Culture Shock: Spain Edition

Breaking Down Culture Shock

Culture shock is one of those things that I always thought was a myth that people used to discourage travel. Even when I began to travel internationally, it remained something that I felt immune to until I went to France that is because I could not imagine how different other parts of the world could be.

The formal definition of the common phrase is

the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.

Or in other words, when you look up and realize that you aren’t in Kansas anymore.

There are some things that are obvious indicators of culture shock, for example, language and food. While those are both things that scream ‘This is not the United States!’ to me, there are a few other cultural norms in Spain that have me experiencing some serious culture shock.

1. Wardrobe

I don’t know what I expected Spanish people to be wearing when I got here but I was in for a pleasant surprise as I began to explore the city of Madrid. The weather, aside from this past weekend, has been delightfully sunny and a warm 79° F (26° C).

The warm weather allowed me to enjoy some of Madrid's beautiful parks.

The warm weather allowed me to enjoy some of Madrid’s beautiful parks.

When I know that it is going to be above 70°F (21°C) outside, I get my shorts, dresses, and  crop tops ready. To my surprise, the Spaniards in Madrid are still donning jeans and large coats with fur. I wondered if maybe it was cold when some of these people left the house and then warm weather caught them off guard.

Nope! People are consistently dressing for, in my opinion, colder weather. I completely stand out in dresses even though it is May. So, after a train full of people staring at my bare legs, I’ve been leaving my dresses in the closet in favor of jeans and a t-shirt…at least until the Spanish decide that it is time to wear Summer clothes.

2. Dinnertime

It does not take long for a person to be around me before they can see evidence of my obvious love for food.

I have had multiple professors call me out for consistently eating in class, going as far back as first grade. 

I have had multiple professors call me out for consistently eating in class, going as far back as first grade.

Now, imagine my surprise when I found out that the typical Spaniard eats dinner at 9 PM. I could have cried when my host family informed that that is when dinner would be served every night. By 7 PM, I am begging for food and eating everything in sight. Lunch is eaten around 3 PM in Madrid but even with such a late lunch, 9 PM seems like forever to wait for dinner.

Apparently dinner is so late because there are things to do before dinner should be served, like visiting friends, getting in some ‘me’ time, and bonding with children.

3. Family Oriented Society

One thing that I vividly remember about my childhood is that until I moved to Atlanta, where my friends and I took the school bus, I walked to and from school everyday with a big group of friends. In Madrid, parents take their kids to and from school but unlike the parents that I saw in the carpool line growing up, they walk their kids into school and wait until the teachers bring them to class. In the afternoon, even though my host family has me to pick up the kids, they make a snack for the boys and all three of us walk to the school together to pick them up.

This what the front of the classrooms look like when we arrive to pick up the boys.

This what the front of the classrooms look like when we arrive to pick up the boys.

That is the very first thing that gave me culture shock. I don’t know a single person that went to a school where every parent walked their children to and from school and it wasn’t just a drop off. On top of that, the kids go home for an hour for lunch before coming back to finish the day. My kids get picked up by their grandparents, like many other kids, so they can spend time with them for lunch but I’ve been told that it’s not uncommon for a parent to pick up their child for this hour lunch time.

One of the reasons that dinner is so late is because parents want to spend time with their kids in the evening. Once the boys are out of school we go to the park, or the playground, or we play games, or pretty much anything that they want to do until dinner at 9 PM. The phrase ‘it’s a school night’ seems to be a foreign ones to the parents in this city. When I was in elementary school, I had already had dinner, been bathed, and was in bed by 9 PM. There were no play dates or park time. That is a foreign concept to these involved parents.

4. Children Everywhere

Because children and family life are so valued in this culture, that may be the reason that there are children everywhere I look. If I see a few princesses, I might believe that I’m at Disneyland (the Mickey Mouse at the park who took his head off to smoke a cigarette in front of three children does not count). The parks are always full of playful children and sidewalks are overflowing with strollers. There are strollers, skates, bikes, scooters, skateboards, you name it, all over the place and if you don’t pay attention you’ll either get run over by one or you’ll trip on one. I’ve never seen so many children and babies in my life.

I’m always asking questions about Spain to assuage my culture shock and I’m always met with a strange look and a laugh. It’s not warm until it’s over 80°F (26.8°C). Dinner is at 9 PM so that the children can be an integral part of family time and therefore, society should cater to family life and accommodate kids. The differences between Spain and America don’t seem drastic at first glance but it is disorientating to think about how different my childhood could have been if I had grown up in Madrid.

Be honest, could you handle living in Spain?

4 thoughts on “Culture Shock: Spain Edition

  1. Very interesting, Essence. I knew about the late dinner hour, but both parents walking children into school and waiting and then children eating lunch with parents/grandparents is very different from the hurried drop-off in the morning and lunch on-the-go in America. The Spanish way sounds nice!

    1. Thank you! It took me a day or two to get in the groove but it is nice to be around people that don’t believe in rushing. We could all benefit from slowing down.

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