Yes, Spain and the United States are somewhat different. OK, a lot different. Hopefully by the end of this post you will be able to decide for yourself which place would be the ideal place to live! Both places are unique in their own ways and there definitely are some culture clashes … just ask my host mom. I quickly found out certain things are much different here in Alicante, but I’ve been able to adapt to most of them. My list seems to be ever growing for this battle between cultures and if you would like any further clarification or more detailed stories, don’t hesitate to ask. Here we go …
1. The first difference and foremost difference I was aware of upon arriving on Calle de Foglietti in Alicante with my host family was the re-recognition of pronunciation, more specifically between the letter “z” and “s.” Authentic spaniards virtually have no ability to pronounce the letter “z” with a definite buzz, like the sound a bee makes. Therefore, my host mom and sister seemed like they were on a Saturday Night Live skit for the first month, and they covered up little chuckles after telling “Sak” that dinner was ready. Fortunately, many people in Spain are bilingual and can get a normal sounding “Zak” out, just not my family yet … I’m trying.
2. Secondly, for everyone who absolutely loves to nap, Spain is the place to be. Siestas are integrated into daily life to the point where many city stores close and then again reopen around 5 p.m. Wondering why no one is out and about in a metropolitan area in the middle of the day? Oh yeah, siesta. My host mom and sister always come home in the middle of the day to eat and then relax/sleep for a little while. I have never been a big napper, but hopefully this grows on me (see point #4).
3. Lunch and dinner are eaten extremely late in Spain. The typical lunch time is right around 2-3 p.m. and dinner floats around 9 p.m. This was one of the hardest things to get used to abroad because I am used to eating lunch at noon or 1 p.m. and dinner around 6 p.m. I am not sure exactly why they eat so late — it just is what it is!
4. Next, if you thought staying out real late on the weekends was around 4 in the morning … guess again. In Spain, nightlife is one of the highlights of things to do. Bars and restaurants are open earlier on in the night but discotecas or clubs do not even open until 3 a.m. So right when you are thinking about calling it quits for the night in the states, places are just opening in Spain. It is typical for people to get home around 7 a.m. more or less. My host sister’s boyfriend was saying how when he was younger, he hardly slept every weekend and was just out hanging out with friends. This is a hard thing to adapt to for sure, and probably the main explanation for siestas!
5. Fashionistas. In Spain everyone you see is very well dressed, and there is a pretty good fashion statement. People like to dress in neutral colors and look good before they go for a stroll around town. Also, people usually only wear tennis shoes when they are going for a run, to workout or do something outside.
6. In España, conservation is a very important topic, which has drawn interest to me since I am enthusiastic about environmental topics. The main reason for this is because electricity and water are very expensive resources and utilities. I reckon water is highly priced because southern Spain is a very dry region, and desalination from the sea is to my understanding has a rather steep price. Moral of the story is to keep lights off when you’re not using them and take quick showers (like 5 minutes max!). Also, many Spaniards do not have dryers because it racks up the bill, and it’s more common to air dry everything outside or in the bathroom. I am lucky that my host mom has one, but we don’t use it much. If you are someone who likes the feeling of ‘shrinking’ back into your jeans, I advise you to buy them a tad small in the first place here.
7. Similar to conservation is the idea of public transportation and walkable cities. This is somewhat new to me since I haven’t lived in the heart of a city before, but Alicante has everything in close proximity. You can find a Farmacía, market, café, restaurant, bank and cell phone store on pretty much every block. Many people ride buses and the train to school and work as well. The price of gas is rather high, and people in Spain drive recklessly so I wouldn’t want a car here anyways!
8. Trying to quit smoking? Don’t come to Spain or Europe for that matter. Almost everyone smokes here, so it would be that much harder to burn out that habit! Also, the drinking age is 18, but people don’t abuse it as much as I feel college students in the states do. It is rather common to just have one beer with lunch or dinner in Spain or some Sangria.
9. Olive oil is a huge industry, so it’s heavily used. Spain provides about 25% of the world’s olive oil and 50% of Europe’s. In my cooking class, Antonio (the chef instructor) comes around to our respective stations and I usually predict his words …”más aciete, más aciete” or add more olive oil! One common brunch snack or lunch entrée is toasted bread with olive oil and shaved tomato on the top.
10. Further in the food category is related to what all of us college kids survive on, coffee. The size of coffee is completely opposite of your average Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, but rather very small cups and almost shot size. This is because there is a lot of espresso and the coffee is much stronger here. Another thing that doesn’t exist is ice coffee and refrigerated milk at the supermarket. Mercadona or the market stores have cartons of milk just sitting at luke-warm temperature on the shelves! I have yet to see chocolate milk too (besides Nesquick).
11. Jamón. Jamón. Jamón. More jamón. Let me just say that right now in my kitchen my host mom has the whole thigh of a pig, hoof included, just sitting under towels ready for some jamón to be shaved off and eaten. Ham is very popular especially on bocadillos (sandwiches) in Spain, but also on chips. Of course there are jamón flavored Ruffles!
12. Tapas are also a big difference, and most comparable to appetizers in the states. When at a restaurant or bar you can order a beer/drink and pay a little extra for a small plate of food, but if you’re lucky it will be gratis or free. Some popular tapas are potatoes with meat, ham and mantiditos (little sandwiches), and the best I have had to date were in Granada! Going from bar to bar can definitely be a substitute for dinner on some nights.
13. The concept of tipping when eating out is much different. In the states waiters, make a very low wage and bank on getting awesome tips, making service and the quality of it very important. In Spain, waiters make a higher-based salary, which makes for not the greatest service, and for this, a very little to no tip is usually left at the end of the meal. My one friend left about a 20% tip out to eat once and the waitress came running out to tell her she left money on the table!
14. Sundays in both the states and Spain are a day to relax, go to church, be with family and maybe go out to eat. The only difference in Spain is that literally nothing is open in the whole city besides some restaurants. Unless it is a really nice day, Alicante on Sundays feels like a ghost town!
15. Next, whereas it is common to invite company over to your house for some movies, a poker night or to just hangout in the states, people in Spain do not socialize in the house. The only people who really visit my apartment are my host sister’s boyfriend, and socializing normally takes place at local cafés, plazas or out on the town.
16. Lastly, since fast food is popular in the states, I thought I would mention that Alicante has McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and Subway! I can’t tell you how they taste differently because I am making a pact with myself to eat no fast food while I’m here. However, one thing I could say is that the bigger chains have more elaborate design to them, have very large eating spaces and seem to be a hangout spot for younger kids!
Phew, you made it through the Sweet 16. Now is your chance to leave comments about what place you think would be better to live!
Sak (man am I really embracing this name, which could be a bad thing…)