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10 Major Differences Between Living in the USA and Spain




For the past seven months, I have been living abroad as an expat. I know it’s only been half a year, but so much has happened and changed in that time. I now live in the tiny but mighty city of Seville, Spain, in a lovely apartment overlooking the center of town and all its events and happenings.


Since moving here, we have traveled to France, Madrid, Cadiz, Fuengirola, Malaga, and London. I know, it’s a lot for just seven months, right?! But that’s just part of how much our lives have changed since moving here. It’s been a relatively short time, but the growth I’ve experienced and the lessons I’ve learned in each of these countries has shaped me and transformed me in such a way that revisiting our life in the United States as I wrote this was almost a paralyzing shock.


While I have an immense appreciation of my home country in the United States, I also see drastic differences in the lifestyles and cultures between my home and abroad. For the purposes of this post, I’ll be comparing the U.S. to Europe, more specifically my current home in Spain under the lens of our own experiences as a family.


Here are some lifestyle comparisons I’ve noted in the first quarter of my time living here: 

1- KISSING… I MEAN, CULTURAL GREETINGS.

In Spain, it’s the norm to kiss on the cheek when greeting people—which is more often than not an air kiss, where only cheeks meet while making a kissing sound . This, of course, it’s something we weren’t used to as Americans, where a handshake will usually do.

There's also a cultural habit to say hello or goodbye to "the room" you are entering or leaving. And I love it!

 

2- PLEASURE-FOCUSED LIFE vs CAREER FOCUSED LIFE

My favorite difference between Europe and the United States is the common pursuit of pleasure amongst people here. There is a high focus on pleasure, enjoyment and taking things slow. 

For example, all stores and most restaurants are closed on Sundays, limiting my husband’s and my ability to get groceries, but allowing us to put the focus on rest and each other. Saturdays are spent leisurely strolling along the narrow Spanish streets or taking a quiet walk to the local mercados (markets) where the Spanish families pick up their local fresh produce, cheeses and meats.

While the people in Europe take life more leisurely, in comparison, my time living in the United States showed me there was more of a focus on career advancement, education, and planning for the future. American families love to own property, take a leap in a new business or start-up, and think towards future goals.

While there is nothing at all wrong with the American way of life, it is just noticeably different from what we’re experiencing here. In Spain, families still think long-term, but in less of an achievement-focused way. There is not such a big focus on career goals or yearly salaries, but rather on simply and intentionally enjoying life with loved ones—on making life-long memories and living with purpose.

 

3- CULTURAL NORMS REGARDING PROFESSIONS

In America, it’s a common ice-breaker to ask someone at a bar, party or function what they do for income. It’s so common, in fact, that it is often known as a respectable thing to ask another in the hopes of getting to know someone and opening the conversation further.

But, in Europe, it is actually quite rude to ask someone what they do as a profession when you first meet them, for the focus on people’s lives in Europe is not so much related to career or profession, but on lifestyle, travels and most importantly: family. 

Out of sheer unconscious habit, I made the mistake of asking people in Spain what they do upon first meeting them—twice! Both times, I was met with a bit of confusion and a hint of surprise in their expressions, and I later learned that it wasn’t common to ask someone about their career immediately after meeting them. These days, when I meet someone, I ask about their family instead, where they are from, and what their interests and hobbies are.

 

4- SIESTA IS REAL!!

Oh man and boy, is there some rest going on between 2pm and 5pm!

As I mentioned on point two, the focus on life here lies more on pleasure, and I think that chill vibe is also expressed in the ritual of siesta.

During this timeframe, between 2 and 5 in the afternoon, many people will gather at cafes and bars to enjoy themselves, some will use this time to work out, and others will literally take a siesta (nap). But, if there’s one thing that’s for sure, it’s that pretty much no one will be working—siesta is sacred.

 

5- MEAL TIMES

Meal times are very different here from what we were used to in the States.

Back home, we’d have breakfast at 7 or 8 in the morning, and then we’d stop for lunch at midday. Dinner, usually, would be served between 5pm and 7pm at the latest.

Here, we start the day between 8 and 10am and have a light tostada (bread) with tomato and olive oil as well as café. At about 12pm, at mediodía, we have a piece of fruit or something small rather than a whole meal. Between 2pm and 5pm it’s siesta and lunch, which is pork loin and a side dish. Then, from 7 to 9 it’s medio-tarde which means it's tapas time! Dinner is served between 10pm and 12am and is usually something delish and home cooked for us. Or Korean! Because yes, even in Spain, I love my Korean food!

Here, meals are scattered more throughout the day, but they’re also lighter and more nutritious. More meals also mean there’s no unhealthy and sugar packed snacks in between meals.[2] 

 

6- AMERICAN vs SPANISH DIET

Tying up with what I disclosed in the previous point, it’s important to note that meal time isn’t only different in when we eat but also in how we eat and what we eat.

