Things I Didn’t Do Before Moving to Spain

Inspired by Georgette’s post, I decided to write a similar post about things I didn’t do before I came to Spain. You never really realize how much you’re changing while in the process, but looking back I realized I’d changed quite a bit over my years in Spain.

Gym Spain

Say hello to people in the gym locker room

Can someone please clarify why this is a thing? I still can’t get over the fact that, while I’m partially undressed (awkward!), I’m supposed to say bye to you as you leave the room. I don’t even know you!

Eat lunch at 3 and dinner at 10

I remember when I first came to Spain, back in 2008. Oh, how I hated waiting until 1:30 (when our residence’s cafeteria would open)to eat. I was always starving. No, not really, but you know how I love to exaggerate. Nowadays I shift easily between the Spanish timetable and the American one. It doesn’t feel weird to eat lunch at 12:30 at home and 3:00 here. It’s just how it is. I secretly love eating dinner late at night, and I vow never to become the person who eats at 5:30.

Think about how to say everything in Spanish

Whatever we’re doing, I’m always wondering how to say such-and-such word in a sentence. We might be watching our new favorite television show, The Wire, and I’ll wonder how to say something in Spanish, especially if it’s a word Mario doesn’t know in English. I think about this a lot: when reading a book, when talking to friends, when at the supermarket. It’s just invaded my head and thus my life.

Worry about what I wear to the grocery store

In Madrid, since I feel anonymous, I will wear my workout clothes to the store. But in Zamora? No, there I have to be properly outfitted, and sweatpants are off the list! Someone might see me!

Ask for drinks without ice

Why do we drink super-cold icy drinks in winter in the U.S.? Especially when the restaurant has decided to keep the heat at 66F! I start shivering immediately when I drink one of these beverages in mid-December. Now, drinking ice water in summer is different—put more ice in my drink, Spain!

Wear slippers

I used to never wear slippers, and going barefoot was okay—even in the dead of winter! But now, after many years coaching by Spaniards, I’ve started to wear slippers. I even put them by the side of my bed in anticipation of waking up and walking to the bathroom. What has happened to me?

Think about wasting water

Why do toilets in the U.S. have so much water in them? It seems like such a waste to me now, after years of seeing tiny European toilets with their 50 mL of water. A friend said the newer toilets in the U.S. are going to be more similar to Europe’s, which I count as a step in the right direction.

Public Transport Madrid

Use public transportation

Sure, every once in a while I took the bus in college, but before that? Never. It’s shocking to Spaniards how little public transportation we have. As much as I love the freedom a car provides, it would be nice to have better public transportation options in mid-size cities. In Madrid, there are so many options: buses (inter- and intra-city), trains (short, medium, and long distance), and the metro. The price is super cheap too! I am struggling to imagine how different our lives might be in a smaller-sized U.S. city.

Buy bread daily

I don’t eat that much bread, but I do live with a Spaniard, and he’s used to his daily ration of bread. In Spain, you don’t “put meat on the table,” you “llevar el pan a casa.” Bread is the lifeblood for many Spaniards! Just check out the numerous idioms regarding bread.

Hang things on the line to dry

Unfortunately, at our house in Madrid, we don’t have an outside clothesline. We don’t have a dryer either. So what do we do? We hang ours on a tendedero (see picture). But many Spaniards do have a clothesline outside to hang their things to dry. Before living in Spain, I barely seen this—we always dried our things in the dryer.

Worry so much about having my stuff stolen

I don’t mean to be negative about Spain, but I grew up in a small town where people did (and still do!) leave their doors open when they stop at the store or diner. Here in Madrid, I’m very protective of my stuff. I was going to leave my clothing in a bag in the gym locker room, but an older lady advised me not to, telling me that she’d had her old, practically worthless flip-flops stolen there along with a hairbrush. A hairbrush! Who steals that sort of thing? Lesson learned: I had to be protective of not just things like my wallet or iPhone, but also my hairbrush. Hmm.

Use earplugs to sleep at night

Even when I lived in an apartment in college, I never slept with earplugs. I was lucky to have good neighbors who didn’t blast their music, but I suppose our walls weren’t that thin either. Here? Here, I have the trash truck that comes at midnight. I have neighbors with really great surround sound and who always seem to be watching epic, Lord-of-the-Rings-type movies, a downstairs neighbor with a yappy mutt, and upstairs neighbors with high heels. Noise pollution! It’s real. So I sleep with earplugs. That way I won’t be kept up by the yap-yap-yapping of Chaval the dog.

