Culture shock 101

I will admit that I’ve had more culture shock in Spain than I did in Costa Rica. This post will be all about the things I have been noticing while here. These are not statistically proven for all of spaniards, but something I have seen more than once in multiple places. Here we go…
Note: I’m not trying to offend anyone!

1. women do not wash their hands
Let’s just say that I have not seen one woman wash her hands after using the restroom. Maybe this is why women give two kisses, rather than shaking hands?

2. Restaurants
Being a waiter must not be the best job to have in Spain. I have only come across 3 people that had a smile on his/her face and actually waited on us. Thank goodness that I don’t have to tip here or many people would not be getting anything. Perhaps that is why they don’t want to be nice; they are not being paid more to smile or to not smile.
I have also not witnessed a table being cleaned with a type of cleaner after customers leave. My host mom doesn’t even clean off her table…
You must learn to ask for “la cuenta” (the bill) or you will sit at your table for hours. I mean it.

3. the keys
The picture should sum this headline up. These are the keys to our apartment building and door.


4. coffee
Spain’s version of coffee is America’s version of espresso. Trust me, if you are a coffee addict like me then this won’t be a problem, it will be a blessing.

5. if you don’t smoke, get out
I tried to count the people I saw on my trip to school who were smoking, but honestly I lost count. Everyone smokes! They don’t care where they are or who they are around either. I have seen so many mothers/caregivers light one up while taking care of their kids, pushing strollers, or looking over their sleeping baby in its stroller. I want to go up and take out the cigarette and yell at them in angry English.

6. dirty, dirty city
Obviously there are cigarettes all over the ground but there is also trash. You’re not swimming in it but there is more than the average city that I have seen. People really like the idea of flyers here so every morning there is a new set of flyers on the ground that people have taken off of their windshields. I guess this is Spain’s form of junk email: junk flyers.
Not only does everyone smoke, but they also have a dog. This is great because I love dogs! BUT, the owners don’t stop to let you pet them, so I’m constantly looking at cute dogs but I can’t touch any of them. I have only been able to pet one and that’s only because I was stuck on the elevator with it and it jumped on me. Also, it’s rare to see a dog on a leash. They are all trained enough to go around the city without a leash.
My point of notifying you about the dogs is that the dogs use the city as their dumping grounds (pun intended). Some owners clean up after them, and most do not. Everything is almost concrete here so the sidewalks are where the dogs must go. If you are looking up while walking you will step in poo, if you are looking down you will get hit by a tree, and if you are looking sideways you will be hit by a moving object, which leads me to…

7. try not to get ran over
It’s not a normal day for me if I don’t get nearly ran over by something.
Bikes are very common in Valencia and there is even a bike trail painted onto the sidewalks. Does that mean that the bicyclists always ride in that lane? No. Does that mean that walking pedestrians should walk in that lane? Definitely not! Bicyclists speed through this city and if you’re not looking you will get side swiped by one. One bike caught my sleeve so far.
2 days ago I was nearly hit by a moped, while walking on the sidewalk. Yes folks, I was walking on the sidewalk when a moped came zooming around a corner and swerved to miss me. You should DEFINITELY not walk around Valencia with earphones in or you are determined to be smashed.
The best/worst story I have is nearly being hit by a car and it wasn’t even my fault. There is a little green man that lights up when it is your turn to walk. The thing is: you cannot trust the little green man. When he blinks at you , you must remember what your parents told you and look both ways. So I did. The traffic system in Spain is very unusual and I wouldn’t last one second while driving in it; there are lots of roundabouts and one way streets. Anywho, I looked to my right for oncoming traffic and the coast was clear. I started to walk. I looked up again and there was a white car in the distance headed our way. The thing is that cars will come all the way up to the crossing lane and stop until they can go.
I kept my eye on the car as I crossed and realized not only was it not stopping but it was speeding as if it was trying to beat the red light. Before I could even think, “this car is not stopping,” I stopped walking and the car stopped an inch from my foot. It would have side swiped me. Another girl was about a foot from its front end and an elderly lady was touching the car with her legs. This car nearly took out three of us. I would also like the record to show that it was a MALE driver.

8. stupid Americans
I have come to realize that Americans are accepted by most, but not all. Some Spanish people speak English to us because they think its necessary, others do because they want to practice (like my favorite lady from my “regular” bakery), and others refuse to even try English.
Today, Cassi and I went to the grocery store and had no idea that we were supposed to weigh our fruit before checking out. The cashier kept asking us for the weight and I told him I didn’t know what he was asking. He rolled his eyes and asked Paco to come weigh our fruit. Minutes later Paco comes back with our fruit with a sticker on it. The guy scans our fruit and has this “stupid Americans” look and is chuckling with his male cashier friend behind him. I became irritated and told him that in America the scale is usually where his scanner was and that the cashier did the work. After we left he continued to laugh with his friend and judge us with his eyes. At least, the older lady behind us was kind and told us not to worry.
I’m learning that customer service may not be Spain’s strong suit.

