One of the most beautiful aspects of traveling is the opportunity to pick and choose parts of other cultures to adopt as part of your own lifestyle. Every culture has something to offer the next and, by visiting different countries, we can catch a glimpse of various habits and perspectives that we want to bring back home and implement into our own lives.
I spent three months studying abroad in Granada, Spain, a place that’s very different from my small Pennsylvania hometown. This was the longest amount of time I had spent in another country.
Here are the parts of Spanish culture that I would like to keep with me forever:
1. Fearless conversing with strangers
My first day in Granada, I accompanied my host mom on a grocery trip to the market. We were wandering through the produce section and I was surprised when a woman randomly asked out loud where the bread was. Even more surprising, multiple people within earshot told her where they imagined the bread section to be, and she thanked everyone and headed to the back of the store.
While this interaction seems very simple and normal, I imagine that in the same situation in the United States, the woman would not have been so eager to wonder aloud, and the strangers not so eager to answer. Part of our culture in the U.S. is to want others to believe we are independent and have control, or else we seem lost and helpless. Additionally, we tend to feel shy about asking, or in our minds bothering, others for help. Instead, we try to answer our own questions ourselves.
From other similar interactions in Spain, I’ve learned to appreciate the lack of public shyness people have. It now seems silly to feel like I’m bothering someone when I ask where the nearest ATM is, and I hope to adopt this comfort when interacting with strangers at home.
2. Relaxed sense of time
The one thing Americans seem to struggle with the most about Spanish customs is their habit of taking timing lightly. The “time is money” mentality is not super popular in Spain and it’s not uncommon for a Spanish person to show up late for dinners, meetings and casual hangouts.
However, I’d like to break the stereotype that all Spanish people are always late. Punctuality is important to many Spaniards and it is still considered rude to show up 20 minutes late to a meeting with no excuse. But in general, many people in Spain believe that there are other things more important than timing, and it is more important to catch up with an old friend you run into on the street than to be perfectly on time for work. Personally, I think that in the U.S. and other countries, we allow time to run our lives and frequently prevent us from investing in people and experiences. I would prefer to embrace the Spanish way acknowledging time and its importance, but not allowing it to dominate my decisions and actions.
3. (Acceptable) dismissal of personal space
If the entire Spanish population had one love language, it would be physical touch. It’s so engrained into their culture that it has become its own method of communication. Feeling sympathetic? A soft touch on someone’s arm. Super excited? A stronger touch! Need to get through a crowd? Pat a stranger on the back, and they’ll get the hint. All of these interactions are super normal and almost expected, while surprising for us personal-bubble-needing Americans. I’ve always loved to express sentiments through hugs, soft touches or a head on a shoulder, so this cute part of Spanish culture is one of my favorites.
4. Slow meals & long gatherings
Spanish people love to talk. They also love to eat. So, when we combine Spanish people talking and eating (two of their favorite things), it can seem like an actual never-ending supper. But I find this habit to be really sweet and necessary.
In the United States, it’s common for people to be in and out of restaurants within 40 minutes to an hour. When you take out the time it takes to choose a meal, eat and pay the bill, that leaves maybe 20-30 minutes of actually talking. To me, this seems like far too little time spent in actual conversation. On the other hand, if you’re out to eat somewhere in Spain, it may take you 20 minutes alone to even flag down the waiter for the check.
Speed and efficiency do not take priority over quality time spent sharing a meal with friends and family, and I enjoy this slow and leisurely custom over the quick and rushed eating habits I’m used to.
5. Shameless openness and acceptance of anyone
My favorite trait of Spanish culture and people is the unconditional acceptance and openness of everybody. I came into Spain as an American studying abroad, and instead of allowing stereotypes and biases to fill in my personality for me, they welcomed me and gave me the opportunity to show them who I am. I hadn’t ever made such good friends so quickly in my life and I know that the love they showed me was strong and real.
Moreover, I was able to experience firsthand their open-mindedness towards people with different backgrounds, ethnicities, perspectives and lifestyles. I can only hope to bring this openness back home with me and to share it with those I encounter in the future.