13 Things You Didn’t Know About Life in Spain


One can only prepare so much before traveling or studying abroad. With a mere five weeks left (I am doing a fairly decent job of not processing how little time that actually is) before my wonderful semester in Madrid, Spain comes to a close, I decided to share a few of things my peers and I did not expect when coming to Spain. I hope my list and corresponding explanations give future travelers, study abroad students, or curious individuals a better sense of life in Spain and it’s rich culture and traditions.

Life in Spain

1. The food.

As obvious or shocking as this may be, Spanish food is NOT Mexican food. In fact, both of these cuisines are extremely different. Mexican food, on the other hand, is cooked deeply and has more of a distinctive taste. Spanish food is very healthy and, often, not cooked deeply. Also, any Spanish food will likely be bathed in varying levels of olive oil. No worries though, since Spain is the world’s largest producer of olive oil, ​the quality is often quite good.

2. Lots of bread.

On the topic of food…expect to eat bread with everything (the same way rice is the staple in many oriental and South Asian cuisines).

3. Get your Zs straight.

Spanish language: The “z” is pronounced “th” with a lisp. So “manzana,” “zero,” and “zumo” are all pronounced differently.

4. PDA.

Do not be surprised by the excessive displays of public affection EVERYWHERE. You may find yourself next to such a couple on the metro, in the park, or even sitting next to you on the bench. Generally, Spaniards do not move out of their parents’ homes (which tend to be apartments) until they are married. Hence, couples often, ironically, take to the outdoors for privacy. Additionally, Spaniards are quite liberal. Gay marriage has been legal for almost 10 years!

5. Prepare to see lots of ham.

Especially in Madrid and other parts of central Spain, expect to see pig legs hanging in shops everywhere. Ham or “jamon” is a staple in central Spain the same way the south of Spain, like Valencia, is known for its paella.

6. Tap water.

Madrid has some of the best tap water in Spain. This is wonderful because water is not free in Europe. If you want water with your meal you have to either buy a bottle or water or check to see if the restaurant has free tap water or “aqua de grife” available.

7. The best fruits.

You would not expect it but the fruits in Spain are DELICIOUS. If you get a chance, try the melon.

8. No bare feet!

According to our housing coordinator, it is also disrespectful to walk barefoot around the house. If you are studying abroad and staying with a host family, make sure you bring flip-flops! Besides, you will need them for those hostel showers…

9. Peaceful protests.

There are always peaceful protests going on in the streets (particularly in Madrid and Barcelona) over a whole host of issues. Expect to see people of all ages and races. Protests are a pastime in Spain and an excellent opportunity for you to really learn more about the Spanish people! I have attended a few and loved every minute. Whether or not you’re interested in politics, these protests are a way of life and are a part of the culture.

10. Leave your hats behind.

If you’re studying in Spain, leave your baseball hats at home. Not only is it obvious that you are an American, but it is also disrespectful to wear a hat in class.

11. Long and late meals.

Eating and drinking are both social events and are a deeply rooted part of Spanish society (if you could not tell from the number of items on this list devoted to food). Meals and such take hours on end. Lunch starts around 2:30 and dinner starts around 9:30 pm (even later on the weekends). Both of these meals will easily take 2-3 hours. Relax and enjoy the company. The waiters do not mind because they do not work for tips. On that note, expect to see children out and about past midnight with their families. I have seen families with small children arrive at restaurants at 11 pm. So goes it!

12. Accepting a drink.

Unlike in the USA, accepting drinks from strangers at bars and clubs means that you’re “agreeing” or “committing” to staying with that individual for the night, so choose wisely!

13. Parking.

Parallel parking is super easy in Madrid. Why? Unlike in the USA, drivers here are not concerned about hitting another person’s car. Space between cars isn’t a concept that really exists because, after all, One of my favorite memories in Madrid was watching a group of British tourists just stare, dumbfounded, at a man trying to get out of his parallel parking spot. I spent a considerable amount of time watching this humorous scene unfold — It was obvious to the rest of us that he was trapped in a very tight spot and there was no reasonable way for him to get out. He, however, had other plans and repeatedly hit the  cars in front of and behind him, under the impression that he would eventually create enough space to navigate out of his spot.Mind you, this was not the first time I had seen such a phenomenon either…

So there you have it: a list of 13 things to know about Madrid and Spain before you visit. I would love to hear your feedback and/or questions!. Just remember (as we all must keep reminding ourselves), when you see something that is unlike home, it is not weird. It is just different!

What are a few things you think other people should know before they take on life in Spain? Tell us below!

This article was written by Avantika, who is studying abroad in Madrid, Spain with Syracuse University Abroad. Studying political science, business administration, and human communication, Avantika is a junior at Trinity University in San Antonio. Follow her study abroad adventures on Twitter (@itsavantika) or Instagram (@itsavantika).

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