“Culture Shock” in Madrid: Differences between Spain and the US

If culture shock is supposed to hit you like lightning, then Spain must not be that different from the US at all. To me, it was more like rubbing my feet on a carpet in the winter and getting a small shock from touching a light switch. Maybe this is a good thing. Or, maybe, I’m not experiencing enough of the culture. I’ve been here for three weeks now and I’d say that rather than “culture shock,” I’ve had to make some adjustments.

Mealtimes. Breakfast (the food and the mealtime) is pretty much like the US. Lunch, which I eat anywhere from 11-12 isn’t until 2-3 in Spain. Spaniards will snack in between breakfast and lunch but since eating in class isn’t allowed in Spain, there are some days where I have to tough it out until 3:30. Lunch is their biggest meal of the day. Usually we start with whatever Spanish dish our host mom cooked, then we eat meat and salad, and then fruit is offered as dessert. It has been an adjustment since I don’t usually eat big lunches back home. Dinner isn’t until 9-10:30, sometimes later. Back home, I eat dinner at 4, which is unnaturally early for even an American. However, I’m usually not hungry for dinner because I eat a bigger lunch than I’m used to.

Not smiling at people. Europeans smile, just not at strangers as you’re walking by. It’s completely normal to make eye contact with someone and not smile at them. I’m a generally smiley person and I have to try not to smile. I’ve heard that that’s one way you can tell foreigners apart from locals.

Nightlife. I’m not sure how different this is from the US. I’m used to going to bed between 11 and midnight but in Madrid it’s totally normal to stay out until as late as 6 am. Being social is a huge part of Spanish culture. People go out to tapas bars and clubs until very early the next day.

Shoes in the house. Some people in the US might require this. I grew up wearing socks around my house but in Madrid, you have to wear some kind of shoes or slippers in the house. I’m not sure why though.

Language barrier. This could be a big one for some people and for some others it might not be big at all. Not a lot of people in Madrid are fluent in English, but a lot of people seem to at least know some and be eager to use it on you. I think it’s important to come to the country with a good foundation of the Spanish language. It can open up experiences to you that you may not have had the opportunity to have if you didn’t speak Spanish.

PDA. This was my biggest adjustment. On my walks to school I’ve seen many couples going at it in the park. It’s completely normal. I’ve seen it in the metro and even in a booth at Starbucks. It’s not so much the fact that I see people making out in public that’s shocking. What shocks me more is that no one seems to care. No one pays attention to what’s going on even though I feel like people in the States would get judged for being so affectionate in public.

I’ve been here for over three weeks now and these are some of the major things I’ve noticed, even though I don’t really consider any of these to be culture shock. To those studying in Madrid: Let me know if I missed anything!

To my friends and family back home: I think you could get around Madrid with very little problems other than the language barrier. Even so, a decent amount of people will try to speak to you in English. When planning your next trip, consider Madrid!


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