A gloomy, chilly, and rainy Monday morning. Looking out the window, there are Spaniards walking to work in rain boots, heavy coats, and scarves: fashion similar to that in the fall in western New York. This morning, I am enjoying a coffee and a typical light breakfast with my friend Mar at a café/bakery, The Panaria. We have each ordered a coffee and toast topped with olive oil (a staple in the Spanish diet) and a tomato salsa.
Mar and I met through a class I was assisting with at the International Immersion Institute. We meet weekly to help each other practice language, switching between English and Spanish. While conversing with Mar, I find myself looking around at my surroundings, and absorbing every aspect of the culture. The people, the environment, the behavior, the fashion…everything. I want to embrace it all.
Our conversation soon turns to a topic I find myself discussing every day: the differences between the American and Spanish cultures. However, I have found it to be one of my biggest faults. As humans, we are naturally inclined to relate new things to things we already know. When I happen to see, hear, or experience something different than I am accustomed to, I cannot help but blurt out in part of the conversation, “In the United States, we…” Truthfully, it’s wonderful that we Americans have our traditional ways of doing things. But, it’s also great that the Spaniards have their own ways as well! If it weren’t for cultural diversity, we would live in a very bland and static world.
For this reason, I find it important to respect other cultures. This doesn’t necessarily have to entail accepting their values, but understanding them. I am making efforts to keep a very open mind in order to learn as much as I possibly can to create a cultural immersion. In doing so, I have already learned so much about the culture here in Spain.
I have composed a list of things I love about the Spanish culture:
1. The food. This is almost a given! I have become accustomed to eating a lot of meat and bread. Specifically, my family consumes a lot of veal, seafood (I have a new-found love for fried anchovies), chorizo, and other processed meats. I also like tortilla de patatas (an egg omelet with potatoes and sometimes other vegetables), paella (a traditional rice dish with vegetables and various meats), croquetas (a breadcrumbed fried food that typically contains potatoes, béchamel, and ham), various delicious salads with fresh vegetables and dressed simply with olive oil and sea salt, and lots of espresso coffee. The motto with food is: try first, ask later.
2. Siestas. The schedule in Spain is very unique. The day starts for many around 9-9:30 in the morning and lasts until 8 at night. However, there is typically a two-hour break for lunch where many people return home in order to eat. The store hours follow a similar schedule. I have found this type of schedule to be refreshing, yet inconvenient at times.
3. Hospitality. As many other foreign students would agree, the people here are very hospitable. They go above and beyond in order to ensure you are comfortable, safe, and well-fed. My host family has made my experience great, yet I have also been very welcomed in the house of another host family I know here. Also, my Spanish friends always make sure I know the best places to visit and help me with directions.
4. Go-with-the-flow. I have found that the culture here is very relaxed. It is unusual to see people hustling and bustling down the street because they are late for a meeting. Plans are also very spontaneous and punctuality is not taken too seriously. There is a calm, relaxing atmosphere for this reason.
5. Spanish pride. The pride and nationalism of the citizens of a country or city are very important aspects of a culture to consider. The Spanish are very traditional and have a lot of respect for their culture. For instance, every town has their own annual fiesta as well as various festivals (many for religious purposes). When there is a festival, the majority of the population attends and participates. I think it is a great way to bring people together. One of my favorite experiences was bull fighting and running with the bulls during a town festival. Spain is very well-known for this event, although there is a lot of controversy regarding the treatment of the bulls. However, a man once told me, “There are two things you do not mess with the Spanish people about: religion and bulls.”
Mar and I finish breakfast, and she offers to take me to do some touring of the city (an offer I never decline). Hopefully the day entails sight-seeing, shopping, coffee, and delicious food with a side of more culture! After all, when in Spain!