The “Difference List”

By Lo Martinez, API Salamanca Peer Mentor

When you travel to a different country, it doesn’t take long to start noticing some cultural differences. It’s not that what you’re experiencing or seeing is wrong, it’s just noticeably different from what you’re used to. When I traveled to Salamanca, Spain, to study abroad, I noticed a lot of things that I found to be a little off. The “besos,” for example, are a perfect case in point. Not many times in the US will you be greeted by your friends with a kiss on each cheek.

As I began noticing differences like this, I did something I suggest that everyone do. I kept a list of all the foreign customs and norms that I found odd, strange or just plain DIFFERENT! I kept my list stored in my phone, but if you plan to keep a journal, that would also be a perfect place to stash your list. Not only is it fun to have while you’re abroad, but it’s also a great thing to look back on later and have a good laugh.
I’m sure anyone who is studying or has studied abroad in Spain will find this list funny. Hopefully they’ll have some “OH, YEAH!” moments like I did.

So, without further adieu, my “USA v. Espana List:”

1. Cars: People don’t bump music in their car.
2. Outlets: Enough said.
3. Besos: everyone greets me with kisses!
4. Meal times: Spanish people eat ridiculously late, for every meal.
5. Breakfast: Doesn’t exist.
6. Stores: You are expected to say hello and goodbye every time you enter or leave.
7. Lights: If you’re staying in a hotel, you have to have your keycard in a slot for the lights to work.
8. Nightlife: It’s a little crazy. Don’t plan on getting home until the sun rises!
9. Tapas: Delicious appetizers that cost less than a euro? Yes please!
10. Siesta: ENTIRE CITIES shut down for a grown-up naptime, every day.
11. Dancing: People rarely touch while dancing, unless it’s a designated partner dance.
12. Check, Please: When it comes to Drinks and Tapas you get your check and pay for everything AFTER you’re done.
13. Fountain Drinks: Also don’t exist.
14. Condiments: Salt not on table and you will get a very dirty look if you ask for it.
15. Water: You have to specify bottle or glass of water, or you’re getting charged for a bottle!
16. 1: The number one looks like an American’s J.
17. Home: Your home is for family, not your friends.
18. Tips: No tipping? Nice.
19. Jaywalking: If you value your life, don’t do it.
20. PDA: Intense, like nothing I’ve ever seen.

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  1. K Alexander says

    So interesting! Spain is a delight. Nothing like 9pm dinner. I love that the hotel room lights only work if the occupant is present to insert the keycard. That’s very eco wise! I really enjoyed this, and know Madi is looking forward to Salamanca and its idiosyncrasies.

  2. Dave baker says

    I have also come across cultures that seem “foreign” to me (no pun, intended). For instance, I didn’t know that slurping in Japan is considered a compliment to the cook (as if to say that the cooking was terrific). Also, a deeper bow to a senior member of citizen shows deference to him or her.

  3. Although I never study abroad, I wanted to but fear of adjustment and changes detered me from participating. I thought your post was great and detain when listing the differences. I think hands down, Besos would have been the most difficult to adjust to by far! It is amazing how what one think is normal, is totally abnormal in a different setting.

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