“Hey American?!”: Blending in and Sticking out in Spain

In many ways life at home in the United States and here in Spain are actually quite similar, however pointing out the differences is always more fun. Yes, I sometimes delight in spotting the little things which set Americans and Spaniards apart. And while not true for all of America, there’s a large swath of travelers who just can’t seem to get their head around the idea of blending in and looking the part, rather than sticking out like a sore thumb. Yea I’m looking at you guy with the XXL Hawaiin shirt. 

While living abroad in Madrid, Spain I’ve been granted a unique opportunity to watch and mentally note the glaring differences in dress, attitude, and general ways of talking, between the Americans and the Spanish/European contingency. How have I been able to straddle the fine line between these two worlds? Well speaking spanish and looking spanish have helped immensely, as has a conceited effort to blend in, rather than stick out in a crowd. That’s not to say though, I never feel the urge to let go and do something utterly American – say give a powerful, brotastic “high five” or utter the phrase, “Yippie-Ki-Yay MotherFucker!”

Here then are a few things I’ve noticed while living abroad and a list of simple, sure-fire ways to spot who’s an American.

1.) Shoes

Check the shoes and you can pick out the American, 9 times out of 10. The American has a distinctive look which seems to place comfort and traction above all else – many arrive in Spain rocking a pair of Nike or New Balance sneakers or are seen wandering the local markets with shoes which seem to be Wimbeldon-ready. In general, the Americans wear shoes which are big, often white, and almost clumsy looking. It’s a look which was started on the basketball courts and playgrounds, then took root during the University and Fraternity days, and now is cultivated in cities throughout the USA. Now the Spanish and European counterparts will place fashion above all else, often tossing comfort and all sensibility out the window. Their footwear is almost always made out of fine leather (they love leather in Spain) and is sleek, understated, and often shades of browns and blacks. Of course the shoes may represent larger differences between these two groups but for starters, the shoes tell a lot.

2.) Teeth

Smile! The teeth are often another giveaway with Americans and their sparkling whites (I know you use Crest whitestrips) while the Spaniards, with a smoking habit which is second to none, tend to have a slightly more yellow and european hue to their teeth.

3. The Personal Bubble

In the United States, we often refer to the concept of a personal bubble or private space, and one is politely instructed to keep a fair distance away. This is a common courtesy and is well known and well respected. In Spain, no such bubble exists. Spaniards are close-talkers and touchers. In any given conversation there may be hugging, kissing, touching, patting, pushing, shoving, and unwanted breath-smelling…beware of someone who’s just downed a bowl of gazpacho. In fact the kissing is mandatory, as each time you meet a friend the unspoken rules state you must give a peckish kiss to each cheek presented.

4. The Bathroom

The bathroom is a place of solace and silence across the United States. You don’t talk or touch, unless you want to end up like Larry Craig. While taking a leak or working out a bran-packed breakfast, people won’t generally greet each other…it’s a place to umm, get the work that needs doing, done. And then wash up and leave. However, in Spain, the rules are quite different. Upon entering the restroom or los servicios, you should belt out, “Hollllaaaaaaa” or “Que hay” to announce your presence and send a cordial salute to all parties present. To recap: In the United States you don’t talk much when in the bathroom, in Spain, you’ll find lots of joyous greetings and goodbyes.

5. Fashion vs. Function

This last point is a general note on the battle between what looks good and what works. In the United States we do love our rain jackets. From Seattle to New York, Americans will sport a waterproof jacket with a hood…often rendering an umbrella completely useless and making one a bit of a sissy if used. However, in Spain everyone and their mother boasts a fine winter coat – it may be a peacoat, a fur-coat, or leather, but the point is, it ain’t stopping the rain. So in Spain everyone carries an umbrella.

There you have 5 general differences between the good people of the United States and Spain.

Have another difference between Americans and Spaniards? Post it below as a comment or tell us on Twitter, @TAKEYATHERE.


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