8 surprising cultural differences when living in Spain

October 15, 2016

Living abroad is an experience that opens your mind, let you meet new people, discover another culture, lifestyle and even passions! My first experience as a French expat was in Indonesia and definitely influenced the person I am today. After living and traveling in different places in the world, I thought that nothing would really surprise me in Spain since it is a neighboring country. However each country has a unique culture and I have to admit that sometimes I experienced some cultural shocks when living in Spain that made me feel a bit mad or laugh! One essential lesson I have learned to live a happy expat life is: never compare your home country to your new country because the term « normal » doesn’t mean anything; just focus on the best things and don’t loose your energy and time thinking about the things you may have lost or miss. With this mindset, you are ready to be happy almost anywhere in the world! If you are willing to start a new life in Spain, here are 8 surprising things about living in Spain from my f*** French point of view of course!

8 surprising cultural differences when living in Spain


The timetables in Spain are really unique and different from the rest of the world. First of all, 12pm (noon) in Spain is still the morning since they usually have lunch at 2 – 3pm. Then the afternoon is until 8pm so the dinner is usually around 9 – 10 pm! Personally my body is still not adapted to this timetable and I really feel like a starving monster all day long, waiting impatiently for the time to eat! One advice, make sure to always have some survival food in your bag just in case of.

2. Siesta

I though the siesta in Spain was an urban legend but the majority of shops are really closed between 2pm and 5pm! People that work close to home use this long lunch break to eat at home with their family and they even have the time to have digestive nap before to go back to work. I have discovered that there is real science about practicing a good siesta! The ideal siesta to be in perfect shape (according to siesta experienced scientists) is to sleep just 10min. I just can’t understand how it is possible to control your napping time! I guess I should practice harder 🙂

3. Olive oil

The olive oil is being used in almost all the dishes and Spaniards are really proud of its health properties. In fact Spain is the number one producer of olive oil in the world and it represents over half of the world’s olive oil production. Although the Spanish cuisine is delicious and very tasty, it took me some time to get used to eat oily and fried plates. However the Mediterranean diet is renown as being one of the healthiest in the world since Spain has the fourth highest life expectancy of all the OECD countries (after Switzerland, Italy and Japan)!

4. Food

If you love to eat, Spain is definitely a paradise for you! Indeed children are taught it is healthier to eat 5 small meals 5 times a day. This is something I never heard before living here! In fact people have a breakfast, then a snack at 11am, a lunch at around 2pm, another snack at 5pm and a diner at 9pm. The tapas culture is also very typical from Spain. It is the degustation of different small plates put in the middle of the table to share with friends or family. When you order a drink in some bar in Spain, they even offer a tapa but they are usually very cheap anyway. I really love this concept because it is a way to taste several plates. However be careful with the tapas, you have to choose between speaking or eating because people pick little by little the food directly from the same dish!

5. Noisy

Bars or restaurants are quite noisy because Spaniards can speak very loud. It may be sometime difficult to follow a conversation and moreover when you don’t speak in your mother tong! Often the best solution is too speak even louder to get understood and you will notice that you are finally behaving like everybody 😉

6. Touchy

Imagine the snow queen (Elsa in Frozen) living in a country with very touchy people! That’s what I felt when I arrived in Spain ahahah. To say “Hello” people use to kiss each other on both cheeks (not on the mouth hopefully) and it is normal for friends to hug, even between male friends. I remember I felt quite upset when I saw my boyfriend (he is Spanish) hugging within 5 minutes 5 different girls! But he explained that it was a normal thing to hug your friends to say “hi” no matter the gender. So today I have become a real hugging machine! Also when having a conversation, it is normal to sit very closely to each other, to the point where you feel a bit invaded but they may be offended if you move back or they may just follow you! Relax that´s just another cultural difference.

7. Family

Spanish people are generally very close to their family and can eat with their parents almost every week. In addition, due to the crisis, a lot of them are still living at their parent´s home until their 30s. If you are dating a Spanish, you will have to accept to give a big space to the family and build a good relationship with them, especially with the mother who is generally the boss of the family (who run the world? Girls!!).

8. Language

People speak in a very direct way and it may seem a bit rude for foreigners. They just say what they want and do not use “thank you” or “sorry” for everything. In addition, swearing is usual and some expressions can be shocking and funny at the same time. I remember being so surprised when I first heard “Me cago en la leche!” (“I shit in the milk”) which is a very common way to express anger or frustration! However, they can also be very lovely when they start a conversation asking you “Que tal guapa?” (How are you beautiful) although they do not even know you! They are quite spontaneous and do not feel ashamed like French people to express that they appreciate you or that they are totally in love with your shoes. When a French friend would say “Your shoes are not bad!” a Spanish friend would say “ Que chulaaaaaas, me encantan tus zapatos!!!! (So coooool, I love your shoes!!!!!). And while smiling, I think that my friend is so much cooler that my shoes 😉

What other surprising cultural difference have you experienced in Spain ? If you wish to know more about the expat life, check out the article: 10 things that expatriates feel when living abroad Bisous, Melissa ♡

You Might Also Like