By Costanza Cerasi
Many American students come to Spain to study abroad and find themselves confused, amused and sometimes perplexed with some cultural differences they are exposed to. American universities generally try to give students the opportunity to embrace the Spanish culture completely through three main social areas: home, school and work. Therefore students take classes in Spanish universities, are hosted by Spanish families and work in Spanish companies. This allows a full on immersion in a society that is completely different from the American one.
American customs vs Spanish habits
- Being practical: “I was just leaving the house with my hair wet,” said Yoona Bae, American University student from California, “and my host mother started screaming from the other end of the hall telling me I would get sick.” It is very common in America to leave the house with wet hair, while in Spain it is considered being sloppy, useless and it is considered to be dangerous.
- No smoking in public: “On the first day of my internship, I was trying to work on a project and suddenly I see this big cloud of smoke coming towards me,” said Nick Holterman, a Boston University student from Chicago. “I almost had a heart attack thinking it was coming from a fire, but I soon realized it was just coming from my boss’s cigarette.” In America smoking is not allowed almost anywhere and certainly not in the working place. In Spain, generally speaking, smoking is not only allowed, but occasionally encouraged as a social custom.
- Watching other people: “I was sitting in the metro minding my own business and this woman kept staring at me,” said Sophia Iffland. “I started thinking I must have something on my face or in my teeth of who knows, perhaps I was wearing my clothes inside out.” While staring in Spain is normal and somewhat flattering in certain cases, for American students it is quite distressing. “You feel awkward and put on the spot,” said Sophia, “but you later on learn to stare back.”
- Physical contact: Another social difference that tends to throw off Americans in Spain is physical contact. In Spain, like in the rest of Europe, greeting people in a warm manner is traditional and polite. In America people greet each other by saying “hi” or “good morning” or “good afternoon.” In Spain a double kiss is absolutely mandatory. “I was walking in my host’s house for the first time and I was so nervous to meet her. As soon as we met, I leaned my hand in order to shake hers and she looked at me as if I was an alien,” said Skovran Cunningham. “She hugged me and kissed me as if I was her long lost child. It was incredibly strange initially but then I felt immediately home.”
The American and the Spanish culture customs are worlds away, but by experiencing them both and learning to adapt to one and the other is the best way to truly be international.