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10 Cultural Differences between Spain and the US

I've seen some recent social media posts about the cultural differences between Spain and the US and I thought I'd create a quick list of these differences from my point of view. My list is wide-ranging from food to medical care to siesta and it is woefully incomplete. Also, not all of these apply to everywhere in Spain but this has been my experience in Valencia.

a table at a restaurant with a glass of wine, a plate of olives, and a pair of sunglasses.

  1. It is common to see people enjoying beer and wine alongside breakfast at 9:00 am. This is not people on vacation, these are locals and they do it before heading to their jobs.

  2. My health insurance for 4 people is 285€/month and includes dental and vision care. I have no co-pays, deductibles, or lifetime caps on my care. However, prescriptions are not covered.

  3. Speaking of prescriptions, I walk into my farmacia and ask the farmacéutico for refills on our family's medications without presenting a paper prescription, unless it is for a new prescription or an antibiotic. Another surprising thing, a three-month supply of thyroid medication costs under 7€, and a month's supply of cholesterol meds costs about 3€. Specialty meds do cost more but are not cost-prohibitive. For example, I take an oncology med that costs me 92€/month. I believe this same medicine in the US is $250.

  4. I use a buggy to go on big shops because I walk to the grocery. The organic grocer is a 15-minute walk, the Asian grocery store is a 25-minute walk. The local Mercado with my favorite nut vendor is about 10 minutes away. There is a small neighborhood mini-mart that I use several times a week that is 3 minutes away. Most of the supermarkets have delivery available for a fairly low fee or a minimum spend.

  5. We walk our trash/recycling/compost to a centralized community container rather than having pick-up at our door. There are 6 drop-offs within a 3-minute walk of our building.

  6. Our bank requires transactions to be verified with a 6-digit PIN number sent to our cell phone for each online purchase. This does not usually include BIZUM which is similar to Venmo but is initiated from my banking app. While I can go to any branch of my bank for money transactions, account transactions (address, cell phone, ID cards) require that I go to the specific branch where I opened my account. Because cell phone verification is required for so many purchases, we can only update cell numbers in person at the bank.

  7. Weed clubs are a thing. Spain has interesting and loophole-filled laws about marijuana. I don't know all the ins and outs of these clubs, but you can read more about cannabis clubs here.

  8. Dinner time begins at 9:00 though most people will eat closer to 9:30 or 10:00 pm. If families are eating at a restaurant, the children are included and brought to dinner, not left with babysitters. During the summer months when there is no school, kids, even young children, are routinely out until 1:00 am.

  9. There is no such thing as personal space in Spain. Spaniards tend to stand very close to each other. Hugging and kissing on the cheek is very common, even when meeting for the first time.

  10. Siestas are real and necessary. Summer temps often climb into the upper 30s-low 40ºC (100-108ºF) and air conditioning isn't common in most homes and small businesses in Spain. To find relief, Spaniards close their persianas (blinds) or cortinas (curtains) and take a nap. You will also find many shops and restaurants closed during this time as well so that their workers can get some relief.

A multi-story building with long balconies and all of the blinds closed

And there you have it, 10 differences between life in these two countries. Have you ever experienced any of these surprising cultural differences during your travels in Spain? Which one is most surprising to you and if you have one that I left off that is a MUST share, please let me know!


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