One of the perennially interesting perks of traveling is learning what little American quirks I’ve been taking for granted. Traveling pushes us outside of little comfort zones we didn’t even know we had and leaves us pondering doorknobs, water fountains, and all sorts of other topics we don’t usually give a second thought to. So! To kick off a series of posts about my recent travels in southern Spain, here are eight quirks I ran into over spring break.
- Dinner is super late at night.
It’s not unusual for Spaniards to sit down to eat dinner at 9 or 10 pm. It’s pretty standard for restaurants to open for dinner at 9 as well. I go to bed at 10:30! I usually eat around 6! We tried to adjust for a few days, but the tendency to eat late threw us through such a loop that we gave up and started finding restaurants that opened earlier. (There are explanations, but they didn’t make things any easier for jetlagged Americans used to eating dinner at 6 pm.)
- Corollary: nothing opens until 9 in the morning.
Okay, not nothing. But a lot of places are closed until 9 or 10 in the morning. I usually eat breakfast around 7. What if I want to go buy yogurt at 8 am? What then, Spain? (I should just go shopping the night before, that’s what.)
- Doorknobs are in the middle of the door. This baffles me. In the US and pretty much everywhere else I’ve traveled*, doorknobs are on the side of the door opposite the hinges. Opening a door is a two part movement: first you turn the knob, then you swing it open. In Spain, doorknobs are smack in the middle of the door! This is apparently done for aesthetic reasons, but it creates two problems: first, it’s harder to open and close doors, since leverage isn’t on your side, and second, it makes it impossible to use the door quietly.
- Their Spanish is different. This wasn’t exactly a surprise, but I hadn’t been exposed to much “Spain-Spanish” before this trip. It took me a few days to figure out that “bueno” for “okay” wasn’t going to get me anywhere — I needed to say “vale”. The accents were different, “aseo” apparently means “restroom”, and people said “cojer” without everyone in the vicinity turning red in the face. A strange world indeed.
- Smoking. Again, not a surprise, but not something I enjoyed. Second-hand smoke makes me cough, and I like to avoid it if I can.
- Weird ideas about vegetarian food. It’s not meat if it’s crumbled up really small and sprinkled in with your mushrooms! Thus goes the Spanish thinking about meat. Vegetarianism is a strange, exotic habit here. A waiter at a restaurant in Toledo actually told me I should “stop doing that” (as in, “stop being vegetarian”). Ah, well. There’s still good vegetarian food to be had, so I was happy in the end.
- Lack of water fountains. Spain’s got a lot of catching up to do on this front. I pack a water bottle everywhere out of habit, so I was fine, but you really can’t rely on water fountains in Spain.
- Potato sandwiches. It’s not super difficult to find vegetarian food, as long as you like bocadillo de papa, the country’s ubiquitous egg and potato sandwich. Yep, that’s right, potatoes in a sandwich. They’re actually pretty decent if you give them a chance!
*Which is mainly North and Central America and Asia and not Europe, to be totally fair.
- Dinner is super late at night.