5 Biggest Culture Shocks When Traveling To Spain

Bienvenidos – Welcome to Spain!  Get ready for major culture shock.  Nothing seems normal, but at least the tapas are free, right?

1. Mealtimes Are Completely Wrong.

Breakfast here isn’t even worthy of the name breakfast.  Half a croissant and coffee with milk leave me with daydreams of scrambled eggs.  I have to keep this particular yearning to myself because in Spain eggs are meant for any meal except breakfast.  The Spanish tortilla – basically a potato and egg omelette – is delicious and by some illogical fallacy is considered appropriate for all times of day excluding the morning.  SMH.


Lunch won’t happen until at least 2:30pm when you’ll enjoy a large meal that will likely include wine or beer.  This will inevitably make you sleepy.  Thank God for siestas!  Though you’ll have trouble keeping your eyes open at the table, everyone will continue to sit around long after the food has been eaten to talk and spend time together.  Try your best to contribute to the converstaion and look engaged.

10pm is a bit on the early side for dinner so you may need to go for tapas before.  (I mean, if I have to…. ) Considering you gorged yourself at lunch after starving from breakfast, the third meal of the day is very light.  Eating this way feels a bit like a forced introduction to intermittent fasting.


2. Siestas Are A Necessity, Not A Luxury.

After your large midday meal, the siesta is completely necessary and culturally expected.  As such, businesses all close in the middle of the day so the owners can go home to eat and rest.  Can you imagine if it was normal to take over TWO HOURS in the middle of a WORK DAY to lunch and nap?!  I don’t even want to know what would happen if I pulled that kind of stunt at my job in NYC.


But you’re now in a parallel universe where this is, in fact, normal.  Good luck finding anything open between the hours of 2 and 5 in the afternoon!  You’ll probably be asleep though.


3.  The Fiesta Never Ends.

There’s always, I repeat always, something going on here.  It could be a Monday and there would still be people out and about until the early morn.  The Spanish take full advantage of any excuse to party – not that they need one!


While casual drinking is acceptable all day, the true nightlife doesn’t really get started until around 2am.  I’ve left clubs and discotecas around 4am and I was one of the first to leave!  Not only was I heading home early, but people were arriving to the venue at that time.  I swear the Spanish body clock operates differently.  As for you, learn to love the siesta.


4. Families do everything together.

The tight knit nature of family life in Spain means that they are always together.  Even when children are very young, they join their parents and their friends out at the barres.  No one blinks an eye at babies seated on their parents lap at the table even when it’s after 10:30pm.  Maybe we’re overprotective of our children in the U.S. of A. but this seems like the opposite extreme.


Children or rather adult offspring often continue to live with their parents through university and beyond.  If they don’t marry right away, it’s not unheard of to have a 30-year-old still living at home.  Love you Mom & Dad, but no.  Just no.

5. Spaniards are sexier than you will ever be.

The people are beautiful and fashionable with killer confidence.  Red lipstick is more normal than not and shopping seems to be the sport of choice.  Don’t even get me started on the paradise that is Zara. Try not to feel like a wallflower next to these super humans.  Get yourself some trendy and tight-fitting clothes (yes men, you too!) and you’re a step in the right direction.


You’ll get stared at anyway, but take it in stride.  God bless you if you’re blonde though – you’ll get a lot of attention simply because you’re a novelty.  If shopping is the sport of choice, people watching is the national pastime.  The upside of the normalcy of blatant staring is that you won’t be creepy when checking out the Spanish people in all their glory.


What surprised you the most when you visited Spain?

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The Granada Diaries: Fin de Semana!

Granada church festival of flowers

This weekend was the festival of Nuestra Señora de Las Angustias and all of the Catholic believers in Granada brought flowers to the Basilica.  They built a living wall of the offerings outside!  The lines to bring bouquets to the front were extremely long but determined grannies stubbornly held their place in the queue.

Saturday morning was spent writing my essay on the Alhambra and catching up on school work.  Then I took a walk and explored the city a bit before booking a trip to Portugal in the coming weeks!  Travel here is so easy and accessible.

We went out in a group at night to a few places before ending up at a club called Boom Boom Room.  I still can’t believe that’s the real name!  Apparently it was a special night, because around 3:30am a special stage appeared and a drag show with dancers began.  They shot confetti into the crowd and made it rain with fake dollar bills.  We weren’t expecting it at all but it ended up being a blast.  The dry ice mist they sprayed into the crowd made my skin sting a bit.  The struggles of being in the middle of the dance floor…

There was still confetti in my hair when I woke up Sunday morning.  It was a low key day since we had stayed out late the night before.  By the afternoon, my energy was back and I went to a cafe for a few hours with other students to go over homework.  We chatted more than we studies but I didn’t mind – especially once I was served my cappuccino!

The Granada Diaries: Ice Cream and Amigos!

