Weird things Spaniards do in life and how to best tackle Sevilla-induced culture shock.
Although I’m fairly well adjusted to Spanish culture now, it was not easy at first. While moving from Hawaii to California for college was one thing, moving to Spain for a semester was a whole different ball game. Factors like language, eating habits and even their day-to-day schedule were all elements that contributed to my initial culture shock. In this article, I want to address seven cultural elements that made it difficult to adjust to life in Spain listed by order of difficulty. Hopefully this can help ease others going abroad into the Spanish lifestyle or introduce you to what life in Sevilla was really like.
This was by far the most difficult aspect of Spanish culture for me to adapt to. In fact, to this day, my stomach hates me both before lunch when I’m starving and after lunch when I’ve gorged myself.
Obviously I knew they spoke Spanish here, but I didn’t realize that because Sevilla is a smaller city, a lot of people don’t know any English. That’s right...nada. This posed to be a problem for me being that I didn’t know any Spanish before this semester. While my combination of “sign language” and broken Spanish has been sufficient, I'd definitely recommend learning a few key phrases or at least beginner Spanish before coming to Sevilla.
Siesta & Sundays
Before going away, everyone would say, “Are you ready for siestas?” as if a midday nap were the only thing siesta entailed. These people failed to mention that during siesta, everything in smaller cities shuts down between the hours of 2 and 5pm. People also fail to mention that in these same small cities and sometimes even in some larger ones, everything also shuts down on Sunday. You can imagine my surprise when I walked to get food my first siesta or Sunday and thought the apocalypse had happened. Learn from me. Buy groceries on Saturday and save your homework for Sunday.
I have never walked more in my life compared to the walking I’ve done in Sevilla. To put this into perspective, now a 25 minute walk sounds “short” to me. Every day students in Sevilla walk 20-35 minutes to get to class. We then walk home, to dinner, to the grocery store, to shop, to meet friends...everything! It's a great way to work exercise into your daily routine. Just make sure to give yourself enough commute time and comfortable shoes!
While you might know that tipping isn’t customary in Europe (being that waiters earn actual living wages and don’t solely rely on tips as their source of income), this also means that they don’t care what you think of their service. They’ll give you your napkin when they feel like giving you your napkin. All this to say, the customer service in restaurants, bars, stores, etc. is non-existent, so be patient and be ready for a slight customer service gap.
In the beginning of the semester, we used to get annoyed when a website told us a cafe was open only to walk 20 minutes and find out it was actually closed. In America we’re so used to websites being accurate and updated. In Sevilla, places will open and close when they feel like opening and closing. Your best option in combatting this problem is to call and ask for the hours that day.
The dining in Spain is very customer-driven, meaning that if you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it. They also use meal time to socialize and relax, so oftentimes restaurants don’t have a “take away” option, encouraging you to adapt to their culture and SIT DOWN. Further, this means that meals usually take hours and waiters won’t push you out the door like they do in American restaurants. This is actually one of the nice things about Sevilla, however, it still took some getting used to.
Overall, Sevilla is a great place to study abroad. While the culture was shocking at first, Sevilla is one of the most "Spanish" of the bigger cities in Spain. Here, you'll really get immersed into the culture and begin to understand why the Spaniards are how they are. Not only will their way of living open your eyes and expand your worldview, but it will also help you appreciate the little things you might have taken for granted at home. I hope this list will help to ease your culture shock or at least give you more knowledge on the Spanish way to living.