Thursday, September 12, 2013

First Impressions: Cultural Differences

You can't escape culture shock. No matter how much you prepare, study, and blog-stalk, you are in for a whole new world when you go abroad. I'd venture to say that I'd experience culture shock if I moved to a state where sweet tea isn't on the menu (the sweetener packets just aren't the same). I had studied Spanish culture before (shout out to the World Language and Culture Department at Arkansas State University!), but no amount of book knowledge prepares you for getting off a plane and hearing everyone around you speaking rapid-fire Spanish.


The most notable difference to me is the schedule here. I've already written about this, but I'll say it again: the schedules here are very different from home. My sweet girls don't leave for school until 9 in the morning (and that's early!). Their school starts at 10:00. My schools start at 9 (sometimes 8, which I don't quite understand, but okay, I guess?). Furthermore, businesses are open from 10-2 and 5-8. This doesn't include bars, restaurants, or El Corte Ingles. Mealtimes are as follows: Breakfast (a graham cracker like cookie) is before you leave the house. Midmorning breakfast is around 11:00 (amazing food and coffee). Lunch is sometime around two in the afternoon. Mediana is around 5 (a snack/some tapas). Dinner is around nine or ten.

Don't even get me started on bedtime. My cousins in the States go to bed at eight o'clock on school nights. My girls here don't even eat dinner until at least an hour after I would have thought to tuck them in and sing a lullaby (granted, school starts later, but nonetheless). Before school started, they went to bed around midnight (they are 4 and 8).

There is a totally different sense of time here. There's not really a rush to do anything. I'm expected to be punctual to work, don't get me wrong. However, if I'm supposed to go shopping at 5 with a Spanish friend, I don't expect to go until 5:30 or so. Totally normal.


Actually, I worked for a long time to write a post about food. Haz click aquí (translation, "Click here").

Update: (I took a break from writing to enjoy dinner) We discussed food production differences while eating this evening. It was an interesting conversation. It all started with talking about the different kinds of meat commonly eaten here versus the USA (fish versus chicken, basically). Then, I asked what they eat at Christmas. The answer: seafood. All kinds of seafood. Sting ray, snails (is that seafood?), octopus, squid, crab, shrimp, clams... I cringed and said I'd like starve at Christmas here if they were out of shrimp. The idea of a Christmas ham was almost comical. Turkey? Too much effort (the ovens here are small). That then bloomed into the discussion about what kids eat here versus home. They eat fish as toddlers here. I don't think I ate fish --unless it was fried-- until I was in my 20's (I was accidentally served salmon with my shrimp once. It was a wonderful mistake).

The conversation then turned to food production in the USA. It's illegal to sell genetically modified produce here. If you do it, you get a huge fine. There is also an impending tax on high calorie soft drinks here. The meat at the store is labeled with the following: type of meat, origin, when it was butchered/caught, and when it arrived in Spain.


People here adore the sun. There's an economical crisis in Spain right now. You know who looks sad about it? Neither do I. The Spaniards are basking in the summer sun (with sunscreen). They're out in the common areas talking with friends. They're out at a bar laughing over some drinks. Spaniards are always in the streets when the weather permits. They are very social people.

They're also unaware of what Americans call "personal space." They greet each other with a kiss on each cheek. They sit right next to you on the metro. They don't move over when there's a free seat. They touch you when talking to you. Some will guide you around by holding your arm.

Here's the deal. I'm a hugger. Straight up. If you give a strong hug, we can be friends (but don't be creepy about it). I even like to sit very close to my friends. However, I don't like people in my face. I can count on one hand how many people I'm okay with being close to my face -- and one of those is actually my dog (if they're little kids, I can handle them in my face. Eskimo kisses!). Other than those, my immediate reaction to the social greeting here is, "WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE??" I'm slowly getting accustomed to this greeting. Some people will simply smile and say nice to meet you if I introduce myself as an American (bless you!!!).

Oh sweet Spain, can please we just hug? I'd really prefer that, thanks. I have a great formal handshake for meeting new people if hugging is strange to you. 

This is probably where someone out there is thinking, "Riiiiiight, a full embrace is less personal than a quick kiss on the cheek." Rest assured, it is less personal if it's a hey-I-just-met-you hug; it's easier than kisses. 

Survival skill: place a hand on the shoulder and kiss on left cheek first. Also, you can just brush cheeks and air kiss. I may have dramatized the extent of the kissing due to a slight case of culture shock... 

Last Names/Feminism

Spanish people have two last names. You're pretty obviously foreign if you leave the second last name spot blank. Typically, the order is father's last name followed by mother's last name.