So what about you? What are some things you do differently because you’ve lived in a new country?

36 thoughts on “Things I Didn’t Do Before Moving to Spain

  1. These are all great comments and most of them apply to lives in many European countries. To have a privilege to experience different culture is an amazing thing, many times an eye-opening one. I went the other way, from Europe to North America, and would say that the fresh bread and efficient public transportation are the things I miss the most.

  2. I really appreciate the mention and I loved your list as well. The ‘stuff stolen’ especially hit home because it has happened to so many friends during our various trips to Spain. That being said, I absolutely love Espagne recently discovered the beautiful town of Toledo, what a gem!

  3. Even now, 1.5 years after I left Spain, I still sleep with earplugs (and an eye/sleep mask), two things I never did before! I started wearing the sleep mask because I had terrible curtains in my piso, and the sun would wake me up, and I became so used to wearing it that now I can’t sleep without it. I also never go barefoot in the house anymore. In fact, I have two pairs of house slippers :P I just became so used to it in Spain that it feels funny not to wear slippers!

    1. Oh, i haven’t used the sleep mask, but I can see how it would be a slippery slope; earplugs certainly have been! Once you start, you can’t stop!

  4. Ok but why are we the same person…I was nodding my head at almost all of these!! I definitely say bye to people I don’t know, switch effortlessly between American and Spanish eating schedules, mentally translate things, wear slippers (mainly because of no carpet), use public transportation, and hang-dry.

    Other things I’ve picked up on here are learning how to cook healthily from scratch (partly because there’s very few pre-made ingredients or TV dinners), walking to get somewhere rather than hopping in the car first instinct, mopping floors every couple days rather than once a month, doing that change game where you give a few extra coins to get a whole bill back rather than tons of pennies, making foil-wrapped bocadillos to take on trips, using Spanish hand gestures, opening windows for fresh air, and becoming an olive oil snob.

    1. I do so many more things from scratch here too! Notably hummus, because it’s so damn good when made from dried beans and not from Mercadona. I mop a ton and vacuum a ton because I see so many more crumbs because I don’t have carpet. Mario calls it an obsession, but I disagree.

      Olive oil snobs 4 lyfeeee

  5. I love this list. I would add a couple of things to it:

    *Carry Kleenex tissues in my purse, since public bathrooms in Spain (bars, restaurants etc.) often have no toilet paper.
    *Turn on the TV 15 minutes before the program is set to start – or at least, that’s what we needed to do back in the 80s in Spain, because you could never really count on a program starting at exactly the time it was supposed to.

  6. Oh this so so so makes me think about how I’ve changed certain habits in Germany, I will have to keep brainstorming and dream up a post. While I don’t miss the ice, I don’t think I’d ever order one without still :)

  7. Totally identify with almost all of these. Along with thinking about Spanish I’m often thinking about English (why do we say X? or such-and-such is a really funny way to put that or what’s this word’s origin?). And I’m hooked on subtitles, even if I’m watching a movie alone I’ll put them on. Also – sunbathe at the beach (ridiculous in Oregon but great in Galicia), shop more at small shops than chain stores, and watch some soccer games and hardly any other sport.

  8. My friends back in Canada think I’m obsessed with having my stuff stolen. A few weeks ago when we went to visit my in-laws for Christmas we took an airport shuttle. I made sure to stand at the door and watch over our suitcases which were in the hold below. I stood there until the driver told me to get in, that we were leaving. I always do this whenever we take one of these buses. I sat as close to the door as possible in the bus so I would be one of the first off the bus. The bus arrived at our destination and I jumped off as fast as possible and the bags were there. Great.

    Fast forward a couple of weeks later. My father-in-law takes the exact same airport shuttle. He sits in the middle of the bus and gets off when the shuttle arrives at its destination. But guess what? His suitcase was not there.

    My guess is that another passenger stole his suitcase. Of course, the suitcase could have been stolen by a thief before departure (so while he was sitting in the bus waiting to leave) or on arrival (a thief was waiting for the bus to arrive and the suitcase was stolen before he could get there.) Who knows.

