15 Things I’ve Learned in My First Four Months in Spain

These past few months I’ve been learning the ropes on how to really live in Spain. This time around I don’t have a program coordinator or host mom, so I’ve been on my own to learn how to survive! I think I’m catching on pretty well to things but I’ll always have more to learn.

1. Always plan ahead with shopping, especially during the holidays. On Sundays most if not all stores are closed, and if Monday is a holiday, you’ll be SOL. The only place you might have luck is at the Chinos. One Sunday eating bad ramen was enough for me to learn my lesson.

cooking fail

2. You better bag your own groceries, and don’t wait until the cashier finishes scanning everything – start packing up those bags as soon as the first items slide down! It’ll save you from being flustered and angrily stared down by the growing line behind you. Also, don’t forget to weigh your own produce and print the label out.

stare down

3. Be  assertive at the bar. Nice manners and “after you” will get you nowhere except waiting all night for a drink. Also, speak loudly and clearly. (This isn’t limited to Spain, but I wasn’t really educated on proper bar behavior in the US either.)


4. Be more assertive in general, and don’t scuttle out of the way of all the people on the sidewalks. You’ll start to feel like a doormat based on how many times you let someone pass and no one lets you pass. Older people here are vicious and take up a lot of sidewalk space. Just keep walking straight. Don’t be a douche, obviously, but playing Mr. Nice Guy is just not necessary.


5. On the same note, personal space isn’t a thing. Get all up in people’s business, it can’t be avoided. On sidewalks, at the bar, on the bus/metro, etc. Don’t be offended by how close people stand to you.

crowd people train

6. Apologizing for every little thing is not necessary. Though if you slam into someone while passing on the metro or sidewalk, a quick “perdon” will do just fine.


7. Saying “thank you” for every little thing is also unnecessary. I do say it often, but I’m trying to cut back.

thank you

8. Prepare to stay out all night on Saturdays, no matter what you were planning before going out. Drink Coca-Cola if necessary. This may have been why kalimotxo (calimocho) was invented…

kalimotxo calimocho
Source: Supple Wine

9. There’s a science to walking with umbrellas on the sidewalk. I haven’t mastered it yet, but it’s an “over-under” kind of thing so the umbrellas won’t hit each other.

10. Extra attention must be paid while walking on sidewalks, especially at night and in the rain, to avoid dog poop. It’s there. Always.

poop whatsapp

11. It’s not necessary or good to leave the shower running the whole time. People are much more conscious of conserving water here. I’m now used to turning off the water while lathering up. It builds character, am I right?

12. Meeting local people can be challenging, but trying is always worth it. For me, doubly worth it as I met a wonderful guy that’s now my boyfriend. I’ve noticed a lot of bloggers, all girls, seem to have Spanish boyfriends or husbands, and it seems I’ve joined the club. Maybe there’s something in the water. Whatever it is, it seems American girls and Spanish guys go together like peanut butter and jelly.


13. Whatsapp will be your greatest friend and your biggest pet peeve all at once. Especially if you join any groups – be warned that your phone will be beeping all day. But it’s a great way to stay in contact with your new and old friends.

14. Spending the holidays in another country without family really isn’t too bad. But I like breaking out of routines and doing new things. Traditions have their time and place, and I do find them comforting, but I’ve learned to embrace change. Fortunately I was able to spend Thanksgiving and my Christmas vacation with great people.

christmas turkey
A giant Christmas turkey in Torrelavega

15. Apartment hunting in a second language is NOT easy. Especially close to the holidays. Writing down questions before going to see a flat, and writing down the answers while interviewing, can really help. There are some creepy places out there – including one ad with a picture of a terrifying doll! Fortunately, the eighth place I saw I am happy to now call home!


These are based on my Bilbao experiences. What have you learned in Spain or in any new place, and what valuable advice would you pass on?