I believe that learning a language definitely involves embracing the culture that is associated with it. I myself have always been more attracted to the culture than to the language itself, mostly because you can learn so much more from it! There are just so many different cultures, each with its own unique story. For instance, let’s take Eastern and Western Europe. Everyone knows that there are differences between these two regions. There are the Eastern European “mystery countries” that many westerners cannot locate on a map, and then there is the old, and more extensively known, Western World.
I was always aware of these differences as well. However, I did not realize how many there were until I went to live in Spain for almost a year. These differences might have been even bigger considering that I did not go to a big city like the majority of foreigners, but instead went to the most northwestern part of the country: Galicia.
First of all, I just want to say that I absolutely adore Galicia. I feel like it’s now my second home. For those who haven’t heard of it, think of it as a culture completely on its own. Picture a whole different Spain, within the borders of Spain. Imagine beaches with cold ocean water and green hills covered with eucalyptus forests all year round. Visualize rain and mist, fresh air, a new language and amazing people!
However, being that I am half Russian and half Bulgarian, I experienced many awkward (and hilarious!) situations while in Galicia because of the many differences between the Eastern European and Spanish ways of thinking. This was the first time I was in the western part of Europe, and it was here that I finally understood how “Eastern” I actually am.
Therefore, in this article, I will explore several examples of the differences between Eastern European and Spanish culture. I would just like to clarify before we begin that this is all based on my own personal experiences, and I do not aim to generalize groups of people. There are, of course, a lot of exceptions, and these are just my own views! So, let’s begin!
Hospitality and social habits
Eastern Europe: People are social, as compared to Scandinavians.
Spain: People are very talkative, tend to joke around, smile a lot and generally don’t mind if you don’t understand Spanish at all. This is the type of country where you could go out alone and still have one of your best nights out.
Level of English
Eastern Europe: Almost everyone under the age of 35 speaks English at a very high level, especially those in the smaller countries. This is partially due to the fact that we generally watch movies in the original English version, with subtitles in our own language.
Spain: People rarely speak English well, even people who work in banks or mobile companies. All movies are dubbed directly into Spanish.
Guys dancing at a club or on the dance floor
Eastern Europe: Nope.
Spain: Of course!
Eastern Europe: The best party is a house party. You can listen to your own music and eat from 19:00 until 6:00 in the morning.
Spain: Let’s go to a couple of bars, then we can go to a club at 4:00 if there is no fiesta in the street.
Level of protectiveness
This refers to how a guy will react if one of his female friends is being bothered by someone at a club.
Eastern Europe: No way will an Eastern European man let anyone bother his friend! This guy is going to get directly involved!
Spain: A man will first let a woman solve the problem on her own.
Being drunk on the street or at a club
Eastern Europe: This is not acceptable! If you are really drunk, your buddy will immediately take care of you, and the next day you will be feeling quite ashamed. As for drunk girls, this is considered to be much worse… and it is very rare.
Spain: Yes. It’s fiesta time and we drink! Everyone gets drunk; it’s normal. There is nothing to be ashamed of!
Eastern Europe: A typical Slavic dude will never flirt or give you a ton of compliments, especially when he’s just met you!
Spain: A typical Spanish guy would have no problem saying romantic things to you that would make you blush, even if he just met you an hour ago!
Eastern Europe: Guys definitely prefer a girl that can cook and do the household chores, and they will make their preference clearly known. They are quite disappointed when a girl cannot cook even their favorite meals.
Spain: It is preferable, but it is not a major factor. This is the modern world! Even if a guy would prefer it, he probably wouldn’t say it out loud because he would be eaten alive.
Jack of all trades?
Eastern Europe: Guys are expected to be able to fix most things in their house or car. Thus, they need to have some general knowledge of physics, cars, electricity, guns, tanks, nuclear weapons, as well as any other daily necessities. And girls are not afraid to demand it from them!
Spain: Guys are open about not knowing how to repair things, and are not ashamed to call a professional to take care of it.
Depilation?! Especially for girls with hair on their arms
Eastern Europe: No, no, no to hair! Guys are actually terrified of girls with prominent hair on their arms and body. I’ve actually only seen two girls with arm hair in Bulgaria in the past eight years!
Spain: It is unusual to see a girl who waxes her arms.
Girls in high heels, dresses and make-up
Eastern Europe: This would be a normal Tuesday morning at the café downtown.
Spain: What’s the occasion? Is it Friday night? Is there a wedding? Is she a Russian lost in Spain?!
Girls and their relationship with garlic
Eastern Europe: It’s uncommon and unacceptable, especially when you are out. Just “no.”
Spain: Why not?! The boys can eat garlic and we can’t?
Time for dinner
Eastern Europe: 20:00 - 21:00, at the latest.
Spain: Don’t bother me before 22:00 at the earliest.
“Pocas cosas más españolas que llegar tarde y ser el primero en llegar!!”
What time do we go out (to bars)?
Eastern Europe: Around 21:00-22:00.
Spain: Sometime after 00:00 or 1:00.
Eastern Europe: Everyone orders for themselves.
Spain: We order ten different dishes and everyone tries a little from each one!
Eastern Europe: You have plenty of time to eat and your plate will stay in front of you for hours unless you ask the waitress to take it or there is absolutely nothing on it.
Spain: You have 17 minutes and 35 seconds to devour everything! Ready! Set! Go! If not, the waitress will take your plate.
Eating in general
Eastern Europe: We eat slowly and we enjoy our food. Food stays on the table for hours. You can take a bite, then tell a story for ten minutes, laugh, drink, then take another bite, etc…. it’s all the same whether you are in a restaurant or at home.
Spain: You devour everything on the table as fast as it is served, and the entire meal is finished in under an hour. Now time for dessert, coffee, or some shots.
Speaking of shots...
Eastern Europe: You actually drink shots as a shot, not like whiskey.
Spain: You drink it slowly and only call it a shot because it’s small.
Pero como?! Vodka sin mezclar?! (Drinks)
Eastern Europe: We drink mostly pure alcohol, and no self-respecting man would ever drink vodka with orange juice. Even most girls drink their drinks without mixing them.
Spain: It is actually so common to mix vodka with juice that it is almost impossible to explain that you want only vodka.
Eastern Europe: We say “Cheers” a lot! We have toasts! We invite ourselves to drink more and more.
Spain: It is not very common to say cheers every time you drink. People also tend to drink slower, especially after dinner (usually stronger alcohol).
Of course I encountered many more differences that I will not cover here, being that they are more debatable and I wanted my article to be fun and entertaining; just like the time I spent in amazing Spain!
Hero Image by jacinta lluch valero (CC BY-SA 2.0)