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My Spanish Culture Observations
Another trip to Europe made me note my observations of Spanish culture and custom differences to the United States. I found the changes fascinating. I always think that the small differences, while sometimes being irritating at the time, add to the charm of the city I visit. In Spain I visited Barcelona, Seville, Madrid and Toledo. It gave me a good overview of the culture differences between the various regions of the country.
Most people in Spain have a very different schedule than us in the United States. Here we tend to get up around 6:30am in the morning and go to sleep around 10:00pm at night. In Spain they get up later in the day. We couldn’t even find milk or coffee in the morning until after 9am. The streets are deserted except for a few workers heading off to their jobs.
At 2:00 in the afternoon until 5 or 6pm, the streets once again become barren. The entire city takes a “siesta” while they eat their large lunch and rest during the hottest part of the day. Only a few shops stay open for the tourist trade.
The stores then open at 6 and stay open until around 9. The people would stay out until all hours of the evening and head off to bed around 2 or 3am.
No matter how we tried, we never got used to the schedule. This was the hardest part of visiting Spain.
I found the eating times in Spain to be very interesting. You could find a very light breakfast of a croissant or pastry with juice or coffee around 9am. We actually saw some Spaniards having green olives for breakfast – Imagine that! Usually Spaniards would eat an omelette, tostada with olive oil or manteca (pork lard), or toast with crushed tomato (very strange to me!) Churros con chocolate – long, deep-fried doughnuts dipped in hot chocolate were available everyone for breakfast or desert. Although the omelette could be seen at the early breakfast, we would normally see eggs at other times of the day. It seemed like they put eggs on everything – French fries, potatoes, and even pizza. For breakfast we always had hot chocolate which was a very, very thick chocolate that was delicious. My parents had the coffee which is very strong so they had to add a lot of milk. The locals would sometimes have another breakfast around 11am, something light to tide them over until lunch.
Lunch is eaten between 1:30 to 4pm. It consisted of several courses, including a soup, followed by meat or fish with vegetables or a rice dish or bean stew, and a light desert. To me, this seemed more like the American dinner. Everything seemed to be cooked in olive oil and asking for butter for your bread was a major request. The food was simple fare based on fresh ingredients with a dash of herbs and spices.
Around 7pm many of the locals (and especially Americans) will eat tapas at a bar or café. Tapas are saucer-sized mini-snacks which include olives, slices of cured meats or cheese, potato salad, diced salad, potato omelet, bit-sized portions of fried fish, meat or fish balls, chickpeas with spinach, slices of grilled steak, pork loin, prawns or small ham sandwiches.
After 9pm the larger restaurants open serving a large sit-down dinner. There you can order full dinner portions including salad, soup, meat or fish, stew or dessert. Here we found some very interesting fish choices such as mussels, scallops, octopus, tripe, salted cod and spider crabs and meat dishes such as ham (a LOT of dishes made with pork), pheasant, duck and bull . You can also try paella, a dish with olive oil, rice stock, saffron and various choices of meat fish, seafood and vegetables. You need to wait 20 minutes for this dish to arrive at the table. Dessert is not a common part of the meal, but we managed to find the local egg custard dish and gelato.
Bottled water was offered at every meal. Milk was served warm and not to my liking. We opted mostly for soda drinks, water or hot chocolate throughout the day.
If you are looking for regional products, you can find a wide array of things to buy to remember your trip to Spain. They are known for their blood sausage, olives and olive oil, and cherries. You can also find some filigree metalwork from Toledo or ceramic tiles from the Andalusia region. Lace, Spanish guitars, fans, clogs and flamenco shoes are found everywhere. You can shop in the many shops during their opened hours. There are flea markets where you can barter with the vendors, but otherwise the prices listed are the prices at which items are sold.
There are vast collections of museums, churches, synagogues, mosques, and architectural marvels throughout Spain. I was able to see some of the world’s most famous artwork, including Spanish artists such as El Greco, Goya, Murillo, Gaudi and Ribera. We noticed that the Spaniards treat their artists like heros, especially Gaudi in Barcelona. We were also able to travel back in history to numerous places of significance, including the Palacio Real in Madrid, Toledo’s ancient, winding streets and the Sagrada Familia church which has been being worked on since 1883, begun by Gaudi. The difference between Spain and America is that the history spans MUCH further back, thousands of years. We thought for a quick second about watching a bull fight, but the heat of the summer canceled all fights. The bullfight is a sacrificial ritual in which men pit themselves against an animal bred for the ring. Secretly I was glad it was not available as it seemed a little cruel to me. Instead we were entertained with many street entertainers who dressed up as statues and “came alive” for the price of a small tip in their jar. There were some very creative entertainers. We also saw some flamenco dancing which was extremely dramatic compared to dance shows I’ve seen in the United States. The women never seemed to smile and their feet moved like the wind.
Unless you are a tourist, the average person in Spain is pretty well dressed. Keep in mind that the temperature was about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Except for a few teenagers wearing tee-shirts and shorts, most men were wearing collared shirts and slacks (no jeans.) Women typically wore skirts with a nice blouse or a dress. No one wore tennis shoes, just sandals or nice leather shoes. This is very different than America wear sometimes you’ll even find shorts and tennis shoes worn in churches.
We were expecting some difficulty in communicating with the Spanish people. Luckily, we found about 70 percent spoke pretty good English. Even when they didn’t speak English, they tried very hard to communicate with us with our limited Spanish. They were very friendly and didn’t mind that we had trouble with the language.
The Buildings in Madrid, Toledo and Seville in the historical district are very close together. They were built during the times when they didn’t have to worry about two-way traffic or even enough room for one car. We walked through the cobble-stone streets where you could see no further than 5 buildings down because of the winding nature of the streets. The buildings were about 3 stories tall on average so you couldn’t see the horizon or figure out where you were most of the time. It helped us get lost in the history and ambiance of the area.
My trip to Spain was full of fun, education and trying new things. Watching the people and their differences was one of the best parts of being in Spain. Hopefully this article helped shed some light on some of the things that make Spain unique and special.