Spanish Culture Do’s and Don’ts

Is culture shock real? Junior Alex Jackson explores cultural differences between Spain and the United States, and shares her tips on how to navigate the culture.

There were many cultural norms in Spain that were different in the United States. First, the concept of personal space. In the United States, unless you know someone very well you tend to keep your distance when meeting someone or even just in public spaces. When standing in crowds, you try not to stand too close unless it is absolutely necessary to be on top of each other. Even in a crammed train or bus I am still on the lookout to make sure no one is trying to take my things or read over my shoulder. In Spain the concept of personal space seems almost non-existent. On the metro, there would be plenty of seats open but people would hop on and sit right next to you! This took some getting used to because I did not understand why out of all the seats you would pick mine. This was also alarming because we were warned of getting pick pocketed and I did not want people too close to me who I was not familiar with. Another cultural norm I learned from riding the metro everywhere is that staring was completely normal. I do not know if this is because I was American or if it was just normal for people to stare and talk about someone so blatantly. I do think that some of this probably came from people thinking I did not know how to speak Spanish.

Secondly, there was a lot of public displays of affection. People would hold hands, kiss, and even sit on each others laps in public. People were very touchy with each other, especially those close to my age. When I asked someone why that was, they said  that there is a lot of public affection because young adults tend to live at home until they finish university. This meant that they did not have the same freedoms that we have in college here. Many of us move away from home, get our own apartments, and pay our own bills. There is a big family aspect in Spain and because young adults cannot freely bring their significant other in their house they show a lot of affection in public.

The last difference between American culture and Spanish culture was the fashion. For one, there is no sales tax on clothes, so the price you see on the tag is the price you pay. Also, being in Europe clothes were much cheaper! Being closer to the manufacturers even designer goods were cheaper to buy in Spain. Everyone in Spain seemed to be trendier than those in the United States, including the kids. There were mainstream stores like Zara and H&M but there were also huge discount stores like Primark where you could find anything you wanted, at good quality for a low price. I noticed the difference in fashion because when I went to work, everyone dressed trendy and not necessarily business professional. This gave me a great excuse to go shopping for new, trendy clothes!

The biggest takeaway from living in Spain was that, for me, there was not much of a cultural difference to the United States. It was easy to adjust when it came to personal space and staring, but other than that it was not a huge adjustment. The best advice I received before traveling to Spain, was do not act like a tourist. This is the best advice, act like you belong there and people will not bother you, or single you out!

Alexandria Jackson

Alexandria Jackson is currently a sophomore in the Fisher College of Business. She specializes in Marketing and International Business. During May of 2016 she participated in the Freshman Global Lab offered through the Fisher College of business. Alexandria has previously traveled around the United Sates and to the countries of Canada, India, Colombia, and South Africa.