Among the many obvious differences between Spain and England - the sun, the sand, the blue skies - here are six of the more subtle cultural distinctions that I’ve noticed during my first few weeks in Spain.
1. Ps & Qs:
On a daily basis I say ‘gracias’ and ‘por favor’ probably fifty times more than any other Spaniard in Spain. Being a stereotypically polite English girl, I use my manners to the extent that I would do in England which, as it turns out, is a heck of a lot! At home it would go unnoted - in fact it would be the norm - but in Spain I stick out like a sore thumb (a horrendously polite sore thumb that is). If you haven’t noticed the British tendency to excessively use Ps&Qs, next time you’re buying something in a shop count the number of times both you and the cashier thank one another - you’ll soon see! The use of manners though, doesn’t directly translate. In Spanish it would be very common to ask someone to ‘pass the TV remote’ or ‘open the door’ without saying ‘please’, ‘thank you’ or ‘would you mind ever so kindly…’. Whilst at first it may feel as if people are commanding things and children just haven’t been taught their manners, you soon realise that it’s just a linguistic difference!
2. Family life is (more than) central:
I thought I was fairly family-oriented until I came to Spain. Having spent time living with two Spanish families, I’ve come to realise that their level of ‘close-knit’ far outweighs that of England! The grandparents’ house is often like a second home where the whole family gathers on a daily basis. Grandparents tend to have a huge role when it comes to childcare, cooking, helping with the school runs, child-minding and anything and everything in between! Being in such a huge extended family circle means that everyone helps everyone which is fab when you’ve got your hands full, however it also means that news of a paper-cut travels faster than one of the kids can spit out their dummy - so be careful!
3. Mealtimes are upside down and back to front:
The British stereotype usually consists of a huge breakfast, a lighter lunch and heavier dinner but the Spanish tend to do it all higgeldy-piggeldy. Breakfast tends to be light: a slice of toast, a yoghurt or a piece of fruit, followed by the main meal of the day around mid-afternoon which can be several courses - much heavier than the typical Tesco meal-deal or BLT! Around the time when I’d usually be raiding the cupboard in search of a few Digestives to go with my afternoon cup of tea, the Spanish are having their ‘merienda’ - a small sandwich, a pastry or a yoghurt with fruit. Dinner time can then fall at any hour between 9pm and midnight (which takes some adjusting to!!). After a month in Spain, my tummy no longer rumbles at all the wrong times but I’m still shocked when we eat-out and the unearthly dining hour is pre-planned!!
4. They’ll think you’re warm-blooded:
As an English girl who spends 95% of the year under a grey, cloudy and rainy sky, I’m in my shorts and T-shirt at the first sight of sun. Here in Spain though, 30’C would still be considered an appropriate temperature for jeans! “Are you sure you don’t want to take a jacket?”, is the usual question I am asked when leaving the house in the morning and heading out into the blazing sunshine - I try to answer politely, resisting the urge to explain that I’m much more likely to crozzle (just imagine a well-done piece of bacon) than catch hypothermia in this heat. Nevertheless, this week the family bought me some slippers as a gift because they were worried about me walking around the house bare-footed! Let’s just say that I never have to fight anyone for the sunny side of the table over here as the Spanish tend to spend the best part of the day searching for shade!
5. There is a tendency to over-embroider (and then some!):
I find that in comparison to the Spanish, I tend to appear remarkably unmoved, unemotional and reserved. I don’t think it’s the result of any change in behaviour but more so a noteworthy difference between the British and Spanish cultures. Whereas the English tend to hide any emotion which might be considered inappropriate or overly dramatic, the Spanish take every opportunity to hyperbolise their situation. If they’re hungry, they’re on the brink of starvation. If something is mildly pleasing to the eye, it’s the most beautiful thing they’ve ever seen and they’ll go on about it for hours. If they’re displeased, the world is about to end. And this isn’t me trying to lay it on thick. The Hispanic tendency is to embellish the facts, to be heard and to let others know what you’re thinking and feeling - precisely the opposite to that of the English. After a couple of weeks of reacting appropriately to each outburst of extreme emotion, I realised I might need to apply a filter so that I didn’t jump out of my skin every half hour.
6. Forget that you were ever taught to be punctual:
Being punctual is something I’d often embellish on my CV and take pride in (after all, I’ve been practising for 22years!). Here in Spain though, after failing to accidentally be late like the rest of the Spanish population, I find myself planning to be late. If I’m told we’re leaving the house at 10am, I’ll tell myself to be ready for 10.15 so as to not appear overly keen or uptight when I’m stood waiting for a quarter of an hour! The first week I was here, I was the topic of conversation because I had been ready to leave the house at the prearranged time (shock horror!). ‘She’s English, what can we expect!’ they said.