Studying Spanish in Spain: Softening Culture Shock

Studying Spanish in Spain Softening Culture Shock-Imagen vía buenapetit.wordpress.comThe most important thing to say about Spain in an article about softening culture shock is that it’s a wonderful country to visit and one shouldn’t expect to run into many problems or be overwhelmed by the difference in culture. Inevitably, however, certain details of Spanish life will vary from the background of students coming to study Spanish in the country, and it’s helpful to point out a few aspects that could prove surprising or disconcerting at first.

Shopping and eating out
A good thing to keep in mind about Spain is that although it enjoys a relaxed and stress-free atmosphere, this also means that things take longer to get done. One example is at the supermarket: you might find yourself standing in line far longer than you expected, listening to the good-natured conversation of the elderly woman in front of you as she chats with the cashier about what she bought earlier at the butcher’s and what she’ll prepare later on for supper.

Restaurants are another place where you might feel the poignant lack of speedy service and “the customer is always right” attitude. At sit-down restaurants it’s not uncommon to have to work to catch the attention of the waiter before, during and after the meal (a useful hand signal involves writing with an invisible pen on the raised palm of the opposite hand; a waiter can see this from across the room and know you’re requesting the bill).

Concurrent to the lack of on-demand service in Spanish restaurants is the common practice of leaving exceedingly small tips, often as low as 3% of the cost of the meal. Another interesting phenomenon is the relative lack of “fast” service in fast-food restaurants; it’s not unheard of for the same employee to take orders, prepare and serve food.

Going out
Spain is known for its active nightlife (la marcha). Partying usually begins around midnight, frequently getting started at a botellón gathering: an outside area (such as a city square or barricaded street) designated for large crowds to gather and consume alcohol before heading for the bars and disco’s. The botellón is a great way to save money (with 3 or 4 people paying together for one bottle of liquor), although it’s been prohibited in certain cities throughout Spain, such as Madrid and Granada.

Women should enter bars and disco’s armed with the knowledge that Spanish men can be quite forward, especially when coming on to foreign women. Many Spanish men get the idea that foreign women come to Spain with a “whatever happens in Spain stays in Spain” attitude, and although this may be true in some cases it is largely misapplied to foreign women in general who study in the country.

Just as the nightlife begins later than in many cultures, it lasts longer as well. It’s typical for a Friday or Saturday night to “end” at 7, 8 or even 9 in the morning. Bars and discos stay open to accommodate this extended partying, although recent legislation has begun to set earlier closing times in some areas.

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