Culture Shock in Salamanca, Spain

Woohyun Kwen headshot
Woohyun Kwen
November 22, 2023

When I initially arrived in Spain, some cultural aspects were shocking at first. Let me go through my top 5 list that shocked me the most!

  1. Meals and schedules
    • Breakfast: I’ve always been used to eating a hearty breakfast at home. However, when I was walking around the streets of Salamanca looking for a brunch place, I learned that breakfast was just a coffee and a biscuit, or some pastries in a cafe. Most restaurants were closed in the mornings! 
    • Lunch (~2 p.m.): This is the biggest meal of the day in Spain and usually it consists of a primary dish, a secondary dish, and a dessert. Lunch is during siesta time in the afternoon usually until 4 pm, and it was so interesting to see EVERYONE including students go home to eat lunch with their families. 
    • Dinner (~9 p.m.): A difficult adjustment was waiting until 9 p.m. to eat dinner. Some restaurants open earlier at 7:30 or 8 p.m., but dinner is late in Spain! This meal usually consists of a smaller portion like soup or salad, a change from my normal habits. 
  2. Milk isn’t refrigerated
    • I was so confused when I went to the grocery store for the first time to buy milk. I searched the entire store to find milk or leche, but there was no milk to be seen in any of the refrigerators. And when I tell you I searched in every refrigerator, I looked through every refrigerated section in the entire grocery store!
    • As I nearly gave up and walked along the aisle, I was shocked to see the milk on the shelves instead of the refrigerator. At first, I thought these were alternatives like almond or soy milk. But the cartons said “leche”. I was so skeptical I asked another customer, “Is this milk? From cows?”. The customer looked at me as if I was crazy and responded, “Of course?”. I bought the milk with suspicion and tried it once I returned. It did taste like milk, but I was still so suspicious of it.
    • When I searched online, I learned that Spain uses ultra-heat-treated pasteurization that doesn’t require milk to be refrigerated. So definitely keep this in mind to prevent mass confusion at Spanish grocery stores!
  3. Eggs aren’t refrigerated
    • To continue with more grocery store accounts, I also had a moment of confusion when buying eggs. I searched through all the refrigerated sections and did not find any eggs. Turning the corner, I saw stacks of eggs on the shelves at room temperature. This was another shock. I thought eggs had to be refrigerated! Later, I learned that eggs in Spain are not washed so the protective layer is intact, allowing them to be left at room temperature. 
  4. No screen in windows to keep bugs out
    • Another shock for me when I first arrived in Spain was the windows. I noticed no screen when I put the metal blinds up and opened the window. I was really confused at first so I asked a local and they said there were no window screens.
    • So on the first night, I kept the window open with the metal blind down and did not get any airflow into my room, making my room a sauna. So the next night, I decided to try the window and left it open with the screen raised. I learned this was a wrong decision. Living on the first floor meant easier access for bugs like mosquitos, and I spent the next few days battling mosquitos in my room.
    • For the rest of the warm days in Salamanca, I had to be smart about letting enough air cool down the room but not to the point where I also let unwelcome insects in my room!
  5. Juernes
    • When I first interacted with local students, they told me about the party culture in Spain, which was absolutely shocking to me. The term “juernes” describes the party culture where people go out on Thursday night (jueves), and stay out all night until Friday morning (viernes). Usually, people who don’t have work or classes on Friday participate in juernes, but to be honest, even the students with classes on Friday participate, skip sleep, and go to class! The local students told me the night is not over yet until you eat churros with chocolate early in the morning before going home.  


I hope this list gave a little bit of insight into my culture shock experience in Salamanca!

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Woohyun Kwen

Hi! I am a junior studying Education Studies and Psychology on the pre-health track at Amherst College. In my free time, I love to paint scenery, go on long walks, and sing my heart out to my favorite pop songs.

2023 Fall
Home University:
Amherst College
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