Mediterranean food is very different from American food, as the Spanish government isn't allowed to place many of the chemicals in the food that are allowed in the US. I feel like the relaxed lifestyle also helps with meals in the sense that there’s no rush in eating before heading somewhere, and meals are enjoyed in a different manner.

This has saved my stomach, my attitude, and has improved my health hundreds. Olive oil, olive oil, olive oil! That is the Spanish way, and I live by it now.

 

7- TRAVEL IS A LIFESTYLE, not a luxury

Travel is important amongst people in Europe. Conversation, in fact, is often focused around travel and the past trips families have taken together. And that’s not just traveling to their continent alone! Europeans love to see and experience countries like America, Egypt, Morocco, Japan, Australia, South Africa, Thailand, and Vietnam among others. It’s rare to meet a European that hasn’t ventured to other continents, while it’s unusual to meet an American that has gone farther than a few states away.

Travel is not just a luxury here, it is a lifestyle lived by many.

When Europeans are not traveling far, they make frequent vacations across their neighboring countries, which is made easier by the affordable airfares within Europe. There are also plenty school and work vacations scattered throughout the year, making it easier for families to take off for an entire week multiple times a year, such as in February and October.

Most of the Spanish have the entire month of August completely off, and it’s common to find a European family resting in the north of Spain for long weeks at a time during that period.

In regard to transportation, nearly everyone in my area of Spain bikes to work or takes quiet, spacious public transportation (train travel is the most common). Hardly anyone owns a car in Spain and, if they do, they drive it every so often while on a weekend road trip to a nearby village.[3] 

 

8- SPAIN HAS MAÑANA-TIMING AND AMERICA IS ON TIME.

Spanish time is always ABOUT or AROUND the scheduled time. If something starts at 10am, it might actually start at 10.30am… You just have to relax into the unknown a bit and worry less about being late—because you probably won’t be.

There’s a sense of slower, intentional, and beautiful living here. This style of living allows space to walk slower, to eat slower, to stop for a chat on the road without worrying of being late… a long chat even!

This is also a pace that is deeply creative, and I find myself flourishing in this sense of slowness and intentional living.

 

9- FUTBOL AND FOOTBALL

When they talk about football in Spain, they won’t usually be talking about football as we know it in America, but rather about fútbol (soccer).

No worries though, the fandoms of both types of sport are massive here, even if soccer is a little bit more of a thing. However, if there’s one thing that’s definitely different, it’s that there is way more singing and emotionality here in Spain! People are very passionate about sports, it's powerful and emotional to witness.

 

10- CAMARADERIE, FAMILY, AND TOGETHERNESS

While values in America might be centered around the future, careers, and individualism, Europe is more about camaraderie, family, and togetherness. The "we."

There’s a sense of unity here that I hadn’t seen or experienced before in my life. Here, you can always see the mix of generations traveling out in the streets together, whole families taking trips and vacations, and holidays being celebrated in big groups.

The closeness of the friendships and families is incredible to see and experience.


Bonus****11- Masculine vs Feminine Energy

In Spain, finding peace and fully embracing my feminine energy has been incredibly fulfilling. It happens naturally here. I have watched women come here just to vacation and cry leaving because the environment is very feminine energy rich. I cherish the strong emphasis on family and community ties here, nurturing my loved ones and creating a warm home environment. Spanish culture celebrates sensuality and self-care, allowing me to indulge in delightful experiences like savoring delicious cuisine and enjoying leisurely strolls, deepening my connection with my body and spirit. Engaging with the community through local festivals and cultural events fosters meaningful connections and a sense of unity, enriching my life with shared experiences and support. Valuing a healthy work-life balance allows me to prioritize self-care and personal pursuits alongside professional responsibilities, leading to greater fulfillment and happiness. Embracing emotional expression and authenticity empowers me to be true to myself, cultivate genuine relationships, and pursue my passions freely, fostering emotional well-being and personal growth. In essence, embracing my feminine energy in Spain has brought me profound peace, fulfillment, and connection to myself and those around me.

 

Why I Love Living in Spain in this Chapter of My Life

Everyone is different and we all value different lifestyles, which might also change depending on which stage of life we’re at. In my younger years, I pursued excitement, adventure, and ambition. But, right now, I am at a different phase in my life where I seek pleasure, community, family and enjoyment of life.

As I transit my early forties, I am filled with immense gratitude to be living in Europe because of this lifestyle change that resonates with me on such a deep level.

Right now, I’ll be here enjoying a new cultural way of life of slow pleasure and peaceful enjoyment with my family, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend our life.



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