Cultural Adjustments since Moving to Spain

Obviously moving abroad is a huge life change. I did it once before when I briefly lived in Cartagena, Colombia. I was not prepared for the intense culture shock and how it would wreak havoc on my anxiety. Fast forward 3 years, and intense amount of psychological development – I was much more prepared and ready for this move. I had visited Spain several times. I knew a bit of the language. But there were still some things I had to adjust to. Here are 10 surprising adjustments I’ve made and things I’ve learned since moving to Spain (and random pictures of my city):



  1. Meal timesThis one is probably the one thing that drives me the most crazy. I am really picky about when I eat. I prefer to eat earlier in the evening so that by the time I go to bed, I’m not feeling too full. Well – tough shit over here in Spain. They love to eat at 9 on weekdays and 10-11 on weekends. I try to be in bed by ten so eating at nine can be a real chore. It’s mostly an inconvenience when it involves restaurant. Obviously, if I’m cooking for myself, it’s not such a pain.
  2. Coffee – This is one that I never noticed before since I only fairly recently became such a coffee addict. The coffee here is unacceptably strong for me. All coffee is essentially espresso which I can’t handle. Despite the fact that we have a Starbucks with American Style filtered coffee on the menu – they never actually brew it since almost nobody buys it. My coworkers yell at me for the expense of going to Starbucks relatively recently but let me get one thing straight – I need a large coffee to get through some school days. Not a shot of espresso.IMG_0695
  3. Volume – everyone here talks so loudly. It’s also totally acceptable to make a lot of noise at any time of the day or night. Last weekend, I was in Valencia and did not consider that March is the time for Las Fallas, a festival which involves a daily firework extravaganza. These aren’t your typical fireworks. They are extremely loud. All night. It felt like I was in a war. Thank goodness someone warned me or I would have been seriously concerned. All that being said, my sister now notices how much louder I talk than I used to.IMG_0915
  4. Festivals – Festivals and holidays obviously happen everywhere. Something that is a little different is that every city or region might have some specific festivals that are only celebrated there. For example, Zaragoza has the 5 day Festival or Pilar in October. We have five days off and people come from all over Aragon to celebrate. In Valencia, they have Las Fallas in March. The festivals are also extremely traditional and often involve extremely old customs, dress or music. I love that each part of Spain can show its distinct culture.IMG_0823
  5. Service (sometimes) – there are times when service is comparable to America, especially in tourists cities and towns. However, generally speaking service is slow. For the most part, this doesn’t actually bother me unless I really need something. I just feel awkward having to call out for someone when I need a refill of wine.
  6. The Work Ethic – There is somewhat of a stereotype that the Spanish are lazy. Maybe it’s their long, leisurely lunch. They aren’t. People in Spain are extremely hard workers. Although there are many public holidays, in general, people don’t take off work for personal time. I guess it’s possible that they are just generally healthier than we are but most of my coworkers haven’t missed so much as one day of work for being sick. They also work long hours. I can say that I think this stereotype is completely false.IMG_1314
  7. Cost of Living – When I was growing up, I just remember everyone saying that “Europe is expensive.” Guess what? It isn’t. I make significantly less money than I did in the states and I live very comfortably here. My rent is about half of what it would be in Buffalo (admittedly a very cheap city). Health care is free for anyone with a green card. The only other monthly expense I have is a 20 Euro mobile phone bill which comes with literally unlimited data. Not only that – but generally speaking, traveling around Spain is also extremely reasonably priced. Recently, a friend visited from the States and stayed in the most centrally located hotel in my city. It was 60 Euro a night! What people should actually say is “getting to europe is expensive.” The flight is the over will be the most expensive part.IMG_0863
  8. Being taxed as a student – I’ve been a student for a total of five years in the states (3 undergrad and 2 graduate school years). However, when I found out we were taxed 4% here – you could have knocked me over with a feather. It’s incredible. Considering this tax covers my public health insurance as well as all other taxes – it’s probably the most eye opening thing that I’ve learned since moving. So much for Europe having cripplingly high taxes.  
  9. Seemingly endless protests – Since moving to Spain, I have lived through the Barcelona illegal election. I’m not going to get into it but what I will say is that I was in the capital city, Madrid, that week for work. I kept coming upon protests, assuming they were in response (either pro or con Catalunya’s independence) and was extremely surprised to not find any. Instead I found several protests about Venezuela, Rights for Pensioners, Students protesting taxes, several countries in Africa, and the Women’s Right to Choose. This was over four days. Spaniards love their right to assemble and peacefully protest and they sure do exercise it.IMG_1354
  10. Using the bus – When an American hears about taking the bus – there’s a certain torrid image that comes to mind of a filthy bus and perhaps unsavory people. Here – the buses (both intra and intercity) are fantastic. I never have problems with jumping on a city bus and they are reasonably priced once you get a card (.74 Euros a ride). I’ve been on many intercity trips and only used the train twice. It’s significantly more expensive and honestly not that much more comfortable. I can’t argue that the bus takes longer but there’s free wifi and sometimes you can get a comfort bus which genuinely is comfortable. I will admit – they often are smelly – but once you get over it they are a relatively pleasant way to see more of Spain.


Every day I’m so happy to be over here working towards the permanent Expat lifestyle. Although this is a list of only 10 it could have been 50. While all have been surprising, none have been too difficult to culturally adjust to. Which cultural gap have you had to span when moving?


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