    When I tell my Canadian friends stories like these it’s almost as if they don’t believe me. Hopefully your blog post can remind North Americans moving here for the first time to never let their guard down.

    Oh, and yeah, I have slept with my ear plugs almost every single night for the past five years +.

  9. Moving to South Africa from Korea has been an adjustment for me, possibly even more than moving from the US to Korea. After 15 years of living in a low-crime country with plentiful, cheap, clean public transportation, now I do not even wear my wedding rings in public, so as not to make myself a target. There is a cafe just outside the gates of my neighborhood, and the guards question me and make sure that’s where I’m going if I walk out the gates. The guards have flat out told me not to take the minibuses which are what passes for public transportation.

    None of that would translate to my life outside of SA, so I don’t see any problem with transitioning when on holiday. On the other hand, I’ve become a very attentive car passenger, and can see myself being on the lookout for cool stuff wherever I go, even though I’m much less likely to see monkeys, baboons, ostriches, or zebras when driving at home.

    Other things I’m getting used to against my will, and will be happy to forget about when I visit home: slooooow internet, frequent power/ internet outages, and the laissez faire attitudes to both drinking and driving and punctuality.

  10. Great list :) Saying hello/goodbye to strangers is a hard one for me. I don’t get the point, and feel really rude/guilty when I forget to do it!
    My boyfriend and I just started watching The Wire after he got the whole series for Reyes. We’re watching it in Spanish, so I find myself wondering what they would be saying in English — like they call each other “macho” a lot and I wonder exactly which word they’re replacing in English.

    1. Probably “yo.” That’s my guess.

      I can’t imagine The Wire in Spanish. I hate dubbing, so we try to watch everything in the original version, even movies. The Wire had to be subtitled, of course—for both of us. Sometimes with all the slang or police jargon I’m lost too! Thank God for Wikipedia recaps of the episode hahaha

      1. Yesterday we started season three and I had to tell you two things:
        1. We started the first episode in English on accident and OH MY GOSH it is impossible to understand!!! Bodie and two other drug dealer dudes were talking about the towers being torn down and I was in shock at how hard it was to understand them. Hahaha definitely easier in Spanish, although I often have to call for pauses after the intense conversation scenes to make sure I’m understanding what’s going on.
        2. Once we put it into Spanish, we had the pleasure of discovering that THEY CHANGED PEOPLE’S VOICES. Stringer, Bodie, Rawls, who knows who else. It’s driving me insane.

        (Also, it probably is “yo” that they’re saying! I hadn’t thought of that at all. Thanks!)

  11. This is great! I still haven´t been able to bring myself to wear slippers though, no matter how much my boyfriend´s mum chases me around the house and goes on about the fact I´m going to catch a cold.

    Another big change for me is my level of English, in spite of working as an English teacher. This week I noticed that I ask questions like a Spaniard. `You speak English?´

    1. I sometimes try to dumb down my sentences, and I realize that’s probably not good, but I can’t help it when they just stare at me all blank-faced.

      I like wearing slippers because, as the floors are all not carpeted, I sometimes step on something (like a crumb we haven’t swept up yet), and it sticks to my foot! Ew :)

  12. Ha yes I love this! You’ve inspired me! I also started doing most of these things since moving to Spain, and it’s funny how easy it is to transition into my “old” self whenever I visit home! Great list.

  13. I know what you mean! I’ve just moved back to Spain after 3 years elsewhere (Italy and the UK) and I’m living in Madrid for the next 6 months and can’t wait to get into all my old Spanish habits.

  14. I love this post and can totally relate! Changing my eating schedule was definitely a must here although I am still usually pretty hungry by the time I get home at 3 for lunch. I may write a post like this for my blog and if I do I will be sure to link back to your post since it was my inspiration :)

  15. I realize this was posted quite a while ago, but I’m looking up things like “Things you should know before you move to Spain” because my husband and I are moving to Spain in November because he’s going to play for the national basketball team, and I’m so excited but I’m actually quite nervous too. This posting was a good read for me! The grocery store and stuff stolen tips were news to me. I’d never think I’d have to worry about what to wear to a grocery store or constantly have my guard up.

  16. Lovely article! I am going to move to Spain this winter with my fiance who is a Spanish. I love Spain before I even met him so I believe that this is a destiny! Thank you for the inspiring article!

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