of places in this world where traveling as a woman alone is not the most comfortable experience. I mean, it’s incredibly unlikely that anything will actually happen to you based on the fact that you are a woman or alone, but it can feel uncomfortable and some places require more common sense practices than others.

Since moving to Spain was my first ever trip abroad, that was definitely a thing I thought about a lot. I’m very happy to report, though, that Spain feels incredibly safe. In fact, when I went back home to the US, I felt much less comfortable walking around alone. I wasn’t used to getting honked at walking down the street or feeling some strange man’s eyes on me as I went past. In Spain, I could walk down the street alone in a clubbing outfit after midnight and nobody paid me any mind. It’s such a freeing feeling!

Public transportation

I hate being dependent on a car while in America. It’s expensive, it’s bad for the environment, and it makes me lazy. Now I don’t have much experience with public transportation in general, and I know that Madrid is well-known for their quality public transportation, so I may be biased. But I love it!

And it doesn’t stop in Madrid - Spain’s bus lines cater to the rest of Spain, as well. And a trip is affordable and easy to find and clean and reliable and it’s just wonderful. With all the walking you have to do to catch the bus and metro and what have you, you’ll find yourself shedding weight, too. Seriously, I wish so hard that America could do the same!

Dollars to Spanish Euros

Money, money, money. It’s a hot topic with people who are interested in teaching English in Spain, and it’s super important. How much can you make? How far can that take you? Can you travel with that?

As of late, the Spanish economy hasn’t been the healthiest. There’s a very high unemployment rate, which means Spaniards are working extra hard to learn English so they can demand better pay. What this economy means to American expats, however, is that Spain is cheap! It’s a very inexpensive country to live in, especially compared to its French neighbor. Most everything is considerably cheaper than it is in America, outside of a couple exceptions (of course). However, those exceptions probably won’t make a huge difference in your budget. For example, I found that the price of vitamins was absolutely ridiculous!

So there ya have it. After a year in Spain, there were a few things I missed about my own American culture, but I think I was a bit more excited to leave certain things about the Spanish culture.

Do you have a similar experience?

Comments

  1. Very interesting! I know we can’t compare Spanish to Latinas in Florida, but I feel most Spanish speaking people I have come across (grouping as a whole) portray these traits. Rudeness in crowds is my #1 complaint though.

  2. Hehehe, as a Spaniard and an expat I understand the love/hate relation between things in one culture. Just a couple of things:1) if you live in Madrid and you think people walk slow, just don’t move to another city; 2) finding dog’s “business” al around, there are people with 0 consideration for others (and they are a national disgrace) and there are plenty of street dogs that you can’t control. Hope you enjoy the rest!

    • I’m working under the assumption that Americans walk faster than most other cultures, as that’s what I’ve been told, so I’m sure you’re right! It’s definitely culture shock to switch from the American go-go-go attitude to the Spanish “stop and smell the roses” walk!

      I hadn’t thought about street dogs! In my neighborhood there were plenty of stray cats, so that may have something to do with it, as well.

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