9. eating schedule
The eating schedule in Spain is something that takes quite a while to get used to. I’m going on two weeks and I’m not there yet. I will try to give you the most basic highlights:
Breakfast is nonexistent. It’s an American’s nightmare. It basically consists of coffee and toast. That’s it.
Lunch is around 1:30-3pm and is huge! It lasts for quite a while as well. Beer or wine is normally drank. My host mom was offended when I asked her if she wanted water…
Dinner is from 8:30-10 and it’s small and simple.
They do snack in between and it’s usually coffee and pastries or tapas.

10. telling time
Time here is written in military time, which makes things a little complicated.

11. water
If you ever visit Spain be prepared to buy water. Spain went through a drought not too long ago and it has not fully recovered. At restaurants water is brought to you in a glass bottle and it is pretty expensive…considering. People buy water by the liters and there are plastic water bottles everywhere! The tap water has chlorine in it and there are no water fountains to use. It’s not unusual to see people carrying a 1.5L bottle around.

12. money
The euros have arrived in Spain but of course, it’s unusual for an American. Let’s just say that I’m not used to paying in coins.

13. let’s get physical
I have noticed in Valencia that you have no excuse to be overweight. Yesterday I saw pull/chin up bars at the park, even more running paths, and I found more kid friendly parks. Between the bike system, wide sidewalks, and multiple courts for different sports I can’t find an excuse not to go outside. Not to even mention the beach! I also don’t think I have ever seen so many parents involved with their kids. The park across the street was flooded with kids and their families playing together.

14. boom goes the dynamite
While sitting in a bar one night that was overflowing with Spanish students there was a loud BOOM! Only me and a few others jumped but no one said anything and didn’t even blink. It sounded like a bomb went off. About 2 minutes later, another BOOM! Another student saw me looking around and he nonchalantly explained that it’s normal to use fireworks in the street when it’s someone’s birthday. Glad to know that now! I wasn’t sure how I was going to call my mom and tell her that I was part of a bombing in Valencia. Turns out it was just someone’s birthday…

15. it wasn’t me!
It doesn’t matter what time of the day it is, there is a stench. Between the cigarettes, public dumping ground and hundreds of dumpsters there is a smell that is like: sulfur, a porta-potty that someone is smoking in, or a kennel. No joke.

16. PDA
Let’s just say that I’ve had to look away from a couple multiple times because I felt like I was intruding on their R rated moment. Guys don’t even think twice about having their hands in their girlfriend’s pants…in public…on the street….where there are people…everywhere. Watching, or trying to avoid this PDA has brought me to a theory. My theory is: if PDA is accepted here, is the teen pregnancy rate lower than the United States where PDA is frowned upon? I wonder because the spaniards seem to “blow off some steam” (if you will) in the streets, but in the US teenagers do their business secretly because it’s not socially accepted. I will seriously be researching this and I will let you know what I find.

That is all for now folks! I had this post written and then it decided to delete itself. Needless to say, after a long day at the beach I do not have the energy or patience to continue. I will write again very soon about kayaking and sailing on the Mediterranean.

Now I have to go finish a pizza that we microwaved because the stupid Americans could not figure out the European oven…

a typical snack…espresso and a Nutella sandwich


cars everywhere!



7 thoughts on “Culture shock 101

  1. this might be my favorite blog ever….I love reading all of this, in bullet format, about your experience. I remember the PDA thing being way hard for me to adjust to…it’s amazing how conservative you can be even when you think in our society you’re pretty liberal on these kinds of displays. I’m wondering if you ever got your luggage….or are you walking around every day in the same outfit?! Glad you’re experiencing as much as you are….for every time you feel like someone is thinking “stupid American” just be reminded of the fact that you are indeed….pretty exceptional!!!!! 🙂

  2. Love reading your perspective as an American! The PDA is particularly funny, but it’s also an interesting research project for you. So glad you haven’t had any trouble with thefts or pick-pocketing. Your observation about water strikes me as important too. Water, as most of us access it, is really being taken for granted. The double-edged sword is that all those plastic water bottles are making the fundamental issue of environmental damage that much more of a problem. Hmm.

  3. So true and so interesting to hear your perspective. I have to admit that being European and having lived in the USA, I experienced the same “culture shock” you did. It was obviously not that shocking to me since I was just reminded of how things are in my home country. I think it is wonderful to see how people live differently and then try to understand why it is the way it is…. It’s the fascinating aspect of traveling and this is what broadens your view on the world. You have to experience it.
    PS: Yes, there is a lot less teen pregnancy in Europe.

  4. Sounds like you’re having an interesting time there. Continue to enjoy those eye-opening moments like the PDA! Also, Spaniards are very wise about staying hydrated and……those typical snacks you mentioned. Have fun!

  5. I love reading your blog and I think this is my favorite post so far! I am glad that you are starting to enjoy yourself a bit more! Keep having fun because these few months are going to fly by!

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