Transitioning to a New Life

Lindsay Kearns is a junior studying Spanish with a business minor.  She is also planning on receiving her Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate before graduating next Spring. During Winter Quarter, she is studying abroad in Toledo, Spain.

Being able to experience a foreign culture first-hand is a unique adventure. It is perhaps the best way to observe and understand the differences between people of the world. Before arriving in Toledo, Spain, we were briefed on what to expect not only by living in a foreign country, but also on the cultural differences inside the home.

Our director provided lesser-known habits including the fact that shoes are always to be worn while inside the house. Most of us laughed and thought “our mothers would never allow us to walk on our carpet with shoes on.” In Spain, a few of my classmates forgot this little custom and said their host parents looked at them in shock. I’m not sure if there is a specific reason for this, and as with any customs, not all families enforce wearing shoes inside.

One difference that is commonly known is that meals are often eaten later here than in the United States. Lunch is generally the largest meal of the day and consists of several courses followed by desserts and coffee or tea. In my house, we always eat lunch at 2:00 p.m. and even this is considered early. Typically lunch is served between 2-3:30 p.m. and lasts longer than meals in the States. Dinner is served anywhere between 8-11:00p.m.  and the portions are smaller than those eaten at lunch. In Spain, eating late has not always been the norm. Meals started to be consumed later in the 1930’s because of the war. Although this tradition has stuck through many decades, not all Spanish families still follow it.

Perhaps the oldest and most known cultural difference between the two countries is tapas. Tapas are small portions of food that are served at many restaurants and bars. The most common tapas include various assortments of cheese, ham, bread, olives and patatas bravas (a potato dish similar to French fries). Tapas are often free when ordering alcoholic beverages. The purpose for this is to combat getting drunk too quickly. A law was actually passed stating that alcohol could not be served unless tapas were served with them, thus aiming to prevent alcohol related problems such as fights.

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