How Spain Does It: My Cultural Observations

I thought it would be a nice time to give my take on different cultural aspects of Spain. I haven’t been here for long, but have come across some comical and intriguing sights:

  • Spain hosts about 46 million citizens, which is about 6-7 times smaller than the population in the United States. So have you heard the saying “this world is too small”? When in Spain, this is SO TRUE!! Everyone seems to know one another. And while this can be a beautiful thing, making you feel more at home because you literally feel like all of the people on your street are your next-door neighbors. It can also serve you negatively if you do not make friends.
  • Don’t depend on a dryer here. It’s all about hanging your clothes on the clothing line whether inside the house or outside. I have found that most Spaniards have washers and dryers, and utilize their washers frequently. But if they are able to preserve energy by hanging their clothes out to dry, they take advantage of this process. I have been used to washer machines and dryers my entire life. And washing/drying my clothes in Spain has been something new for me, but surprisingly unbothersome. (see photos)
  • If you don’t have a pair of pearl earrings, you don’t deserve to call yourself an authentic Spaniard woman. Now I am not guaranteeing that every woman of Spain has pearls in her jewelry box, and she surely wouldn’t be ridiculed if she did not. But let me tell you. I have not seen ONE diamond here…yet. And this also leads me to say that both the men and women (of married couples) wear wedding bands (on the right hand, unlike the left in the U.S.), and the women do not wear diamond rings. It actually is kind of easing to the mind to know that a woman is not expected to flash diamonds and men are not obligated to buy them. It was nice to know that all I had to spend was 42 euros (about $55-60) on my gold plated Majorica Pearl Earrings to fit in just a little bit more than I did the day before (see photo).
  • The women are beautiful here. Yes you have your girls who dress like boys, just as others do around the world. Yes there are some who are thicker than others. You see blonde and brunettes…and burgundy (red) hair is popular also. What I mean by beautiful is their legs and tans. They seem to be toned and perfectly tanned (though I have been assured that some do resort to spray-ons). With beaches right around the corner and with walking being the primary form of transportation, it seems about right.
  • And speaking of legs…’booty shorts’ are accepted here for young and older women. When I tell you I have never seen so many booty cheeks peeking out the bottom of the Spaniard women’s shorts. Let me try to do that here…while it would be accepted, I would be stared at for days just because it is evident that I am a foreigner and of mixed-African American descent, and am constantly being stared at by both men and women. And let me try to do that back in the U.S. While it would be accepted, it would be frowned upon. I love the carefreeness of it all when it comes to fashion in Spain. And let’s not forget about the men and their legs. I saw a man today with the shortest shorts EVER. But they are a fad here in Spain. It is very common for men’s shorts to be about 4 inches above the knee. And then there are some who wear shorts the cut right below the buttocks. I spoke to one citizen and he said “I can’t have an uneven tan line” and “my grandmother joked that I might be gay”…though short shorts on men do not point to homosexuality here in Spain. In the U.S. on the other hand, based on my experiences, I cannot say the same.
  • One of my favorites. I went to a club for the 1st time in Spain with a group of friends. Everyone was having a great time. And I turned around and saw the men dancing with one another. You know…like how a few “straight” girlfriends do because they don’t need men to have fun on the dance floor all the time. And it didn’t seem homosexual whatsoever. It was just kind of baffling initially because it makes you wonder. Are they gay? Are they just close friends and it’s the common thing to do in Europe? Is that a guy that was hitting on my friend earlier today…should I mention this to her? I ultimately did not mention anything to her. But it just makes me wonder about myself. I have never knowingly been involved with a man who had sexual feelings for or encounters with other men. And I am wholeheartedly for people choosing their sexual preference and deserving not to be judged. But it made me think…would this be something I’d be willing to accept? Could I date a man that danced with and grinded on other men? Could I date a man who was bisexual? This is one of my favorites because it pushed me to think outside of my ‘comfort box’. Back home…it would be ridiculed for the manly men who claimed they were straight to have homosexual tendencies. But here in Europe, I have gained insight into another aspect. Why is it okay for straight women to grind on their girlfriends on the dance floor and not men?
  • I mentioned in item#4 about being stared at by men and women, and sometimes even children. I know that they know I am not from here. Remember, for the most part, everyone knows everyone or has probably seen residents living here in Spain at one point or another. Also, while I am not conceited or anything, I am aware that am not horrible to look at. One might say I have an exotic look, where you wouldn’t know exactly what my ethnicity mix is. But let me tell you…I have gotten mixed responses from Spaniards. The men…either they stare because they are curious and are wondering what I am and where I come from. Or they are making subtle noises to get my attention or blowing unsubtle kisses at me, probably staring at my a** as I walk by. And the women…either they are friendly and curious, open to getting to know someone from the United States who is clearly interested in learning their language and experiencing their culture. Or they are giving me dirty looks, sizing me up and down. I have even had one girl brush against me in the club because I was speaking to a guy that she was interested in. Clearly, I have experienced this at one point or another in the U.S. But here…it still feels different here in Spain. Maybe because at the end of the day, I still consider myself an outsider. Someone trying to learn and understand their lives and culture…someone trying to fit in and make a contribution. Who knows…? But for the most part. If someone stares too long in an uncomfortable way like they have a problem, I typically smile and say a nice “Hola”, so they can see that I am not the one to be intimidated or the one trying to intimidate them in their own neighborhood. When it comes to drunk girls at the club, I typically laugh at it and brush it off. From my understanding, it is not common to have physical altercations here. The fighting tends to be done in a sneaky/passive aggressive way, or verbally if it is a really heated situation. So I do my best to keep clear of any negativity, as that is not why I came here. But let me tell you…I DESPISE caddy women in the sense that if they just got to know me they’d see I was no threat to them or what they hold dear. And altogether, I do my best not to bring TOO much attention to myself, because at the end of the day, I do not want to make anyone uncomfortable or catch the eye of a married man. While the curious stares and blatant rudeness can be annoying sometimes, because you yourself are wondering “what is it?!”, I get it. And all I can hope is that I am able to observe more and continue to learn as much as I can about how Spain does it.
  • Lastly…Cats, Cats, Cats & DOGSHIT!! Often when you turn a corner you might see a family of stray cats just chillin’ like they own the sidewalk (see photo). And as for canine feces…when I tell you it’s everywhere, IT IS EVERYWHERE!! Make sure to watch your step. If you are texting while walking or enjoy looking up as you walk around, make sure to look down every couple of feet and observe the distance in front of you to make sure no dog poo lies ahead. Just a friendly thought!!

