Aside from the obvious language barrier, there have been many things that have thrown me off. For starters people here are much more blunt and to the point. Some may take this as being rude, and in the United States it certainly would be considered rude, but to them it’s just their way of life. Personal space is also not even a thought for them. The Spainards go out almost every night knowing they have to get up early and work the next morning. The last thing that was difficult and still to this day is hard to get used to is the small breakfast portions.
If people acted the way they do here in the United States, they would be considered a jerk who has no filter. On the metro as soon as you walk in the station, people eye you up like you’re a fresh snack. People want to know why you are here and where you are from. At first I would keep walking minding my business, knowing people were staring but now I just stare back until they stop staring, I feel like one of them now!! They also just say what is on their mind no matter the context. At the dinner table the host mother calls her kids skinny if they don’t finish everything on their plate, and she won’t be afraid to take a jab at me if I have not finished my fourth serving of the night.
It seems as though the Spanish are very, very comfortable with their odors and the smell of their breath. When having a conversation, the men seem to straddle the women wherever they may be, in the park, metro, or just one the street. There have also been instances where I could have sworn a fight was about to break out because there were two men grabbing each other arm standing practically on top of each other and talking very animated. When the conversation ended the two men laughed and exited the train without any sense of hostility. When I begin a conversation with someone, I usually have a few feet in between us, because that’s what grew up with. However, here people approach you and touch you and don’t think anything of it. When I arrived I was hesitant to allow people to come close because I was scared of what they were going to do, but now I embrace the lack of space and just ensure I smell good!! Personal space is a thing of the imagination to those who live here.
Another part of the culture that has me exhausted is their love for going out on the town… every night. Each night we eat dinner around 8:45 and the host mother asks me without fail if I am going out tonight or not. I usually say that I am not and she looks at me with a face that says “That is very strange of you”. Monday-Thursday I have refrained from going out because of work the following day. The few times I have gone out on a weekday I see people heading out for bars and clubs at 1 and 2 in the morning acting like it’s the beginning of the weekend. I don’t understand how people function the following day after staying out so late. I would not be able to keep the same energy if I worked off of only 5 hours of sleep.
The last thing I am really having a tough time adjusting to is the breakfast sizes. Many of the people here have a biscuit and coffee for breakfast and that is it. I tried that recipe out one time before work and I thought I was going to starve to death. That breakfast is a very typical amount of food for the Madrid residents. I need three or four bowls of cereal to begin to feel full so I realized I needed to change something. I now eat yogurt, cereal, fruit, and a muffin; That amount of food allows me to be held over until lunch.
On the contrary, I love the not tipping culture of Spain. The sales taxes are also built into the prices so when you go to a restaurant and see a price on a menu, that is what you pay. There is not tip to factor in and they do not expect to receive one. When you do give a dollar or two extra they are very grateful to have your business.