Cultural Comparison: Spain vs. the US

The immediate inclination of any traveler is to compare where they’ve traveled to with wherever they’re from. Now that I’m half way into my three-month stay in Spain, I have made lots of these comparisons so I thought I’d share some with you. Some of these things about Spain grind my gears, others I’ve become adjusted to, and other things I wish I could bring back to America. Read on to hear what I think!


I took this picture in Cuenca, Spain on the day of their San Mateo Festival. I sat right by these people for about an hour or two while they played music, sang, ate paella, and generally enjoyed themselves! I took this picture in Cuenca, Spain on the day of their San Mateo Festival. I sat right by these people for about an hour or two while they played music, sang, ate paella, and generally enjoyed themselves!

Diversity:

Within 24 hours of being Spain, one of my biggest observations was that there aren’t that many non-Spanish people here. At home, I feel like I see members of all races daily and it’s just a nice feeling. Yes, at home I have had moments where I’m the only Indian person in the room (something all people of color experience), but it’s a lot more common here in Spain, especially in smaller towns and in my host family’s suburb (my heart did skip a beat when I saw an old Indian couple pushing a stroller during my second week here… I’ve unfortunately only seen them once more since). I see the affect of Spain’s lack of racial diversity in my interactions with the father of my host family. On the daily, he’ll ask me about either Indian food and spices, Indian wedding culture, or how it is possible for my mom to be Indian and not have an accent like my dad (this one just makes me think my host family’s dad is stupid and not simply culturally unaware… like I have told him that my mom is from England multiple times, so she is an Indian woman who speaks like an English person… just like I am Indian but am from America so I speak like an American person… what about that makes no sense?).

I do wonder if the growing global migrant crisis will make Spain a more racially diverse place. If it does, I can only hope Spain welcomes these people with open arms!

I love this sign that hangs from the CentroCentro building in the Plaza de Cibeles. Such a positive message! I love this sign that hangs from the CentroCentro building in the Plaza de Cibeles. Such a positive message!

Cold Prevention:

I have picked up a twitching problem in Spain. Why, you ask, have I acquired such a strange and downright unfortunate affliction? Well, I have not seen one single Spanish person cough or sneeze into their elbow, and so every time I see a person spray their germs into the open air, or, even worse, into their bare hands which are then used to open doors, grab subway railings, and SERVE CUSTOMERS ICE CREAM (yes, this actually happened… thank god it was the customer after me though), I involuntarily stare at them in horror while my body convulses. I’m so thankful I haven’t gotten sick yet, but it just astounds me how many germs are flying around out here. I especially hate it when my host family’s son will sneeze and wipe the snot dripping from his nose with his hand, and will then grab my hand to cross the street (he has also urinated on the sidewalk in broad daylight a handful of times so he is generally not the most well-mannered). I’d greatly appreciate any and all prayers for my immune system’s continued stability amid these trying times. *prayer hand emoji*

Bilingualism:

This was some of the wall text for a small exhibit inside the CentroCentro building. I was so glad the captions in this show had English translations! This was some of the wall text for a small exhibit inside the CentroCentro building. I was so glad the captions in this show had English translations!

Before coming to Spain, I had a lot of American and native English speaker privilege clouding my judgment. I thought things along the lines of, “hey, I can speak English and pretty much everyone else in the world has learned it or is trying to learn it to keep up with us, so I’ll have no problem communicating in Spain because everyone is on the same page that English is the language to learn.” Well, quickly after arriving, I found my Americentric thinking to be completely wrong.

While lots of people I interact with here, like the staff at bigger restaurants or stores, can speak English, many people, like other parents at my host family’s son’s school or the staff at locally-owned shops or cafes, can’t speak English. A day doesn’t go by without me pointing, miming, and utilizing my limited lexicon of “español, ingles, nada, todo, si, etc.” at least once. In these moments, I really wish I had received the same bilingual education that my host family’s son is getting (at a public school!) and that many other people around the world receive. I think that native-English speakers like myself are at a slight disadvantage because we are never really told that we need to learn something else. I’m really curious to learn more about why America doesn’t provide a bilingual education to all its students and how we can make it a reality.

While the menu at the Cereal Lovers Cafe in the Mercado de Antón Martín was small, it was all in Spanish. I would've loved to have understood what all the options were for my cereal. While the menu at the Cereal Lovers Cafe in the Mercado de Antón Martín was small, it was all in Spanish. I would’ve loved to have understood what all the options were for my cereal.

Pet Care:

It seems like Madrid doesn’t have the same rules about picking up dog waste because I am dodging dog poop on the sidewalk everyday in my host family’s city. I’m not used to having to be this aware of dog poop, so I have unfortunately stepped in it three times (which, naturally, made my host family’s son crack up each time… he has saved me from more accidents though by shouting “poop”… It makes me glad that I taught him that word, even though he does sometimes say that I am poop). Also, I don’t think dogs are required to be on leashes like they are back home because I often see dogs walking without leashes while their owners stroll leisurely behind or ahead of the dog. It makes me downright nervous, but you have to remember that I am not a huge fan of animals and pets, so you may love all these loose animals.

Driving and Pedestrian Life:

I took this picture in the Plaza de Colón after a really nice dinner at my favorite spot, Bar Tomate (I'll be writing about this restaurant very soon!). I took this picture in the Plaza de Colón after a really nice dinner at my favorite spot, Bar Tomate (I’ll be writing about this restaurant very soon!).

I really miss driving. Going from driving myself everywhere in my own car to having to rely on public transportation (buses and the subway) is tough. But no matter how much I want to drive myself places, I can’t imagine driving in Spain. It’s much more fast-paced than American driving! Also, no one jaywalks because if you do, the driver won’t brake and simply grumble a little. Here, the car will continue to drive full-speed ahead and the driver will honk at you while you run as fast as possible across the street, effectively fulfilling the American Heart Association’s recommended amount of weekly cardio. Regardless of how non-pedestrian-friendly it is, Spanish driving is still nowhere on the level of Indian driving, which is not pedestrian, car, bike, scooter, OR cattle friendly.


The comparison between Spanish and American culture doesn’t end here! I might write a part two, so stay tuned as I observe and experience more! In the mean time, I’d love to hear any stories other people have about diving into a new culture! Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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