Pink Granada flavor ice cream in cup

Friday was a bit of a rough day for a lot of the people in the program.  It was the end of our second full week here in Granada.  Some of the initial excitement has worn off and stress about school has started to set in!  As the people around me were panicking, I remained calm about the high expectations regarding our school work. (I think it helps that I have a job lined up for after graduation!)

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living  in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” – Lao Tzu

Once I shifted my mindset, the day was mine to enjoy!  I had granada (pomegranate) flavored gelato with a few girls after class.  We went to the science museum in the afternoon and finished up with tapas and sangria.  Spending some time with people in the program and chatting about things other than school made me feel so much more connected and comfortable.

Ended up going out to dinner with my host mom and roommate.  We had the best time laughing and chatting outside at a barre.  It’s so fun to sit out on the sidewalk on a weekend and watch the Spanish live their lives!  Now I have an essay to write about Washington Irving and the Alhambra.  Time to get on the grind.


The Granada Diaries: 5 Things I’m Grateful For

Alhambra garden waterfall rocks

Feeling a little overwhelmed by how much I have going for me!  So much gratitude for…

  1. My incredible family who I love talking to whether via Facetime, Snapchat, or text.  The dog even made an appearance on the video chat this morning!
  2. My friends in the U.S. who have been beyond supportive of this semester and have reached out to say hello.
  3. My host mom here in Granada.  She knows everything about the city and doesn’t mind catering to a vegetarian – despite the fact that much of Spanish cuisine is centered on ham.
  4. My health and wellbeing that allows me to explore this city and get lost on side streets without realizing how far I’ve walked.
  5. The program I’m a part of here.  True, it is a lot of work but the intense nature is improving my Spanish by leaps and bounds.
  6. The opportunity to reflect and do something different.  Putting myself in an entirely new situation gives a new perspective to say the least!
  7. The coffee here.  Follow my Instagram for lots of espresso pics 🙂

The Granada Diaries: The Alhambra in Photos

King Pigeon pose in soldier barrack in the Alhambra

The most visited monument in Spain is the palace and fortress The Alhambra.  Original construction began in AD 889 but over the centuries different rulers have left their mark.  The arabic nature and architecture is occasionally interrupted by additions from the catholic kings after they took back the region from the conquerers.

I had the pleasure of visiting this historic and beautiful place! Here are a few snapshots of the gardens and palaces.  I can’t wait to go back!

Garden Archways La Alhambra GranadaFountain in Alhambra Granada Spain Archways in Palace of Carlos V in AlhambraGranada cityscape from AlhambraAlhambra palace view Granada Spain
Reflection Pool and Palace

The Granada Diaries: Rain and Routines

It’s starting to feel normal, like I actually live here. Class in the morning, coffee in a historical plaza, and various afternoon activities. It rained this afternoon for the first time since I’ve been here! I ran 2.5 miles in it and felt wonderful. The temperature is dropping as well. Finally I will be able to walk the city without the sheen of sweat on on my face. Not cute. 

The most delicious peach was my dinner tonight with Greek yogurt and cinnamon. My host mom found the cinnamon request a little strange but it made me feel at home!

The Granada Diaries: I find a yoga studio

Class today was great except for the massive amount of homework we received. Don’t they know we have fun things in the city to do?! I will begrudgingly admit that it is helpful to my language skills. 

Realized not only does my birthday fall on a Monday, but we have a 3 hour exam that day. Let’s hope that equates to good performance on my part. Birthday luck is a thing right?

Found a yoga studio this afternoon with a fellow student who is herself certified. It was a totally strange class but I loved it. There were only four people so we each received quite a bit of attention. I made major progress with my handstand! The class was instructed in a mix of Spanish, English, Sanskrit, and gesturing. There was the occasion not too gentle tap as well….

I left feeling incredible! My body definitely needed some twisting and bending. The 10 minutes of ab work was no joke either! Can’t wait to go back. 

The Granada Diaries: Cheers to the Weekend!

Claire doing king pigeon on paddleboard in Granada Spain

The first weekend in Granada was a success!  I can’t believe it’s only been one week.  We’ve done so much already!  The days here are almost like getting two for one.  You have an entire day in the morning, then you siesta after lunch, and have another day until midnight or one.

Saturday morning we left early for the beach.  The name is Playa Del La Herradura which means Horseshoe Beach.  The cove is shaped in an arclike fashion, hence the name.

I had the best time kayaking and paddle boarding for hours.  I must have applied sunscreen at least four times but I didn’t burn!  I kept losing my paddle while attempting SUP yoga – thank goodness it floated.  Briefly was able to get a headstand, but sadly no pics.  I attempted to round up a crew for beach volleyball.  There was some good bonding and shared laughs, but it wasn’t a real game.

