- Michael Thompson
As an American living in Spain for the last twelve years — who is still very much American in actions and spirit — it got me thinking about all the little funny, quirky, and sometimes not-so-funny things that separate life between these two countries and below is what I’ve got so far.
1. Babies are not put in pumpkins for Thanksgiving photos
And this isn’t only because people don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s also because people don’t put their kids in pumpkins or bowls of pasta for clicks and giggles.
2. 21-year-old life coaches aren’t really a thing
Except for digital nomads which most Spanish people don’t really consider a thing as people have been traveling while working since the dawn of time. Most people (outside the US in general) prefer life stories over someone telling them how to live their life. Or, in most cases, not telling people how to live their lives at all which is kinda nice.
3. In Spain, when someone fails they move back in with their parents
In the US, however, they take their failures and position themselves as successful coaches, growth hackers, and viral bloggers which some people could consider ironic, or, at a minimum, questionable.
4. Side-hustles — smide bustles
This could just be because it’s expensive to be self-employed here (I pay the equivalent of $500 a month to invoice clients which is roughly a third of the average salary), but this whole movement of improving your life by locking yourself in your room after working eight hours a day doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. Content isn’t king and bloggers may exist, but they don’t position themselves as any smarter than anyone else which again is quite nice.
5. Talking about money is a good way to lose friends
In fact, it’s a sure-fire way to get physically spanked and verbally berated in Spain. In the US, however, people do it to make friends and grow their influence which one could argue is not the best way to make friends or grow their influence.
6. People don’t argue over whether or not they should wear a mask
99.99 percent of the population in Spain has zero interest in choosing this moment in time to be a rebel. They wear masks. Sure, they complain. But they wear masks. Even the ones who ride Harleys whose life motto is freedom and rebellion.
7. If you want to piss off someone in Spain, say their food could use some ketchup
Tomatoes blended with sugar and then packaged in plastic is considered revolting. Fresh food and simple ingredients cooked well beat processed or frozen food lathered in Heinz every time. In Catalunya, they cut tomatoes in half and rub them on bread as a substitute. It took some getting used to, but after a decade, today, I quite like it.
It’s a real shame fruit and vegetables are so expensive in the US. If I’ve learned anything since living in Spain it’s that environment really does affect behavior and good eating habits learned young lead to good eating habits as we get older.
8. Family portraits wearing the same outfit would not fly here
In all the days I’ve spent in the Mediterranean, I’ve never once seen a family get dressed up in the same outfit, go to the beach, and yell at each other to stand still and smile to show their neighbors how much they like each other.
9. I’ve never met anyone here who’s paying their own student loans while also paying for their kids’ school
School is free or reasonably cheap. The same goes for universities and for a few thousand euros a year you can get a solid education. That’s not funny. Like some of the other points, it’s just somewhat smart and an example of how things could be if the powers that be actually put people before profits and their own self-interest.
10. Banks don’t try to push their credit cards on six-year-olds
People may not be as “rich” in US terms, but they aren’t in debt and get to dip their toes in the sea a few times a year which is considered “rich” in non-US terms.
11. There are some millionaires in Spain who use Twitter to shout the value of minimalism and proclaim money doesn’t buy happiness
But not nearly as many as in the US. They understand the simple fact that rich people telling people — who do not have a lot of money — that money doesn’t matter is not the nicest way to treat people. And they certainly don’t do it with a Ferrari in the background.
12. Getting wasted before sporting events is considered weird
They actually watch the game and yell out of passion and not because they’re blacked-out on the Jager and coke they snuck into the stadium in their undies. Again, this took some getting used to. Fortunately, Neymar, missed the goal during warm-ups one day while I was reading to grab my beer and hit me square in the junk which sobered me up in sporting events for good.
13. In the US, rabbits are pets
In Spain, they’re Tuesday’s lunch.
14. You’ll never hear anyone complain about how their co-workers forgot their birthday
This is for the simple fact that the person who is celebrating their birthday brings cake or food for the office which is a trend I hope catches on in other places so I can eat more cake.
15. Cheif Happiness Officers are hard to come by
If someone here said their job was “Cheif Happiness Officer,” people would pay Neymar to kick them in the junk. The startup scene is, unfortunately, changing this. But in general, if your business needs someone to cheer other people up it’s probably a sign you’re in serious trouble.
