Minor (And Some Not-So-Minor) Differences
 Part 1: Lifestyle

Written by Karrie
January 2018

Upon our arrival to Spain, we all immediately started to notice some differences between the societal norms of our new country and our home in the United States and have continued to observe more and more as we become more immersed in the Spanish culture. 

Logroño is a very walkable city so the well-maintained sidewalks are used by the people regularly.  I never would have thought that sidewalks would become a main point of focus for me, but here in Logroño each street’s sidewalk is almost more beautiful than the last.  The sidewalks here are not just plain, concrete slabs like normally seen in the U.S.  The sidewalks here are works of art in and of themselves.  I always try to remember to look down when I’m walking on a new street so that I can see what new design, pattern, or material is used for the sidewalk. 

Hours of Operation for Businesses

We are still adjusting to the schedule of the hours of operation for most businesses in Logroño.  In keeping with Spanish tradition many businesses, including shops, cell phone stores, banks, and some restaurants, close up for the big meal of the day and a siesta around 2:00pm and may or may not reopen around 5:00pm.  This is a lovely tradition focusing on family time during the day, but can be a minor inconvenience when trying to run errands after getting home from work at 3:00 in the afternoon.  These differences in hours have urged us to be more willing to go out later in the evening to get things done.  It is still a little surprising to see how lively and full of energy the streets are each evening from around 8:00pm to 10:00pm, even during the darker winter hours, with people socializing and enjoying time together.

This is around 10:00 on a winter weekend night

Meal Times
The timetable for eating meals is drastically different in Spain compared to the U.S. and we still aren’t sure if we are doing it right!  During the work week, people eat breakfast at the regular time in the morning before heading to work.  But lunch, or the big meal of the day, is eaten much later around 2:00-3:00, which for me necessitates a small snack mid-morning.  Dinner is eaten around 9:00 or 10:00 during the darker winter months and never before 10:00 during the the lighter summer months. 

This shift in the meal schedule changes the mindset of when morning ends and afternoon/evening begins.  In my classes that start at 1:30pm, the teachers consistently greet the students by saying “good morning.”  At first I was confused by this, until I realized that for Spaniards, morning lasts until lunch is eaten in the late afternoon.  Using this mentality, we are only working in the morning and have the whole afternoon and evening for ourselves; rather than the American mindset of working all morning and afternoon, only having the evening free.  It is very typical for adults and children to have evening activities, such as English lessons, music lessons, sports, time with friends, etc. lasting until 9:00 and then having dinner afterwards. 

Hours of Operation for a restaurant (Notice it opens at 8:45pm for dinner!)

Socializing across age groups
One thing all four of us immediately noticed upon arriving in Spain (during a very social time, the San Mateo Festival) is that there is not a divide across the generations in terms of participating in social activities and events.  We would be enjoying some wine and pinchos at a bar at 11:00 on a Friday night and see people of all ages, from families out with young children, including babies in strollers and toddlers, to older men and women with their canes and dressed to the nines.  We all commented how in the U.S. it would be typical to see young through middle-aged adults at such an event, but not young children and certainly not people in the older generations.  This inter-mingling of the generations is another thing we love to observe in Spain.

All ages enjoying a chilly evening out

Tipping in Restaurants
For Americans this difference is a welcome change from the norm in the U.S.  Knowing that the people working in the restaurants are getting paid a livable wage and do not rely on people tipping them, is nice to know.  The cost difference may be balanced out by the fact that water is typically not free in restaurants and is not automatically given to everyone.

No “To-Go” Food and Drink
People in Spain (or at least in Logroño) do not eat “on-the-go.”  Eating is a time to enjoy the food and company of the people who you are eating with.  I have seen someone drinking a cup of coffee in a disposable to-go cup one time in my almost four months of living in Spain.  I cannot recall a time I have seen someone eating food while walking, driving, or moving in any way from point A to point B. 

Smoking in Spain is much more common than smoking in the United States.  Walking down the sidewalk can be a game of finding the path with the least smokey air and quickly trying to walk around the people and their cigarettes emitting smoke directly into our faces. 

Personal Proximity
I had heard before arriving in Spain that people have smaller personal “bubbles” than in the U.S. so it would not be uncommon for people to stand very close to you while waiting to cross the street or while talking.  I have not felt the differences in personal proximity regularly in these types of situations, but I have noticed that people do not get as offended if you slightly bump into them while passing closely on the street or in a store.  In the U.S. this type of accidental invasion of space can be taken very negatively but in Spain it is truly not even given two thoughts.  People in general are much more “que será será” here and less likely to become offended by accidental bumps.

Feeling Safe
I have not felt safer in any city I’ve lived as an adult as I do in Logroño.  We live in one of the safest regions of Spain and have felt the effects.  I now feel comfortable going running alone, something I never did when living in Seattle.  I have also walked around by myself at night in the dark, without anxiety, likely due to so many people out and about into the later hours of the evening.  The city is well-lit and many serious crimes are unheard of here.

Part of my running route
Walking home at dusk

One comment

  1. Karrie, you have got me hooked! I read all of your articles in your blog today and it got Mike and I talking! With him still having family in Spain we are talking about making a trip out there soon to see if it might be a fit for our family in the future. You and your friends have inspired me! Elle seems really familiar to me, too. So many adventures already! I love the Walla Walla connection you made!


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