Airport/Transportation: When landing in Spain they have you corralled in such a manner where you are automatically directed to immigration, but after immigration, there was zero customs. In other words, they did not care about what you were bringing into the country at all, or cared about checking what you had in anyway. Upon leaving the country, I was asked for my passport/documentation roughly four times. This is vastly different than in the United States wherein you are only asked for your passport/documentation once or twice depending on your flight schedule (direct or non-direct) when leaving the country.
On both of my flights, departure and return, failed to present the safety features and procedures of the aircraft per standard protocol on most flights in case of emergency. While they failed to present the safety features and procedures, the European airlines I used to return to the United States announced many things in multiple languages such that every passenger could understand the announcement. In contrast, the flight to Spain only used Spanish and English. Hearing several minutes of announcements every time seatbelt light was prompted might have been quite irritating for me, but providing announcements in several languages is more inclusive and becoming standard for more international flights.
Price of Items/Services: In Spain, they tend to keep the prices of items to include taxes, which is quite convenient since you usually have to ‘guess-timate’ the potential tax for an item in the United States and will not really know until you get to the register. The Spanish government does this to try to keep payments rounded to the closest dollar or fifty cents; however, I managed to get a few 1 and 2￠ coins during my stay.
Layout of Cities: A good portion of Spanish cities have quite a few plazas. Their streets break off radially from each plaza until they connect to the next plaza. From someone who is trained to think of everything in a grid system, it was quite difficult to get around the widely famous city of Madrid, at first. I found there city planning especially hard when an address did not have apartment numbers or tell you what floor they were on and a single floor building simply does not exist in large Spanish cities. Moreover, the street signs were not necessarily visible from a distance since they are typically a large tile placed at a corner of a building near a street intersection. It might not be practical for travel or getting around; however, it is much more visually appealing than the street signs in the United States.
Language: First of all, the ability to communicate in each city was different. In Madrid, it was very easy and they appreciated my attempts to use my minimal Spanish vocabulary I learned in grade school and high school. We would ultimately start to use Spanglish, a mixture of English and Spanish, to communicate, but even when someone did not know a single lick of English, they were very patient and made sure to answer my questions to the best of their ability.
Barcelona was very different than Madrid in terms of communication and language barriers. Barcelona is a part of an area of Spain called Catalonia. They speak Spanish, English, and Catalan. Catalan is a language that is found on a good portion of the east coast of Spain. It is a language all of its own, developed from the Roman language. In Barcelona, most locals preferred to speak English or to talk to the friend in the traveling group who was fluent in Spanish. This was was a very similar experience in Valencia and Alicante, which are much smaller cities where Spanish and Catalan are more prevalent than English speakers.
Something that I found to be very interesting and came as a surprise was the people I met on my adventures that did speak English and would give our group of mid-westerners the same compliment, “I love your accent.” To my travel group, this quite baffling - why would they love our accent? Each one of them would explain that to them it was like being on a sitcom or being with famous people. They associate the American Midwestern accent with music, the news, tv programs, etc. Typically, when something is produced in the English language they use a Midwestern accent because it is labeled as the ‘most easily understood’ to people.
Schedules:They have a very flexible schedule when things should and should not be done. For a short summary a schedule is:
7am - 9am: Small breakfast of something sweet and start work
10am - 2pm: Stop working and shops close for a long lunch and the stereotypical siesta is very much a reality in Spain
1pm - 3pm: Shops open back up for the rest of the day
8pm - 11pm: Shops close and it is tapas/dinner time
10pm - 5am: Bars and clubs are open
Overall, it is a very different schedule than most Americans are used to. It is also very odd because restaurants and places to eat are not open all day long like they are in the United States.
Food: Lunch is their main course for the day and normally has multiple courses. My traveling group only had time to have one typical lunch while in Spain, which happened to be in Valencia. We had to choose from multiple restaurants who all had multiple predetermined course meal options. The restaurant we chose had three courses, each course having a few different options. The first course was similar to an appetizer or a tapa in Spanish. You could have a salad, a cured jamon plate, or this rice with “spicy sauce” and an over-easy egg on top. The “spicy sauce” in comparison to thai or mexican ghost pepper spicy that is extremely mild. The main course was an option of swordfish or liver and tongue on rice. The dessert was an option of a few different cakes or coffee. Overall, it was a very filling meal and I understand why people would want to take a nap afterwards.
In continuation about the spicy sauce, it is commonly used on a few things like potatoes, a lot of other food items I was finding myself saying “this needs a sauce to it.” A lot of the dishes did not have a lot of seasoning that I was expecting, except for a specific black rice paella dish I ordered in Barcelona. Paella was originally created in the Valencia area on the East coast of Spain, but it is found throughout the country. Paella is a rice and seafood dish that includes mussels, prongs, octopus, and other items depending on the cook. The specific black rice paella was made with squid ink making the rice, mussels, and prongs look like they had a black sauce to it almost. It dyed my fingers black, but it gave the meal a salty, seasoned taste that was not otherwise found in the colorful mixed paella my friend ordered at the same restaurant.
Something that is standard in Spanish dining is that food comes out when it is hot and ready to eat and it is expected to share your meal with the other people at your table. Also sometimes when you order a certain amount of drinks they will give you free tapas. I never quite figured out what the particular reason was besides that it was customary.
Overall the experience of Spain, even for six days was amazing! I would highly recommend and hope this brief summary of just a few things that I learned has interested you to travel to Spain. It was warm and a great way to get out of Rolla for Spring Break.