16. Spanish people are not shocked when politicians have affairs or steal money
It’s not news. It’s business as usual. Strong work titles do funny things to people with weak morals and they always will. Overall, people don’t care about the personal lives of celebrities nearly as much which I think is nice.
17. School hours in Spain are from 9 to 5
This still isn’t ideal as most people work till 6pm but it beats the US time system and since most people here live near their families and have strong relationships with them, getting kids after school isn’t expensive or a problem.
18. My teacher friends don’t go broke doing their job
Nor do they work till 8pm and spend their weekends preparing. Again. Not funny. Just how things should be. Teachers live good lives and should live good lives along with other public servants and the people who actually help people for a living.
19. Holy shit is food shopping in the US exhausting
The last time I was in Brooklyn — where every square inch matters — I was blown away by the amount of cereal and ice cream choices there were. Here, we have a dozen or so options and I’ve never once heard anyone say — “Why don’t they have mocha cinnamon vegan brownie bacon delight with a kid sitting in a pumpkin on the label?”
20. Valentines Day is becoming more and more popular but it’s mainly because of marketing
Instead, in Catalunya, they celebrate Sant Jordi Day where the men and boys buy “a” rose for the women and girls and the women and girls buy “a” book for the men and boys.
It’s seriously beautiful. Entire cities and towns shut down for the day and the streets are lined with roses and books. This is actually a big thing — experiences are actually prioritized over price-tags and they create community events that everyone can afford and enjoy.
21. Like guns, heroin is relatively hard to find
Not much to add to that one.
22. Parents trust their kids
As early as high school, they allow them to stay out at clubs all night.
If you want people to trust you — trust them first.
23. There aren’t any sports teams in schools or universities in Spain
I think this is a wonderful thing. I used to teach at high schools here, and of course, there are cliques, but it’s hard to spot the jocks and if kids want to play sports, they join a club.
24. Prior to a few years ago, no one would be caught dead outside in sweatpants
I blame Instagram. The world was a lot more interesting when we had regional fashions and not global ones.
25. You can get high without going to jail
In fact, each household is legally allowed to have a few plants. Cops won’t bust their doors down. Again, it’s not a coincidence people here seem happier.
26. Speaking of cops, they don’t hide behind bushes to give people tickets for doing the same things they do
Actually, in the dozen years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen a cop holding a radar gun or on the highways at all for that matter. If you speed, you get a ticket in the mail. Again — if you give trust, you get trust.
27. Most kids have visible abdominal muscles
Even the ones who don’t play sports. It’s annoying. But that’s what happens with healthy school lunches, cheap fruits and vegetables, and walking trumps driving.
28. In Spain people don’t brag about themselves
“I have x amount of followers.” “I quit my job and now I’m rich.” It’s a great way to turn people off here and in general, sensationalism also gets eye rolls. Again this is changing due to marketing and social media which most people here don’t consider a good thing.
29. People are way less ambitious here
And I think that too is a beautiful thing. They eat well. They spend time with their families. They spend their free time in the sun. They exercise. If you do those things regularly, it warps your view of what a good life really is.
Be ambitious about your health and keep good relationships.
Make work your proud of and leave it at that.
30. Spanish people understand strangers fight when they have to stop every two seconds
As a result, there are more roundabouts than stop signs or red lights making road-rage way less prevalent.
31. Interest rates to buy a home are dirt-low
Salaries are much lower here making it difficult to save the money to put a deposit down to buy a home. But to contrast this, people live with their families to save money — and they aren’t made fun of for it — while interest rates are dirt low making monthly payments affordable. We pay the equivalent of $600 a month for our apartment which wouldn’t get us a bathroom in the US. Granted it’s the size of some bathrooms in the US. But it’s our bathroom.
32. Life truly is prioritized more than work
People are given and take a ridiculous amount of vacation days. My wife has the option to work a reduced schedule (five hours a day) for six years while our kids are young to spend more time with them. Yes, her salary is reduced. But not as much as you may think and her company pays double in June and December so families have more money during the summer and winter holidays.
Much of Spain closes in August. Even some multi-national companies and restaurants in major cities despite it being peak tourist season which proves they really do walk their talk of prioritizing life over work.
33. Meatballs aren’t the size of most cars
And anything more than one type of meat on a sandwich is considered weird. Maybe you can get away with some bacon. But other than that — much like General Tso’s chicken — an Italian sub or hoagie or grinder is a US invention that wouldn’t fly here.
I personally don’t like this about Europe.
I like meat.