Cultural Surprises in Madrid

Kiddest Sinke
May 28, 2017

As I dragged my two overpacked suitcases through the Madrid airport, my head throbbed with the pain of sleep deprivation. Believe me, a six hour time zone change transforms your Spanish skills...and not in the way desired. Nonetheless, the IES Abroad program leaders survived my hazy language comprehension, guiding me to a taxi which transported my friend Liz and me to our host family’s apartment. Our host mom Ana greeted us in English instead of Spanish, probably noticing my ghoulish yawns and eye bags. If you want to avoid jet lag, trust me: don’t sleep until the evening. No matter how tempting a nap sounds.

A week later, the time difference no longer bothers me; however, understanding and assimilating to cultural differences remains a continuous journey. Many people smoke cigarettes on the streets, inside houses, and outside restaurants—a concept foreign to me since Oregon law prohibits smoking within ten feet of public buildings. More pleasantly, I was surprised by the Spaniards’ relaxed pace of living. Unlike large American cities where residents often shove through crowds, rushing to work, local Madridians seem to enjoy strolling down the streets with loved ones, often stopping at restaurants for tapas and drinks.

As I walked through parks, and even through the Metro, I was astonished by the mass displays of public affection. Coming from a partially Ethiopian family, I felt comfortable with the Spanish’s similar custom of greeting people with cheek kisses. Though if I said the girl shoving her boyfriend against the subway train’s door didn’t make me cringe, I’d be lying. After discussing Celestina, a 1499 Spanish play centered around a lady pimp, my literature teacher explained that while sexual contact is often censored or hidden in the United States, most Spaniards consider discussion and displays of affection as normal.

Among all the cultural differences, I’ve struggled the most with adjusting to the Spanish meal times. In the mornings, most people drink coffee, and maybe a slice of bread if they’re feeling lavish. Around 2 pm the largest meal of the day, la comida occurs. La comida is a time of socialization and relaxation, lasting much longer than a traditional American lunch. Typically, this meal consists of a side dish, main course, and a dessert which ranges from ice cream to fresh fruit. My favorite dish so far has been paella: rice slow-cooked with vegetables, saffron seasoning, and meat or seafood. As a pescaterian, I’ve found myself impressed with the abundance of food options. However, since many dishes contain animal products, a vegetarian or vegan might struggle to find healthy and filling options in Spain. That being said, most dishes except for deserts contain little to no dairy, so lactose intolerance or milk allergies shouldn’t cause too many issues.

Around 9 to 10 pm, I join people for tapas at a restaurant or my homestay. Dinner runs late in Spain, partly because of the siesta—an afternoon nap taken after lunch. In fact, a lot of things run late in Spain, including the night life. Some dance clubs open around 2 am and close around 7 am. Call me a grandma, but back on campus, by 2am I’m ready to return to my dorm. Still, the sleep deprivation is worth it, especially at the seven story discoteca el Kapital.

So far, Spain’s vibe has been so different than any place in the United States. Even Madrid alone cannot be boiled down into one word, and maybe that’s what is so wonderful about it. While shocking, Madrid’s differences from America has given me a greater understanding of Spanish culture, and I look forward to exploring more sites and meeting new people.

More Blogs From This Author

View All Blogs

Kiddest Sinke

<p>The name&#39;s Kiddest, and welcome to my travel blog. I live in Eugene, Oregon with my four sisters, which means I love hiking and drinking too much kombucha. I enjoy writing, drawing, and cooking. When I&#39;m not embarrassing myself in public, you&#39;ll probably find me in bed laughing at memes. Sometimes I attempt to speak Spanish.</p>

2017 Summer 1, 2017 Summer 2
Home University:
Yale University
Explore Blogs