Preparing to Interact Socially in Italian

1) Italian Culture and Traditions:

  • Riposo = Ranging between the hours of 12-4pm, Italy shuts down to allow the locals to rest after a long and hectic morning, and they prepare for the busy afternoon. Riposo takes place in a comfortable place, such as the bed or sofa, where one can take a peaceful, undisturbed nap, after having a good and long lunch with friends or family.
  • Cicchetti/Stuzzichini = These snacks, usually in the form of finger foods, (or tapas) originated in Spain, but are common in many countries. They are also known to Italian Americans as antipasti.
  • Meeting/Dining/Business Etiquette = When introduced, the proper thing to do is shake hands with direct eye contact and a smile. Italians use calling cards that exhibit name, address, title/academic honors, and telephone number, in place of the slightly smaller business cards, in social settings. Once established, an air-kiss on both checks for both genders (starting with the left), along with a pat on the back for the men. Also, wait until invited to move on to the 1st name basis. If invited to an Italian’s home, feel encouraged to bring a gift-wrapped (not in black or purple) bottle of good vintage wine or chocolates. If you choose to send flowers (not chrysanthemums, or red/yellow), have them delivered the same day. If you do not want more wine, leave your glass nearly full. When doing business, allow sufficient time for letting new colleagues get to know you (your 1st ‘business meeting’ may consist of a personal discussion before any business begins). Face-to-face contact is preferred to telephone/written communication. This can be solely a perception/opinion, but it has been said that Italians are expressive communicators, being emotional, wordy, eloquent and demonstrative.

