Photo: GaudiLab/Shutterstock

The First 13 Things Americans Learn Upon Moving to Spain

Spain Food + Drink
by Gloria Atanmo May 7, 2015

1. The Spanish you learned in high school is nothing like the language spoken here.

The first time I heard two Spanish brothers call each other “tío“, I thought, “hmmm… that’s odd. Why would brothers call each other uncle?” The Latin Spanish taught in American schools and from highly-acclaimed language teachers like Professor Dora the Explorer, is just a tad bit different than the colloquial language in Spain. I like to think of it as the subtle differences between American English and British English. Lift, meet elevator.

2. You can throw your meal time routine out the window.

I don’t care that your entire life has been nurtured to catering to your noontime appetite. Lunch will be at 3pm. And dinner, subsequently no earlier than 9pm. Factor in some time for a midday snack (aka pan con tomate) and you’ll be eating (read: starving) like a Spaniard in no time.

Une photo publiée par @spanishfood le

3. Siestas are as real/mythological as you make them.

Whether or not most people engage in the Almighty Siesta, just know you will NOT be running errands anytime between 1 and 4pm. Most businesses close temporarily to go home, eat lunch, have a coffee, and possibly a light siesta. I know for a fact that based on studies (okay, just me), once you incorporate siestas into your daily routine, there’s no going back to your formerly-deprived life.

4. Spanish people have 20 names.

Okay, so maybe just three. Because everyone inherits two last names. The first surname from the father and the first surname from the mother’s. Because, identity issues.

5. Your paychecks will probably be late.

Spaniards are laxed people and thrive in their laxed culture. They take their time walking, eating, and unfortunately, getting you the money you’ve worked for. As much as I love this country, having to remind one of my employers that the paycheck for last month is almost 3 weeks late, is something I rather not do on a monthly basis.

6. Everything is “la leche“, yet has nothing to do with milk.

Again, referring back to #1. The slang here is hardly ever literal and if you haven’t heard or used milk as an adjective, noun, verb, and subject, you have miles to go in your Spanish fluency.

7. Spanish people dress by season not by weather.

An easy way to spot a tourist or expat is seeing them dressed in beachwear on a beautiful and sunny day, albeit Autumn. True to their ways, Spaniards dress for the season, not the weather. So if it’s spring and they still feel like jackets and scarves are but a degree away, they will continue wearing them. Summer clothes are only meant for the summer season.

8. Ordering your coffee before a meal is NOT normal.

Nothing will confuse your waitress more than committing the grave sin of ordering your café solo at the same time as your jamón bocadillo. The poor woman seemed to feel ashamed with my poor life choices. Coffee comes después. Siempre. Lesson learned.

9. Tapas can indeed fill you up if proportioned properly with beer.

Tapas vary in size, and although we can all agree that size matters (when it comes to food, obviously) it’s important to find creative ways to ration out the space in your stomach and trick yourself into thinking your 3 mini portions of tortilla, croquetas, and patatas bravas were indeed the 4-course meal your stomach doesn’t know you didn’t have, by drinking beer in larger proportions than your food. But then again, drunchie probs.

Une photo publiée par @tora_yumiko le

10. You need to plan your day around your bank’s timetable.

Don’t learn this the hard way. You won’t be making a transfer to Sallie Mae by strolling casually to the bank at 4pm after work. With banks closing at 2pm, before I even open my eyes (on a good day), you need to make sure you set your alarm and skip a meal beforehand. It’s the only way you’ll make it on time.

11. The confusion that is the word “venga”.

If you ask a Spaniard, no two people will ever explain this word the same. Partially because everyone basically gives it its own meaning. You hear it during salutations, goodbyes, cheerings, scoldings, arguments, and maybe even while being catcalled. It’s a creative word. To be safe, I throw it out there every 2 sentences. Nobody has sued me yet, so I think I’m okay.

12. Kings’ Day is a bigger deal than Christmas.

El día de los reyes. Ah yes, the second Christmas children celebrate, to not only receive more gifts 12 days after Christmas, but also enjoy an extra day off from school to play with the new toys they got. This all of course, comes after the parade of kings who throw out candy to the kids lined up in the streets. The kids in Spain have it so good it’s not even funny.

13. Pan con tomate is indeed a meal.

And it can and will go with any food you ever eat. I never knew the addiction that was bread and tomato until I moved to Spain. Hey carbs, yes, please come in and make yourself at home. I don’t mind.

Discover Matador