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David smiling in front of an arch in Madrid

Culture Shock? Not Exactly

by David O'Keeffe Wednesday, February 14, 2018

I have always thought that the term "culture shock" is a bit dramatic and overused. While there can be large differences in cultures around the world, traveling within developed nations, particularly Western Europe, can be comfortable. It's hard to experience shock when you still have basic comforts like Wi-Fi, hot water, sit-down toilets, and yes, even Netflix and Starbucks!

That being said, there are some everyday differences that stand out after spending my first month in Madrid, so let's jump into them!

  • Cigarettes are everywhere! While it is a common stereotype that people in Europe smoke a lot of cigarettes, I still can't get over how prevalent it is, especially among the younger generations. Europeans are supposed to be the healthy ones!
  • People are thinner. There is less available junk food and serving sizes are smaller, causing the percentages of overweight people to be much less than the back home. Less junk food, more cigarettes, pick your poison I suppose.
  • The Spanish sleep schedule is different! The Siesta is very much a part of life here as older stores will open from roughly 10 am-2pm and 4:30-7 pm.
  • Taxes are included here. If something costs $3.50 you pay... $3.50! It's cool, it makes sense!
  • People go out, a lot! I suppose it has more to do with living in a big city than Spanish culture, but the night life in Madrid is a large part of the experience!
  • All of Europe offers student discounts and most museums are free to European students. It's about time!
  • Waiters don't get tipped. While they receive a regular wage, the standards of customer service at an average restaurant are lower.
  • In my classes with Spanish students, there are always multiple conversations going on during class! It makes it hard to focus and in the U.S., this would be disrespectful to the teacher. Maybe more surprising, the teachers rarely call the students out!
  • Spanish time is much more relaxed. Class rarely, if ever, starts on time. It plays to my strengths!
  • Everything is OLD! While the *colonial* history of America is relatively young, I find the centuries of history in Europe incredibly fascinating. It is over these thousands of years that cultures and languages have developed. For example, Spain, where different languages are spoken in different regions... of the same country! In Toledo, there are churches, synagogues, and mosques, all reflecting different stages in history. Some buildings are over 2,000 years old!!! It makes the *American* Revolutionary War seem like it happened yesterday!

David O’Keeffe is a junior studying international business, management, and entrepreneurship. To follow his personal blog visit: