Photo: eldar nurkovic/Shutterstock

5 American Habits I Lost When I Moved to Spain

by Hannah Greenwald Apr 24, 2015

1. Being surprised to see children at bars

Everything in Spain operates on a slightly later schedule than in America. For that reason, it’s not weird to see whole families — little kids included — out at restaurants or bars eating dinner at 9 or 10 at night, or later. This would have been way past my bedtime when I was a child.

At first, I was shocked (even scandalized) to see children running between my legs while their parents enjoyed beers and tapas. But once I got over the initial surprise, I didn’t mind it at all. I think it’s nice that young parents can have an active social life without having to stress about finding a sitter. The adults get to have a beer or two with friends and family, and the kids get to play with their buddies — sounds like a win/win to me.

2. Getting coffee to-go

In the U.S., I got coffee to-go almost every day. It saved my sanity (and my grades) during every finals period for four years of university. And even when I wasn’t particularly stressed or busy, I still enjoyed taking a stroll to a café with a friend, grabbing a coffee, and walking on.

In Cáceres, the small city where I live, taking your coffee to-go is pretty unusual. Many cafés don’t even have takeaway cups, and those that do will still look at you funny for asking. The first time I showed up to work with a café con leche in a Styrofoam cup, pretty much every single one of my coworkers found it hilarious. Now, I just wake up earlier and enjoy my morning coffee and tostada while seated in a café like a good Spaniard.

3. Eating a light lunch

This is an actual conversation I had with a twelve-year-old student of mine, while playing Two Truths and a Lie.

Me: Okay my turn. My brother lives in Los Angeles; my favorite color is purple; I ate a sandwich for lunch today.
Paula: The lie is that you didn’t eat a sandwich for lunch today.
Me: Yes! How did you know that?
Paula: Hannah. A sandwich? For lunch?

Even my seventh-grade student knows that lunch in Spain isn’t meant to be anything light or quick. Your midday meal (eaten around 2 in the afternoon) should be enough to sustain you until dinner time at approximately 10 P.M. Afraid a huge lunch will put you right to sleep? No worries — that’s what siesta is for.

4. Being barefoot in the house

I still haven’t pinned down exactly why this is so unacceptable in Spain. Are Spaniards worried about their floors having gross things on it that will get my feet dirty? Or are they worried about my feet having gross things on them and getting their floor dirty? Is it a sort of grandmotherly fear that I’ll catch a cold? Some combination of the three? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter anymore, because I just keep my shoes and socks on. It makes life easier, and I never have cold toes.

5. Fast walking

Keep right, pass left. In the States (and especially in the Northeast), I live by this rule whether I’m in a car or on a sidewalk. Unsurprisingly, most Spaniards do not. Five teenagers walking arm-in-arm taking up an entire sidewalk; three mothers with baby strollers walking at a snail’s pace down a narrow alley; an entire extended family stopping to chat on the corner of a busy intersection before heading their separate ways — these are all common sights in Spain.

You just kind of have to accept it. Sure, if it’s raining or if I’m late for work, I’ll still weave in and out between slow-walkers like the New Jersey maniac I am. But otherwise, I’ve learned to enjoy the simple pleasure of taking a leisurely walk down the street and enjoying the (normally wonderful) southern Spain weather.

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