Wait... don't they all have two last names? How do people not have ten zillion last names by now???

Funny you should ask! I had the same question. The society is still generally patriarchal. The last name that belonged to your father is what goes to your child.

Still confused? Let's talk about this. You take your father's first last name and your mother's first last name.

Does that make sense?

WAIT! There's more! Women typically don't take their husband's name at all. They don't switch one out. They don't share their names. They keep their last names. My host mom explained it this way, "Just because I married him doesn't mean my heritage has changed? Why would I change my identity from my family to his? I'm not an object! My family is still my family. I'm still me." When we had the conversation again (I ask a lot of questions), she said, "What if we got divorced? My children wouldn't share any last name with me! They wouldn't share last names if I had children with a second man. Why would I name my children after my husband's family, but not my own?"

That makes complete sense to me. Naturally, I had more questions. Such as, when you get mail for the family, to whom is it addressed? It's addressed the same way the children's last names are formed. When they send Christmas cards, it's the "Father's First Last Name Mother's FLN" family. 

For example: If David Smith Adams married Miriam Baker Miller, they would be the Smith Baker family. Their children would have the last names Smith and Baker. 

Hang with me here. My next question was, "What are you called when someone wants to talk to you formally. You're Mrs... what?"

Father's first name. I would be Señora Wyatt even when I'm married. Which gets into some Spanish vocab and culture lessons... We're almost done.

I don't know! THIRD BASE!!!! Please understand my reference

The Tooth Fairy

I need to preface section this with a story. About two years ago I lived in a duplex. My best friend, Brandon, lived on the other side.  We had a small mouse problem when the weather got cold. I saw a mouse run out of my closet while putting laundry away. When I crawled into bed later that night, I was adjusting my covers and I swear to you that I felt something mouse-sized brush against my foot. So, I screamed and called Brandon. He came over in the middle of the night and checked my room while I sat curled up in fear on the couch in the living room.

He laughed when he found a balled up sock under my covers. Best friends, I tell you what... they'll come inspect your room for mice in the middle of the night. 

What does that have to do with the Tooth Fairy? Oh, my dear friend, if you were in Spain, that mouse could have been looking for teeth under your pillow!! Ratoncito Pérez is the Spanish version of the Tooth Fairy.

"Ratoncito Pérez who lived with his family in a box of cookies in Madrid, but frequently ran away from home through the pipes of the city, and into the bedrooms of children who had lost their teeth. The story details how Ratoncito Pérez cunningly misleads any cats in the vicinity who may be lurking" source

That thought terrifies me. I guess a sweet little fairy is easier to imagine than a mouse in my bed. Yikes!

Fun Facts 

For my final thoughts in this post, please enjoy the following fun facts of the day:

1. The metro windows work well as makeshift mirrors when you go through tunnels. I enjoy it. I can fix my hair or steal glances at attractive men (admit it, you've used a reflective surface to check out an attractive person before!). 
2. I sang patriotic songs in the metro with a friend from my program today. We're considering a full setup in a metro hall one day: music, singing patriotic songs, and waving a giant US flag. Make some extra Euros!
3. I have freak out over unattended luggage. Someone got off the metro yesterday and we all thought he left his suitcase. Someone else started to chase after him to no avail. I temporarily assumed I was going to spend my last moments on that metro rail. It ended up belonging to someone else. No bomb threat. All was well.
4. It is difficult for a Spaniard to differentiate between lies, likes, and lice. We had an entire conversation about it last night (one of the girls came home with lice yesterday).
5. My new favorite Spanish phrase is "A otra cosa, mariposa." Literally, "on to another thing, butterfly." My host mom says it a lot to us. I love it! Basically, no big deal, let's move on to something else!
6. Trying to wake someone up is difficult if you're on the other side of the world. Shout out to my sister's coworker for waking my sister in the middle of the night in order to calm my nerves after I woke up from a nightmare. 
7. American stores sell strange things at crazy prices. You can buy a baseball bat pepper grinder for only 29€! No one likes baseball that much. Not even my dad! This really exists. I'm not kidding you. 
8. I'm told Frank's Original Hot Sauce exists in this town. I have yet to find it. The quest is on!
9. People from Canada and Buffalo, NY haven't heard of Chacos. 
10. I got stuck on the rock wall today. It was humorous once I found my way back down. 

That's all for now. It's about time for bed. Have you ever experienced culture shock? Did you listen to your national anthem while eating PB&J and crying a little bit? 


... but you can call me Kirt ♥

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