Cultural Differences: Things I Learned in Spain


By living abroad in Madrid, Spain for a month, I was able to experience and learn first-hand a number of cultural differences when compared to life in the United States. As a Spanish minor in college, I have had the opportunity to learn about many different cultures in Spanish-speaking countries. However, getting the chance to immerse myself in the culture outside of a classroom setting was a special experience. During my time abroad, I learned about various cultural differences in Spain such as daily life/meal times, social norms, language, and much more! 


Daily life/Meal Times 

Personally, I believe this was one of the most stark differences while living in Spain (and certainly the hardest for me to adjust to). Here in the states it’s typical to have a standard 3 meals a day: breakfast or a snack before work, lunch around noon, and dinner in the evening. However, in Spain meals are done a little differently. It’s not uncommon to have two breakfasts in Spain. This includes a light breakfast or snack before work and another around 10 or 11 AM. In Spain, lunch is the biggest and most important meal of the day. Lunch in Spain typically starts around 2 PM and is a social experience where people gather to talk and catch up and can last around 2 hours. After lunch it’s common to take part in a “siesta” where in many smaller towns in Spain, shops close for a couple hours in the afternoon while people take part in afternoon naps or breaks to relax. Lastly, dinner usually takes place late at night around 9 or 10PM. These late dinner times contribute to the late night life that Spain has as well. Many clubs open much later than they would in the United States and can stay open until the sunrise. 


Social Norms

When I visit a different country I am always fascinated by the difference in social norms and attitudes of other cultures. On the first day of class orientation, our advisor for the program – a Spanish native – gave us a brief overview of Spanish norms that we should be aware of. The first was that Spanish people are very friendly and comfortable with touching other people. In the United States it can come off as rude or feel uneasy if someone that you didn’t know was overly friendly or invading your personal space. However, in Spain it’s not uncommon for people to talk very close or put their hands on one another when speaking. Secondly, don’t be offended if someone says something rash or not “politically correct.” My advisors told us that Spanish people will joke about anything even if it may come off as rude or insensitive. Lastly, in Spain, it’s common to greet people with two “besitos” or kisses on both sides of the cheek.  



In Spain, natives speak “European Spanish” This Spanish is different from Latin American Spanish in a number of ways, most significantly in the accent. In Spain, people pronounce the “c” in words before “e” and “i” like “th.” To an uneducated person who does not know what a Spanish accent sounds like, it sounds almost like a lisp. Secondly, in Spain, people use the vosotros. Vosotros is a type of conjugation that is used to address or talk about multiple people. It is similar to “y’all” in english. An example of using the vosotros would be if you want to ask how a group of people are doing you wouldn’t say “Como están.” In Spain you would say “Como estáis.” Lastly, within the Spanish language, it’s very common for different regions to have different words or phrases for the same objects. Some examples in Spain Spanish include “chicos” for “niños” and “vale” for “bien.”

M.J. Brown

M.J. Brown

Washington University in St. Louis 

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