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How to survive (and thrive) in Spanish culture - an expats perspective

How to survive (and thrive) in Spanish culture - an expats perspective

November 2019 · 6 min read · Spain

As I mentioned in a previous post, my wife and I are from New Zealand and 2 years ago took the plunge and moved to Spain for the big OE. Being from New Zealand we noticed many cultural differences, and some were hard to adapt to at first. However, a big part of the fun of traveling is learning and experiencing new cultures. Today I thought I would share our experiences and observations, as they could help others who are thinking about making the move to Spain.

Seville - Spain
Seville - Spain

Daily schedule

One of the first things we noticed when we moved to Spain was how different the daily schedule was to New Zealand (and places like Australia and England) where people live the 9 - 5 life. People in Spain (especially in smaller towns) start work around 9am and usually work until 2pm when most things close for lunch, and dont open up until 5pm again. I remember the day we arrived and going out in the afternoon only to find no one around - I thought it was a ghost town!

Some things close for the day at 2pm (banks etc), while others close from 2 til 5 and then open up again until around 8. So if you want thing done, then its better to do them in the morning. I can still remember how strange I found it that I could go to the mechanic at 7 o'clock at night!

Park Guel - Barcelona
Park Guel - Barcelona

Where we lived the only places open between 2 and 5 were restaurants and cafes (which were very busy!) and the supermarket (which was very quiete).

Because people finish work at 8 this is when they go out and socialise, and it is interesting to find people out with their friends and family (with young children) often out until 11pm even on weeknights - this would never happen in New Zealand! This is a time to go out with friends and share some drinks and tapas.

Supermarkets in Spain are mostly closed on Sunday aswell, so if you are planning a Sunday roast make sure you purchase it on Saturday!

Alhambra  - Grenada
Alhambra - Grenada

Spanish people are know for having later a later dinner, and often dont have dinner till well past 10pm! If you go out for a meal then dont expect a full meal between about 5 and 9pm. We made this mistake a few times - taking friends out for dinner at about 6pm only to be told the kitchen was closed - to late for lunch and to early for dinner.

Food culture

I have mentioned above a little bit about the Spanish food culture in terms of when they eat, but also how Spanish people eat is different to what I knew. Spanish people really enjoy food, but the majority of people will eat while sitting down and take their time with their food. The main meal of the day is lunch and it is generally with the family and a sit down meal, followed by desert and coffee. On the weekend if you go for lunch with a Spanish person it can last for hours!

I learnt early on that eating on the streets is viewed as a bit odd. I can remember eating a banana while walking into town and getting all sorts of odd looks!

Churros and chocolate!
Churros and chocolate!

Ahh the glorious tapas! Tapas are a huge part of Spanish culture. Often people go out after work for a drink, and with each drink receive a small portion of food (called a tapa).Not only are they cheap, they are a great way to be social and share a bite to eat with others. Where we lived if you went for a walk around 8pm the restaurants and bars would be full of people of all ages having a drink and some tapas. This is one part of Spanish culture I loved!

Spanish love to party!!

The Spanish have a reputation as being party people, and I feel they live up to (or even exceed) this reputation. I can remember the first few times going out with Spanish friends on the weekends - we often didnt even leave until 11pm, and that was just to have dinner! We would be out until 2am and ready for bed, but Spanish people are just getting started.

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We went to Carnival in Tenirefe, and that was just one HUGE party! These were the biggest street parties I have ever seen! The parties would start sometimes at 11pm and run all night with music, dancing and decorations through the streets - such good fun.

Carnival in Tenerife
Carnival in Tenerife

If you want to fully enjoy the Spanish night life with a Spanish person, then you can expect to be out all night - it isnt unheard of for people to come home from the bars at 8am! We did have some great times out in the bars and Spanish people are really friendly and out to have fun. Its best to go with the flow and expect to be out all night, rather than getting the weird looks when you say your going home at 2am to sleep.

Personal space

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The Spanish have a different concept of personal space than I was used to. In New Zealand people have a fairly large area of personal space and live in a "bubble". Spanish dont seem to have this and are much closer when talking to people - I felt quite uncomfortable with this when we first moved to Spain, but got used to it! This personal space comes in all aspects of life, and people are happy with the way they are. If you learn not to take offense with this you will be fine!

San Sebastian!
San Sebastian!

The most important thing with experiencing any new culture is to go in with an open mind. Accept that things will be different to what you are used to, and try and learn and experience something new. Dont expect people to adapt to you when you are travelling, you should be the one who adapts to their culture.

All photos taken by me!

Travel Resources for your trip to Spain

Recommended by TravelFeed

Flights: We recommend checking to find the best and cheapest flights to Spain.

Accomodation: Explore the best places to stay in Spain on, Agoda and Hostelworld.

Travel Insurance: Medical emergencies abroad can be pricey, but travel health insurance is not. We always use SafetyWing for affordable and reliable coverage.

Transportation: Use 12go and Omio to find detailed bus and train schedules, making travel planning easier.

Car Rental: For hassle-free car hiring, DiscoverCars is our trusted choice with a wide selection of vehicles.

Internet: Got an eSIM compatible phone? Airalo is perfect for reliable internet access during your trip. Just install it before you go, and you're set!

Day Trips & Tours: We recommend GetYourGuide for a variety of well-organized and enjoyable activities.

Tickets: Save on entrance fees in Spain with Klook and Tiquets.

Travel Planner: Need a hand planning? Our free travel planner chatbot is your personal guide to Spain. Chat now.

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