Home Spain When in Spain: How to Transform from an American to a Spaniard

When in Spain: How to Transform from an American to a Spaniard

by Bree Leggett
AIFS student in Spain with bread

I cannot believe I have been abroad in Granada, Spain for two months now. In August I stepped off the plane a full fledged American, but now I think I may have some Spanish blood pulsing through my veins.

Here are a few tips on how to stop standing out like a sore thumb, and start looking like a local in Spain.

1) Actually get ready for class

Ever since the day I arrived in Spain I noticed how “dressed up” everyone always is. In America, it is rare to see people (especially college students) dressed to the nines on a regular basis. Ok, maybe not the nines, but Spaniards love their fashion. Women often trek to class, or wherever else they might be going, in heeled boots, blazers, and perfectly managed hair. I honestly don’t think I have seen one person sporting exercise clothes on the street since I have been here, just in the gym. So, to look less American, leave the leisure wear at home, and actually brush your hair.

2) Walk slowly

In America we are in a hurry to get where we are going 99% of the time. In Spain, life is a form of relaxation and pleasure. Spaniards walk slowly on the streets and never seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere. My first month here I’m pretty sure I power walked everywhere I was going: to class, to get coffee, to go buy stamps at the post office. And I was always dodging people and becoming frustrated because “don’t they have anywhere to be!?” Now after 2 months, I finally took a chill pill and starting doing what the Spaniards do – slowing down.

3) Know how to speak the language, or at least know how to order your food properly

If you are going to live abroad in a country that speaks a foreign language, you should put your best effort forth to speak the language, especially to the people that actually live here. When I first arrived in Spain I was guilty of occasionally letting English slip out in hopes the local I was talking to might actually know what I was saying. I was also guilty of horrible grammar. Prefacing an order with puedo tener (Can I have…) vs me pone is considered kind of rude in this part of Spain, and screams “I am not from here!” Once I started caring about grammar and pronunciation, a Spaniard complimented me after I ordered a meal and I was as proud as a peacock.

4) Eat churros con chocolate, paella, pastries, and ham like your life depends on it


My experience in Spain thus far has suggested that the above foods are the 4 main food groups of the Spanish diet. Not to mention cafe con leche and cheese too. I am pretty crazy about eating healthily, but Spain changed all that. Spaniards swear by the health benefits of coffee, bread, and cheese and I have learned to appreciate that way of thinking. You cannot come to Spain and avoid these 6 foods, not only because they are everywhere, but because they are so dang good!

5) Take a siesta

Siesta is the most important part of the day in Spain. Most of the city shuts down for the people to relax, eat lunch, and spend time with their friends and family; or just actually nap. I definitely have learned to appreciate this way of life and believe that Americans should consider the importance of taking mental and physical breaks more often.

6) Begin your night at 2 am or later

If you show up to popular nightlife spots in Spain before 2 a.m. you will not find a Spaniard. If anyone shows up to nightlife activities before 2 a.m. you can assume they are tourists. I still have not gotten used to the Spanish nightlife, so this is one way I stick out like a sore thumb, falling asleep on the dance floor around 1 am.

7) Drench everything in olive oil (My favorite tip!)

Spain is the world’s leading producer of olive oil. I have always been a fan of this healthy and tasty stuff, but the Spanish take it to another level. If you want to look like a Spaniard and less like an American, drench everything in good ol’ olive oil. For example: eggs, noodles, bread, potatoes, ham, cheese, salad, olives themselves, tuna, fruit, your hair, skin, and nails. My friends who are abroad with me in Spain give me a hard time because I take full advantage of this Spanish staple. I might leave my shoes behind and take 6 gallons of olive oil back to the States.

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