2) Useful Italian Words & Phrases for Travelers:

  • Hello!
 = Ciao!/Salve!
  • Good morning!
 =Buon giorno!
  • Good day!
 =Buon pomeriggio!
  • Good evening!
 =Buona sera!
  • How are you?
 =Come va?
  • Fine.
  • Very well.
 =Molto bene.
  • So-so.
 =Così così.
  • What’s your name?
 =Come si chiama?
  • My name is…
 =Mi chiamo…
  • It’s nice to meet you.
 =Piacere (di conoscerla).
  • Goodbye. =Arrivederla/ci.
  • See you soon.
 =A presto!
  • Goodnight. =Buona notte!
  • Thank you.
  • Thank you very much.
 =Grazie tante.
  • You’re welcome.
  • Please. =Per favore.
  • Yes. =Sì.
  • No. =No.
  • Excuse me.
 =Mi scusi.
  • I’m sorry.
 =Mi dispiace.
  • I don’t understand.
 =Non capisco.
  • I don’t speak Italian.
 =Non parlo italiano.
  • I don’t speak Italian very well.
 =Non parlo molto bene italiano.
  • Do you speak English?
 =Parla inglese?
  • Speak slowly, please.
 =Parli piano, per favore.
  • Repeat, please.
 =Ripeta, per favore.
  • What’s your name?
 =Come si chiama?
  • How are you?
 =Come va?
  • Do you speak English?
 =Parla inglese?
  • Where is the subway?
 =Dov’è la metropolitana?
  • Is the tip included?
 =Il servizio è incluso?
  • How much does that cost? (singular-sg./plural-pl.)
 =Quanto costa/costano?
  • Is there a public phone here?
 =C’è un telefono pubblico vicino?
  • Can I get on the internet?
 =Posso collegarmi con internet?
  • Can you help me?
 =Mi può aiutare?
  • Where is the bathroom?
 =Dov’è la toilette?
  • Where do you live? (singular/plural)
 =Dove abiti/abitate?
  • I live in… = Abito a…
  • This is my friend. (masculine/feminine)
 =Ti presento il mio amico/la mia amica.
  • This is my boyfriend.
 =Questo è il mio ragazzo.
  • This is my girlfriend.
 =Questa è la mia ragazza.
  • This is my husband.
 =Questo è (il) mio marito.
  • This is my wife.
 =Questa è (la) mia moglie
  • Please visit me!
 =Vieni a trovarmi!
  • I had a wonderful time. (masculine/feminine)
 =Mi sono divertito/divertita.
  • Where is a good restaurant?
 =Dove si mangia bene?
  • A table for two, please.
 =Una tavola per due, per favore.
  • The menu, please.
 =Il menu, per favore.
  • The wine list, please.
 =La lista dei vini, per favore.
  • I would like something to drink.
 =Vorrei qualcosa da bere.
  • A glass of water, please.
 =Una bottiglia d’acqua, per favore.
  • A cup of tea, please.
 =Una tazza di tè, per favore.
  • Do you have vegetarian dishes?
 =Avete dei piatti vegetariani?
  • That’s all.
 =Basta così.
  • The check, please.
 =Il conto, per favore.
  • To your health!
  • It’s delicious!
 =È delizioso.
  • I like my steak rare/medium/well done.
 =Preferisco la bistecca al sangue/cotta al punto giusto/ben cotta.
  • Another, please.
 =Un altro, per favore.
  • More, please.
 =Ancora un po’, per favore.

There are so many beautiful places in the world. But it is something about Italy. A must visit…ASAP!! Stay tuned… I will add more to this post, and will provide future posts for other cultures. If you have any area preferences or questions, please ask in comment section below. Please also see tips on entering a foreign country. Gracias!

I dedicate this post to Indeciso on my Advice page. Buona Fortuna!!