We returned from the beach around 5:30pm and promptly showered and passed out.  The sun was draining and we’d had quite a bit of activity!  After dinner, we went out to a discoteca.  It was so much fun!  There was a mix of American music and Spanish hits but the dancing was a blast.  We had a huge group of people but there were plenty of locals too.

Sunday I slept in until 10am but probably could have slept longer!  We had breakfast, did some homework, then went for a beautiful walk near the Alhambra.  A refreshing drink on the terrace at the Hotel Alhambra Palace was the perfect afternoon treat with spectacular views of the city.

I slept for a bit in the afternoon once we’d had lunch then went to Mass at a nearby church.  I didn’t understand a lot of it or know the responses, but it was nice to be there especially on September 11th.  It was emotional to not be in the U.S. on such a day.

Chatted briefly with the fam and longer with my brother which was wonderful.  We discussed the skinny nature of Spaniards and their need to lift weights and tone up.  Too funny!

The Granada Diaries: Officially a Local

CMC in front of the Alhambra Granada Spain

The highlight of my day was having a Spanish teen ask me where a store called Lefties was located.  Not only did I know where it was, but I was successfully able to communicate this without seeming like a gringa! 

Grammar class this morning was hugely helpful since we reviewed verb tenses.  It should have been tedious, but the profesora was quite a character and she was able to make even the past preterite conjugations interesting and relevant.  She killed a bee quite dramatically mid-class.  It feels as though I’ve learned more in a few days here than I did in years of classes!  I suppose they gave me a good foundation and I can only improve exponentially from where I am now.

My favorite part of the day was our group walk of the district Albayzín.  It’s an incredible neighborhood with spectacular views of the Alhambra.  It’s also a top a miniature mountain so my calfs were burning by the top! #legday  The tiny streets are a maze and I plan to go back on Sunday to wander around and better learn the area.

I went for a run in a gorgeous park after returning home from our long walk.  It felt so good to move and have the cool air on my skin.  The nights are finally cooling off a bit.  I stretched out and did some yoga after running a few miles and endured some intrusive stares from los españoles.  I felt so good I didn’t mind a bit!

Considering I ran around 10 until 10:45 at night, I was amazed at the amount of people, including young children, out and about.  This city keeps the strangest hours!  It is a Friday night, but still.  Since we’re going to the beach in the morning, I elected to stay in after my run.  I’m so glad I did because I ended up having a lovely, in depth conversation with my host mom.  We watched a little of The Big Bang Theory in Spanish which was hilarious!

Meal of the day:

Breakfast (8:45am):  Watermelon, clementine, Earl Gray tea

Merienda = Snack (11am): Espresso doble, raw seed bar –> my last one 🙁

Lunch (3:00pm): Almonds, popped sour cream onion chips, leeks with garlic, vegetable lasagna, fresh pan, and ice cream from a local heladería for dessert.  It was Alhambra flavored which I think was a vanilla nut variety.  ‘Twas very refreshing!  I saved half for another day.

Dinner (11:30pm): Chilled tomato soup, mini pizza with artichokes and tomatoes

Hype for the beach tomorrow!

The Granada Diaries: Welcome to the Real World

Granada Spain Outdoor Cafe

Today we had the pleasure of taking a placement exam at nine in the morning.  It went okay, but we won’t know until later.  Fortunately, this was more of a quiz to help the professors acertain what to work on for our review month of September.  At the end of this month, I’ll have to take an exam that will determine what advanced classes I can take.  That will be the one to stress about!

After the mini text, we were assigned a two page essay!  In all my time imagining this semester, I will admit I somewhat forgot about taking classes and studying…

Meal of the day:

  • Breakfast (8:15am): Cherry juice, toast, kiwi and orange
  • Lunch (3:30pm): Vegetable rice, gazpacho, salad with sprouts and mini quiche
  • Dinner: (9:45pm): Toast with egg and cucumbers with mozzarella

I also enjoyed an espresso doble at 11am with a few other gals from the program.  It’s been awesome to start to get to know people!

Lunch with my Spanish mom and roommate was lovely as always.  I didn’t take a siesta but wrote the beginning of my essay.  Then I walked around looking for a pair of cuñas aka espadrille wedge sandals.  I have yet to find the perfect shoe so my search continues.

I met up with some people from the group for an optional information session and walk about the University in Granada and different buildings.  We also touched on the different libraries and sporting areas the school has that are accessible to students.  I was very sad to hear that the sand volleyball courts had been filled in a few years ago!

I ended up going for tapas and sangria with two other seniors afterward.  Before then, I hadn’t spoken more than two words to them so it felt nice to establish some camaraderie.  Plus the sangria was delicious!  (The calamari not so much)

They were going out afterward since Thursdays are a big night for the young people, but I had to return to the apartment for dinner (and to finish my essay).  There will be plenty of other nights to check out the night scene!