Expectations versus reality for a Brit abroad
I moved to the Spanish capital, Madrid, nearly two months ago. I am here for a year teaching English in a secondary school as a language assistant. Before I arrived I thought I would be able to adapt to Spanish culture very easily, but my previous expectations have been very different from the reality of Spanish life.
Firstly, I didn´t realise how difficult it would be to adapt to the Spanish day and the timings of meals. Spanish 'midday' is at 14:00, meaning lunch is never before then. My expectation was that I would be eating lunch at 12:00-13:00, but most days it´s 15:30 before I eat lunch. Can I really still call this lunch?! The same applies with dinner or tea. In the UK I eat dinner between 18:00 and 19:00, but now that I am an adopted Spaniard, dinner time is 21:30.
The thing I didn´t realise is that this affects the Spanish sleeping routine. Eating dinner so late of course means that Spaniards go to bed so much later. It is such a British thing to go to bed at 22:00! Also, because everything happens later in Spain, the evening socialising time, especially at the weekend, is very late! The majority of British nightclubs, for example, close at 02:00 or 03:00, but here the party is only just starting at 02:00! This is something else which has really taken me by surprise.
Queuing politely and being cautious around strangers is also something which is very British, something which I only realised when I arrived in Spain. I took it for granted that queuing patiently is the norm, but this definitely isn´t the case in Spain. If there´s a free table in a restaurant, you quickly take it, even if there´s other people who have been waiting longer than you. Moreover, the metro is one big pushing and shoving affair. However, the lack of ´British politeness´ isn´t all bad, as it reflects how Spaniards aren´t timid in public; being friendly and talking to someone you´ve never met before is considered normal and is encouraged. Perhaps we could say that the etiquette of politely queuing in Britain is synonymous with a culture where interacting with people you don´t know is less common.
Finally, the reality of the Spanish diet is very different from my expectations. I never imagined I would get so many comments and questions from my flatmates about what I´m eating! Yesterday I made a piece of peanut butter on toast, and my flatmate said to me that this is such a British thing. The same applies with drinking tea. Food products that are so normal in the UK aren´t nearly as popular here.