There’s nothing more exciting than immersing yourself in a new culture. From exploring unfamiliar streets to sampling exotic cuisines, spending time in a different country is one of the most fulfilling experiences a student can have.
But sometimes, navigating new terrain can be socially tricky. While it’s important to have a basic awareness of the culture of the host country, sometimes small misunderstandings can turn into significant headaches. If you decide to study abroad in Spain, here are a few things you might want to avoid doing before embarking upon your Spanish study abroad adventure.
1. Not recognizing different Spanish dialects
If you’ve ever met someone from, for example, the U.K., whose accent and vernacular you found difficult to understand (even though they were technically speaking English), you know that sometimes a single language can have wild variations from region to region. If you speak the Spanish that is typically spoken in North America, do your best to avoid colloquialisms or slang when speaking to native Spanish people, just to ensure that there is no confusion.
2. Dressing too casually
Beachwear is only appropriate on actual beaches, and workout gear is only worn while actively working out. When you’re out and about in shops, restaurants or just taking a stroll, wear modest, well-tailored street attire. Style and appreciation of the official seasons are paramount in metropolitan Spanish cities; even if it’s an exceptionally warm early fall day, locals will still break out the pullovers and scarves. One of the ways the locals can easily spot a foreigner is by their baggy t-shirts and shorts. Even if you aren’t especially fashion conscious, as a general rule, it’s always practical to dress like a native, so you won’t be targeted by scam artists and pick pockets, particularly in crowded areas.
3. Expecting American-style service
In the U.S., sales people and waitstaff are extremely – sometimes aggressively – attentive. In Spain, the attitude is far more relaxed, and you’ll rarely be welcomed or immediately waited upon in a restaurant or store without alerting someone first. This isn’t rudeness, it’s simply what the locals appreciate and expect.
4. Expecting flexible or early mealtimes
Mealtimes are fairly rigid in Spain. This doesn’t mean that no one is allowed to eat except during designated meal hours (this is the home of tapas, after all), but the American sandwich-on-the-run tradition isn’t done in Spain. Lunch is a several course affair, sometimes including wine. It’s also eaten no earlier than 1 p.m., and more often between the hours of 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Dinner is often eaten as late as 10 p.m.
5. Not recognizing that Spanish and Mexican cuisines are entirely different
You’re just as likely to find familiar Mexican dishes in Spain as you are in France.
6. Believing that paella is all about seafood
Paella is considered, first and foremost, a rice dish. The other ingredients may vary wildly, and depend upon which foods are local to the region. You may find a paella cooked with rabbit, and you might find another one loaded with local vegetables.
7. Thinking that siestas mean everyone goes to sleep at the same time
While shops close between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone falls asleep during those hours. Traditionally, the largest, longest meal of the day is lunch, and it requires at least two hours to enjoy properly.
8. Believing that the relaxed drinking culture means it’s acceptable to get drunk
While Spain has more bars per capita than any country in Europe and the Spanish do sip a fair amount of wine and beer during the day, they drink at a moderate, leisurely pace. The fact that alcohol is enjoyed slowly, and typically along side a meal, means that public drunkenness is rare among the Spanish (the only people visibly drunk in bars are invariably tourists). Being obviously intoxicated is considered extremely uncouth.
9. Assuming Flamenco and bullfighting are the national past times
Rodeo events are popular in certain parts of the U.S., but you wouldn’t expect to see bull riding in Manhattan. Spain does have some regions where bullfighting and Flamenco are enthusiastically performed, and other regions where they are not. In fact, the sport of bullfighting is becoming increasingly divisive (there were attempts to ban it entirely in Barcelona). The official national sport is actually soccer.
10. Attempting to haggle everywhere
It’s true that many sellers in Spain are open to price negotiation (many even expect it). However, haggling is reserved for outdoor markets and some small shops. Don’t attempt to haggle at gas stations or major corporate retailers where the prices are inflexible.
ISEP offers numerous exceptional programs for students who wish to study abroad in Spain. As one of the world’s largest direct and exchange program providers, we have helped thousands of students enrich their education and broaden their worldview by facilitating their international educations. If you’re interested in learning how you can study abroad in Spain or in one of more than 50 host countries, please visit our search page to find the right program for you.
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