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Adjusting to the Spanish Lifestyle and Culture

Tips and stories about Spanish lifestyle and culture

It was a blisteringly hot Saturday morning in Madrid as I stepped off of the Boeing 747 departed from Edinburgh, and onto the airport tarmac. Dressed in Uniqlo sweatpants and a short-sleeved t-shirt underneath a hooded sweatshirt, an appropriate climate for the brisk Scotland, I immediately felt the Spanish sun belt down gamma waves onto my body, and realized it was going to be a long train ride to Seville. I approached the taxi station at the airport. A laid back, and quite frankly, bored, employee hailed me a car big enough to fit my luggage, and I was transported to the train station. After purchasing my ticket to Seville via Huelva, I took a seat, and plugged into my Spotify playlist and waited. I had an hour to kill, after all.

I was only half sure of what to expect from my new country of residence. I had visited once before, when I was around 14 years old, though memories of that family holiday escaped me. The train was fashionably late, arriving around 25 minutes behind schedule. I was not sure whether to attribute this lateness to the laid-back Spanish lifestyle, or simple delays in the running of daily operations, which regardless of the country, happen at some point. I carried two large suitcases, and lifting them onto the train proved to be a challenge. However, much to my gratitude, a man already seated in the train car, left his seat to assist me. He was no employee of the station, nor of the train operators, just a stranger who decided to show me kindness. That immediately left an impression on me, and I have continued to notice the following about the culture of Spain: it is a culture of respect and compassion. People help out each other. They talk to strangers. They get to know their neighbours. It was a welcome change to the “mind one’s own business” lifestyle I had become accustomed to. I took my seat in the train car, with a wave of happiness flooding my conscience, and embarked on the journey to Seville.

Perhaps the most difficult task for me was to adjust to the time difference. No, not the change of time zone, which was only an hour from the U.K. I was having to adjust to the cultural traditions of the times in which the day unfolds. For example, I was used to eating lunch at around 12:00 or 13:00 and dinner around 18:00 or 19:00. However, in Spain, most people eat lunch at 15:00 or 16:00 and dinner around 20:00 to as late as 22:00. This threw off my internal biological schedule, and I found myself starving around the middle of the afternoon, begging for a meal. However, around this time, most restaurants closed for a midday break, leaving me with very little options. I was able to adjust in about a week, but it is certainly worth mentioning if you like to have very scheduled meals. It is important to mention that is not always the case for every person and restaurant, but for the vast majority it is.

Lastly, I was slightly floored by the fact that most business in Spain operate on a 6-day schedule. Because Spain is a majority Catholic country, on Sundays most businesses (including grocers) close for the entire day. I did not realize this upon my arrival, and therefore was not able to buy myself groceries the first day I moved in to my flat. Therefore, it is important to keep this in mind when planning meals for yourself, so you are not caused any problems, and research which businesses are open or closed on Sundays.

Adjusting to the different lifestyle culture present in Spain can be a challenge for some, or it can come naturally. My advice for those who are studying abroad in Spain, especially for those looking to gain cultural knowledge and have an unforgettable experience, is to adapt and adjust one’s personal lifestyle to adapt the differences and accept them. It is my belief that this will provide a more holistic experience, and a more enjoyable one!