The decision is made. You’re coming to Spain. Very good choice. A more wonderful destination is hard to find. Great people. Great weather. Beaches. Mountains. Fabulous cities. Historical heritage. Below, some things to know before coming to Spain and a few tips on what to expect:
- Time moves differently here, and the sooner you adjust, the better. Just how differently? Take when people say good morning, good afternoon, and good evening. Good morning is said until around lunchtime, that is 2:30 or 3:00 pm. Good afternoon until what is (for us) pretty far into the evening, say 9:00 pm. After that, it’s good evening deep into the night. So if someone says “I’ll call you in the morning,” don’t sweat if it’s 1:30 pm and they still haven’t called. They will.
- Lunch – beginning sometime after 2:00 pm usually – is a very relaxed affair. If you’re invited to someone’s home for lunch on the weekend, don’t make evening plans as you probably won’t be home much before 9:00 or 10:00 pm. Spaniards are artists with what is called the sobremesa, that is, sitting around the table, talking, arguing, laughing, drinking more wine, maybe eating a bit more, long into the afternoon and evening. Delicious.
- Spaniards struggle with English like we struggle with Spanish. And the level of English, in general, is still not what it should be. So learn some basic Spanish before you come. And get yourself into Spanish classes the moment you land. You will always be an outsider if you can’t speak the language. Once you can carry on even a basic conversation, a whole new world opens up for you.
- People here want to know who you are, not what you do. They care much more about your interest in books, films, travel than how you earn a living. It’s very liberating to not immediately be labeled and categorized. You’re free to just be you.
- Spaniards are very knowledgeable on politics, both domestic and international, and love to discuss world issues. Know your facts. And if anyone except Obama is president, expect to be asked many questions about the (impossible to understand) American psyche.
- While Spaniards are generally very open and friendly, expect to meet some people who don’t like the United States and/or Americans. Often these people have never stepped foot in the country. Just accept it graciously and move on. And remember, you are an ambassador for the U.S. here, so act right.
- Spaniards are very involved in each other’s lives. And they share lots of information. Example: When invited out, a response of “I can’t” or “I already have plans” is not acceptable. Be prepared to explain why you can’t or what your other plans are. In detail. At first, it can feel invasive, but you’ll get used to it.
- In pre-COVID days, there was a lot of kissing. One on each cheek. Always starting to your left. With friends, or friends of friends, or friends of friends of friends. Endless kissing of strangers. Before it bothered me; now I miss it. We’ll see when this custom comes back, if ever. For now, an elbow touch works.
- Even if you speak some Spanish (or have a decent level), people will try to speak English with you. DO NOT LET THEM. A big part of your experience here is to learn Spanish, communicate in Spanish, live the Spanish lifestyle. If they want to speak English, let them go to the UK or the US. In Spain, we speak Spanish.
- Don’t be surprised when you fall in love with the country and never want to go home. I came for one year. It’s been 19. Just saying.
Get familiar with more things before coming to Spain, read the next article: Spanish customs that might surprise or confuse you.