American Habits I lost When I Moved to Spain

I lived in Spain from 2010 to 2012 and live here in NYC with my husband, who is Spanish. So many of these things habit-changers continue to apply to me every day. My experience of course has forever changed me and, in many ways, challenged my very American upbringing. This is just a fun list of some American Habits I lost:

Avoiding anything that resembles an animal on my plate

When my now-husband brought me a goats head complete with eyes, tongue and brain to my apartment for lunch one day I was utterly disgusted. I took a picture and sent it to my friends and family. They were disgusted and asked what kind of barbaric culture I was living in. Ok, I still do not like goat head and prefer not to look at a pig’s cute face before eating it, but I appreciate my food more and the fact that meat is in fact from an animal and not processed lumps of meat-like ingredients created in a massive factory.

Being politically correct

At least in my town, Albacete (and during the summers – Piles, Valencia) people are anything but PC. Sometimes I would even catch an ad or a teacher’s announcement appear on the verge of racist or sexist, but I quickly learned that people just are not as sensitive as Americans are. All of my Asian students had the same nickname as Chino. Was he even Chinese? Probably not. Every Moroccan or Arab-looking student was nicknamed El Moro. And literally every group of friends had a dark-skinned Spaniard called El Negro. They mean it in the nicest way possible of course. In all fairness, these nicknames could be much worst. My husband is pai short for payaso or clown.

Not caring about the strength of my Coffee

At first it gave my sweaty palms and a racing heartbeat. Now – I. Need. My. Expresso.

Using a clothes dryer

Dryers are just not necessary. Instead every apartment is equipped with a terrace or separate room for your foldable laundry rack. Clothes smell like the Spanish sun and warm air. Ahh. Of course, the mild winters and mostly sunny days make this possible, whereas in New York you would have frozen t-shirts and cold pants if you did hung your clothes outside!

Wasting water, long showers

I was encouraged to go so far as to stop flushing the toilet all the time. That was a habit I never picked up.

I had been completely blind to water shortages growing up! Even in Southern California, where water is not plentiful the message to conserve was never really presented to me. In Spain, it was a big deal. Almost every shower had a bucket in it for collecting water, which could then be used to manually flush the toilet. Even European toilets are less wasteful than their American counterparts.

Disregarding loose change

Since the smallest bill is five euro, your change counts a lot! Those one and two Euro coins really add up. I had to buy a new wallet with a change purse because I was used to throwing away change so carelessly in the US. Anyways, why do we even have pennies? No one uses pennies any more.

Never carrying cash

In America I literally never carry cash, there is no reason to when my bank reimburses ATM fees and every store and restaurant accepts Credit or Debit cards. That is not the case in Spain. To my embarrassment I forgot my card on several occasions before I learned my lesson and my friends began to joke that it was a good tactic to get strangers to pay for me. All I had to do was “pretend” to not know that they don’t accept cards and inevitably someone would offer to buy my drink order. I never pretended! And now, I never leave home without cash.

Good or even decent Service

Service outside of the US is just not the same anywhere else in the world. Do not expect anything that you did not ask for. I no longer feel uncomfortable asking for the bill or flagging down my server for another drink. The positive side is that you can politely sit at a table for hours and order under ten euros worth of tapas and cerveza.

Containing my PDA, Generally being a cold-hearted American

At one point when I was first dating my now-husband I realized that his idea of appropriate PDA (public displays of affection) was much more relaxed than mine. Of course, kissing friends twice on the check instead of hugs or worst – cold-heart handshakes. Saying hello, how are you to everyone including brief moments in elevators, stores and on the streets. In New York being too friendly is cause for suspicion and avoidance of eye contact.


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