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By Madelyn Swenson, Winona State University

Being as this was the first time I was out of the country, I want to give some tips on what shocked me the most about Barcelona culture. My top 10 culture shock triggers to be exact.

Culture shock is real! Do not doubt it will not happen to you because it will…I do not know one person here right now that said they did not experience it even a little bit. That being said the experience of culture shock is different for everyone.

It also goes away. For me all of the following were normal by my second week in Barcelona, if not sooner. So don’t panic and start looking for plane tickets home. I promise it gets SO MUCH better!

So…here we go!
  1. Meal times. I knew that everything was later here but this still hit me hard. Lunch is typically at two in the afternoon and dinner is at eight or nine at night. If you want to get tapas with your friends (which I highly recommend…they are delicious!) you will see an empty restaurant until around five or six in the evening. Now I do not know about you but for me I’m normally in bed watching Netflix by nine starting to wind down for the day. Here though you eat and depending on your homestay or restaurant you eat a lot. I would recommend trying to stick to this messed up eating schedule and not snacking. It will help to get used to it faster. Although if you are like me and when you are hungry you get hangry keep a little something in your bag and snack a little through the day.
  2. The metro (train/subway) and the buses are really clean. Now being from Minnesota and not living in the cities area, this is one I did not experience but heard a lot about from friends. A friend from New York said back home she would see rats in the stations and there would be crappy seats and trash and stuff. But here they are clean, the seats are nice, the only critter I have seen in a metro station is some dumb pigeon that flew down there. It’s really nice. I would highly recommend trying the metro while you are here. Then there is the bus. While the seats are still not comfortable, they are clean and there is no trash anywhere on the bus.
  3. NOTHING is open on Sundays. I was an early arrival to my program. I got here on a Sunday with the thought of getting a SIM card for my phone, buying shampoo, conditioner, lotion all of that before heading to my homestay the following day. WRONG! The only things that are open on Sundays are some restaurants. So if you want to do some shopping on the weekend, make sure you go on Friday or Saturday.
  4. The driving here is insane….at first. When I first got here I took a taxi from the airport where my friend and I were staying for the night. It was easily the scariest car ride so far in my life. This guy was getting super close to the backs of people’s cars (I was hitting my imaginary breaks), he was weaving in and out of traffic, and speeding up really fast then hitting the brakes hard. In the following days, I come to find out that every vehicle does this…including the bus! The motorbikes are worse. They go in between cars, speed through traffic, and weave all over the place. I even saw one guy texting while driving his motorbike. However, you get used to this and don’t notice it anymore or it becomes fun. For example, when I am on the bus I don’t notice the crazy driving anymore or hit my imaginary break. I took a taxi the other day because I was running late to work and it was like a fun roller coaster ride. It’s just something to embrace!
  5. Everyone smokes. I think the youngest person I saw smoking was in high school, so that isn’t as different than the states. But smoking is normal here. No one will give anyone a dirty look for smoking and they do not care about the health concerns. Because it is so popular, there is also cigarette butts everywhere. Eventually however, you do get used to it. The smell of smoke will become a common thing and you will hardly notice it.
  6. People actually take the tiny elevators. I don’t know if this is the same everywhere but at least where I am from if you are going higher than the third floor or are handicapped in some way it’s acceptable to ride the elevator. But here everyone takes it. And they are tiny elevators. I could hardly fit in the elevator with my checked suitcase and carry on at my homestay. You also have to push the outside door open. It does not just open. I honestly think these elevators are super cute! And after walking all day, I do not want to take the stairs to my second floor apartment. So, thank goodness its not looked down on!
  7. If you smile at someone while walking on the street, chances are you will not get a smile back. This I have heard from a lot of people, so I know it’s not just a “Minnesota nice” thing! So you know when you make awkward eye contact with someone when you are walking on the street or on the bus or something and you smile to be polite? In the states, that person will normally smile back at you. Not here. I think I have gotten one smile back in the two weeks I have been here. But don’t think Spaniards are mean people because they are not. They are SUPER nice! This is just part of the culture here. In Spain when you make awkward eye contact, you just keep walking and look the other way like nothing ever happened. However, because smiling when I make eye contact with someone is second nature to me I still do it and that is okay. Don’t feel like you have to change everything about yourself to fit in here because you don’t!
  8. Wearing your backpack in front of you instead on your back is smart…not childish. For those of you who don’t know (like me before orientation!) pickpocketing is a real thing here. It happens all time. So keep your purse zipped, back back in front of you, hand on your shoulder bag, and don’t for the love of all things put your phone in your back pocket. That being said, a lot of people wear their backpacks on their front side instead of the back because it is a lot harder to be pickpocketed then. For me, that seems like a childish thing to do. I remember doing that in elementary school to be funny. So I personally can’t get passed that mental image of it. I lock my backpack with a suitcase lock and keep everything in one pocket. But if you don’t see or can get passed the image of wearing your backpack on the front side as childish, I would recommend doing that because it is so safe!
  9. Coffees are TINY here…like ridiculously tiny. This one was a big one for me. To understand why, you need to understand my love and need for coffee. Back home, though I was trying to cut back, I would drink at least three cups of coffee a day….and they were not small either. If I made it in my Keurig at home, they were always either the 10 oz or 12 oz amounts, and if I bought it they would not be smaller than a medium. So coming here and ordering coffee for the first time and being handed a, what I call, shot of coffee, was a rude awakening. Though it is stronger here, I still struggle with that amount. This is the only one that I do not think I will get used to. If you are like me, one big tip is Starbucks sells American sized coffee 🙂
  10. You wear some kind of footwear in the house at all times. Back home in Minnesota, most people take their shoes off when you go in the house. I know this is also true for Wisconsin and Illinois. And I for one love to be barefoot or just in my socks. I think it’s more comfortable than shoes. My first morning at my homestay, I walked out into the kitchen for breakfast in my bare feet. My host mom looked at me and laughed. She told me to go put my shoes on. It hit me then that I never saw anyones barefeet or socks hit the floor here. I am getting used to this one, but it just feels very odd.

All in all, you WILL get used to these cultural differences. You might also have your own odd ones to deal with. Just know that everyone has some level of culture shock and that you will get used to most, if not all of them!

Madelyn Swenson

Madelyn is a Journalism major from Winona State University, and interned abroad during Summer 2019.