Before I start this post, I just want to say that I don’t think there’s an exact way to describe the Spanish lifestyle; it’s one that has to be felt to be truly understood. The Spanish are not like Canadians in any sense. Spain is very relaxed in comparison to hectic Canadian life, which means it’s really easy to adjust to, right? Wrong. It took at least a month and a half for me to get accustomed to the lifestyle here. Now, as I sit nearly at the three month mark, here’s a bit of advice on how to handle Spain for the first time.
1. Do not underestimate siesta
Siesta is a period of rest in the afternoon, usually after lunch time, that the Spanish take very seriously. All the shops close down and workers go home on a lunch break from around 2pm-5pm which proves to be extremely inconvenient when you sleep in late and try to head town around lunchtime.
2. You can have lazy Sundays
Nothing is open on Sunday, except for restaurants, bars, and a very small handful of grocery stores. If you want a day to stay in without feeling guilty, let it be the Sabbath.
My friends and I joke that when we go home and get asked how Spain was we are going to reply with some vague comment about bread. But honestly, you can’t escape bread here. You get it with every meal (some restaurants make you PAY for it, even though you don’t order it) or with every tapas plate you order. If you’re one of those people who tries to avoid carbs, don’t even bother here. Embrace the bread. Become one with the bread. There is no way to evade the bread.
4. Hands off the rosemary
At some tourist hotspots you’ll encounter women who will try to get you to accept a sprig of rosemary, only to demand a ridiculous amount of money. Some of these women are especially pushy and will forcefully grab your wrist while trying to force the rosemary into your hand (this happened to me in Granada). Whatever you do, do not take it! Just keep walking with your hands at your side and you should be fine.
5. Learn how to go with the flow
The Spanish aren’t big on itineraries. It’s not uncommon for my fellow au pair friends to have to cancel on weekend plans because their family decided the day before they’re going to go to the beach. You need to learn how to be flexible to survive here, otherwise you’ll get too frustrated with how quickly everything can change. Travel won’t always go perfectly smooth, so one must be able to adapt to sudden changes.
6. Your camouflage won’t work
Locals know if you’re a foreigner. It’s in the way you walk, the way you dress, and the way you talk (or the mere language, for that matter). Don’t stress over trying to blend in to the Spanish way of dress either because the Spanish will always have you beat with their tailored pants, collared shirts, and the scary way their shoes perfectly match their outfits. You can be smart about how you try to blend in (ie: don’t bury your face in a map as you walk down the street or carry a large camera around your neck) but just be aware that the people around you know you aren’t familiar with your surroundings.
7. Get familiar with the language
If you’re going to Spain without any knowledge whatsoever of the Spanish language (like me), hit up Duolingo and learn some basic phrases. Make sure you know your manners, such as please, thank you, sorry, and excuse me. Try to learn some helpful expressions too, like “how much is this” or “where is..”. Also be warned: Spanish people speak extremely fast. However, you’ll still be able to pick up on some of their favourite phrases, like VALE! VALE! (translation: Okay) and VENGA! VENGA! (translation: let’s go).
8. Learn how to do everything later
After your jet lag goes away, you’ll need to get used to a whole new schedule. This new schedule involves later mealtimes: expect lunch around 2 or 3 and dinner to be around 9 or 10. However, something to take note of is that this doesn’t mean restaurants stay open any later; most restaurants are closing up by midnight. If you’re eating later, expect to be going out later too; it’s not uncommon to arrive at a disco at 2am and find it empty, save for a few earlybirds. This is so strange to a Canadian, seeing as at home clubs and bars close around this time.
9. Carry tissues with you
You’ll be thanking me for this one big time, because more than half of the bathrooms in Spain NEVER have toilet paper. Sometimes they don’t even have toilet seats. Many times I wanted to complain to management but my lack of Spanish language skills failed me.
10. holaaa guapaaaa!
In Spain as a woman you’ll definitely get more attention than back at home. Men both young and old will shout out “hola guapa!” (hello beautiful/gorgeous) as you’re walking by and it is annoying as heck. Ignoring them is fine, but it got to a point where, much to their surprise, I just made repulsive, ugly faces at them as I walked away.