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What to expect when moving to Spain from the U.S.

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When moving to Spain from the United States, there are many cultural differences that we aren’t used to. These are a few basic cultural differences that are important to know before arriving. They are generalizations about the Spanish culture, as it varies from region to region just as it does in the U.S., but they will help you get the idea of what life in Spain is like and what to expect.

If you want to read more specifically about life in Madrid, read this blog!


In the U.S., we appreciate our personal space, and in Spain they treat personal space a bit differently than are used to. Something that may be shocking to you when you first arrive is how people greet one another. When meeting someone for the first time in the U.S., it is normal to shake hands or maybe hug in a social setting. If you are being introduced to a group of people, it is not uncommon to give a friendly wave to the whole group. In Spain, giving two kisses to every single person in a group is very typical. If you offer your hand to shake, it could be considered rude. Although it may be uncomfortable at first, it becomes natural with time.


The way that time is used in Spain is much more relaxed than in the US. Americans are known for moving at a very rapid pace and constantly being scheduled. Arriving on time is very important. In Spain it is not so problematic to arrive late, in fact, it is quite typical. Time spent with family and friends is highly valued, therefore social gatherings and meals tend to last longer then we are used to in the U.S.


While in the United States we are used to tipping for nearly every service we use, it is not nearly as common in Spain. Depending where you are, how much you are spending, and how big of a group you are with, the protocol for tipping varies. Know you are never expected to tip the typical 20% like in the US. Always use good judgment when making the decision to leave a tip so that you don’t get taken advantage of, and also so you do not offend someone that has helped you. If you do decide to tip, a few euros is adequate for servers, and some change for drivers and bellmen. Tipping is not expected the same way it is in the US, but if you feel that someone has done a particularly good job serving you, leaving a tip is polite.

Typical Food and Dining in Spain

The fact that the waiters and waitresses do not rely only on tips to make money, and because of the relaxed attitude towards time, service tends to be a little slower and meals naturally take longer. In the US, when the server notices that you are finished with your meal, they quickly clear the table and bring the check. In Spain, you must request the check or you will be waiting for quite some time.

Not only should you expect meals to take more time, you should also expect the timing of the meals to be different. If you show up for dinner around 6pm, the restaurants might not even be open, and if they are, they won’t be busy. For American’s, breakfast is typically anytime between 7-9am, lunch around noon, and dinner between 5-8pm, depending on your daily schedule. In Spain, breakfast happens around the same time but is much smaller, usually consisting of a café con leche and pan con tomate and some olive oil. Lunch is one of the biggest meals and can last several hours typically starting at 2 or 3. Dinner also starts much later, around 9:30. If you enjoy nightlife, expect the clubs to start getting busy around 1:30. If you arrive at 10pm, most people will still be having dinner.

The food in Spain is quite unique compared to the food we are used to in the US. Each region has their own specialty, but some frequent dishes include patatas bravas, Spanish tortilla, croquettes, paella, ham, olives, and olive oil. You will also notice that the size of the portions tends to be smaller then what we are used to in the U.S.

If you would like to read more about different foods in Europe, check out this blog!

Average Cost of Living

As you probably knew, Spain’s currency is Euros (€) like the rest of Europe, however the cost of living is quite low. According to Numbeo.com, the cost of living is an average of 22.9% lower than in the United States and rent is an average of 49.16% lower than in the United States. At a typical restaurant, the price for a meal is around 12€, and for a three course meal the average price is 25€.

A typical trip to the grocery store including milk, eggs, cheese, fruit, chicken, vegetables, beer and wine, bread, toilet paper, and a few personal care products is around 45€. Not bad when you’re used to paying much more in the US!

These a just a few of the many cultural differences that you will notice when arriving in Spain. Although it takes time to adjust, they will become more natural with time and you might even find yourself continuing them when you return to the US!

If you want some more tips about studying abroad, check out this blog!




The Abroad Perspective presents… Different Food Traditions in Spain

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Moving to a new country can be shocking at first. When comparing cultural differences between the United States and Spain, certain ideas come to mind more readily than others. One topic in particular that stands out significantly being the food industry and traditions surrounding food and culture. Let’s start by talking about the service industry. When I first arrived in Madrid, I wasn’t aware that tipping wasn’t a common practice among Spaniards. In the United States tipping is an ingrained habit, so when I paid the bill after my meal it came second nature to me to leave an extra euro or two for the server. A few of my friends who were already adjusted to this custom looked at me with confusion as they asked me what I was doing. As rude and odd as it may seem, tipping simply isn’t a part of the culture in Madrid or anywhere in Spain. It is something you will eventually come to terms with and begin to understand once you experience the service industry at first hand. Often times you must wave down servers to order a new drink even if your glass has been empty for a long duration of time and you may even have to get up out of your seat to ask for service. I have learned that you can’t be mad if you aren’t getting the service that you are used to. After all, servers are not working for tips.

What’s so fabulous about ordering drinks in Spain is that every time you order a new one, your server will bring you more tapas. “Now what are tapas?” you ask. Tapas are snacks or small plates that originate in Spain. There are many different kinds of tapas throughout the country and can vary greatly between a plate piled high in olives or chips to a large dish consisting of sandwiches or patatas. I’m sure that you will eventually find your favorite go-to restaurant based on your tapas of preference, mine being La Escalera (which is right off of the Iglesia metro stop, in case you were wondering). This restaurant, like many others that you will find in Madrid, brings you a variety of marvelous tapas. If you are trying to save money, you will quickly develop a deep appreciation of only spending a couple of euros on a drink, while also receiving free food. This is just one of the many perks of Spain!


In addition to other food traditions, the time that Spaniards eat their meals is exceptionally out of the ordinary. The conundrum of esoteric pertaining to when you are supposed to eat in Spain can be tricky to figure out at first.

If breakfast is your favorite meal, I have some bad news for you. In Spain, breakfast is not a meal in which you consume a lot of food. In fact, most Spaniards skip breakfast altogether. Shocking, right? Spaniards typically eat breakfast between 7 to 9 A.M. You will not be able to find omelettes, pancakes, Belgian waffles or French toast anywhere. Traditional breakfast foods in Spain consist of breakfast crackers, small muffins, croissants or a slice or two of toast. Your best bet in finding a restaurant in means of eating breakfast is to go to a pastry shop. You can find these shops just about anywhere in Madrid. Pastries are very cheap and generally you can sit and enjoy a small cup of coffee to accompany your food.

Lunchtime is between 2 to 4 P.M. and is widely popular. This meal is 110% the most important meal of the day and I would even go as far to say that lunch could even be considered sacred among all citizens of Spain. You will most likely be shocked to learn that businesses shut down during lunch hours. Restaurants become busy around 2 P.M. and I can promise you that they will stay busy until at least 4:30 P.M. This is a common time that many friends and families get together to socialize.

What’s left to talk about is dinner. It is difficult to find a restaurant that serves dinner anytime before 8 or 8:30 P.M. as the typical time to eat dinner is between 9 and 10:30 P.M. Sounds late, huh? At first it will seem peculiar but it will get easier as time moves onward. Depending on where you go you can receive a decently sized portion, but you need to remember that dinner is not the main meal of the day so it will be lighter than your lunch.

Life in Spain definitely takes some getting used to, but in good time you will become accustomed to this new way of life and hopefully, like me, this schedule will even make more sense to you when comparing it to your culture back at home. Spain is a wonderful place composed of a culture unlike anywhere else in the world and you will never want to leave. You need to be open to the cultural differences and absorb all that you can during your stay here, because once you leave you will miss all of the quaintness that Spain had provided you.

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