Expat life changes you in many ways. Who would have thought ten years ago I would be where I am today? After 3 different countries, hundreds of new people and a thousand new experiences I can assure you I am in some ways different than my 20 something-year-old self. Today, I wanted to dive into how living abroad has changed a few of what you would call typical Spanish customs. If you have been an expat for quite some time you may relate to this; if you have never lived abroad you may feel sad about “my loss”.

Cultural change is not necessarily bad, it may indeed be a better fit for you. Being immersed in a different culture has opened up, and sometimes forced me into, new ways that I would have never been exposed to had I stayed in Spain. 

cultural customs
I have way too many photos posing with food – I had breakfast in “Los Bagels”, Eureka, during my road trip on the West Coast of the US.

At the end of the day, it is all a matter of preference. I ended up ditching some typical habits from my homeland that don’t work well with me any longer. Most of these habits involve daily routine and food. I actually feel very comfortable with my (not so) new habits, so much so that I often struggle to adapt to Spanish routines whenever I visit my hometown. Here are 6 customs that I don’t miss from Spain.

Time-related Spanish customs

Relaxed lifestyle

I would say, in Spain, people like to take their time getting things done. There is no rushing for the sake of rushing and when things are enjoyed, the can drag for longer than expected.

After living in the US, a country where life revolves around a fixed schedule and ticking boxes, I have gotten used to being constantly busy. So now, every time I come to Spain, I often find activities take too long, especially mealtimes, and I get the sensation that I accomplish less throughout the day.

Siesta

Siesta is probably the best known of all Spanish customs. Spaniards make sure they get downtime throughout the day, especially during the hottest period of the day, around 2 pm to 6 pm. I haven’t had to live with this social schedule since I moved out of Spain so I struggle to have to wait for shops to open again in the evening. I personally prefer doing my shopping and other errands after work and be home by 6. Then, I have got the rest of the evening to have dinner, go to the gym, prepare for the next day… And relax, if I can.

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Mealtimes

In Spain, people eat very late as a general rule. Small breakfast before going to work, breakfast break around 10, lunch between 2 and 3, coffee time at 5-6 and dinner at 10. I ditched this meal schedule a long time ago before my expat life had even begun. It was during my student exchange year in Germany that developed a preference for early dinners. Now I eat meals following a US approach. Early breakfast before work around 6.30 am., lunch break at around 12, midday snack whenever I can fit it, and dinner between 6 and 7. Bed at 10 pm. Repeat. 

This is one of the Spanish customs with which I struggle the most. Imagine the chaos when we come to Spain to visit. It’s very difficult to catch up for dinner with people because nobody wants to have dinner before 9 pm.  It takes a few days for my husband and me to adapt to eating this late, although we never quite get used to it and we certainly don’t enjoy it.

Food-related Spanish customs

Breakfast

I love breakfast.  My favourite breakfast always includes eggs, cheese, tomato and avocado. This has absolutely nothing to do with breakfast in Spain. In my home country, people usually have a cup of coffee (chocolate milk for kids) with a piece of toast. The typical piece of toast would have olive oil, crushed tomato and serrano ham. We also have a wide range of pork fat spreads but people don’t normally eat those every day (otherwise cholesterol would be a massive issue among Spaniards).

So, while Spanish breakfasts are nice to have every once in a while, it’s not my personal choice. It lacks nutritional value and there is too much bread and too little of everything else.

spanish custom: breakfast
Typical Spanish breakfast at restaurant – photo credit wikimedia commons by Cayetano

Meriendas

I love this term, although I don’t do meriendas anymore; you will soon learn why. A merienda is basically “coffee time” that goes with, again, a piece of toast, a sandwich or pastry. I am all for a balanced diet and those items are not part of my staple foods. Also, meriendas are around 6 pm, and guess what I do at that time? You got it, I have dinner! 

Spanish customs: churros con chocolate
Spaniards et churros con chocolate as a winter merienda or breakfast – Image by Zozz_ from Pixabay

Some typical Spanish dishes are carb bombs

When it comes to typical Spanish dishes, I find the ratio of carbohydrate and protein quite disproportionate. Too many carbs. Let’s look at the Spanish omelette. It has fried potato as its main ingredient. And paella? A rice-based dish. Winter stews are the same, they have a lot of carbs and fat. Fatty meat cuts are added for flavour, but there is very little protein in comparison.

Another carbohydrate related issue is the big bread culture. In Spain, people buy freshly baked bread every day and eat it practically with every meal, which elevates the carbohydrate ratio. When I was in high school I used to eat almost an entire loaf of bread each day. Fortunately, those unhealthy days are gone.

For me personally, in order to fuel my body properly, I eat 120 grams of protein per day. I could nor sustain a balanced diet in the long term if I ate typical Spanish dishes every day.

Spanish customs: paella
Paella at the market – Image by JaHo from Pixabay

So this was my short list of Spanish customs that I don’t follow anymore. What’s your relationship with food-related practices in your home country? Have you ever been to Spain and experienced anything mentioned above? Let me know in the comments!

If you are an expat you know that living overseas will eventually change some of the most traditional customs you grew up with. After 9 years living abroad, these are 6 popular Spanish customs that I aren't part of my life any longer. #Spain #culture #expatlife #culturalchange

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9 Comments

  1. I totally get why you changed your mealtimes! When I lived in the Netherlands, I lived with a few Spanish people and found it so odd that they were cooking dinner at 10/11pm?? I was blown away haha

  2. I get the struggle of not eating like others around you! I am in the US – Michigan – and follow a pescaterian diet, leaning vegan. VEGAN is fighting words in Michigan, for the most part. My family always worries that I “won’t have anything to eat” at family gatherings… People don’t realize how many things they eat – veggies, fruit, nuts – are actually vegan-friendly… sigh. Fun post!

  3. It’s funny that you don’t eat certain things anymore, whereas I lived in Madrid for 1.5 years and loved the Spanish food! Mediodia con la tortilla espanola is my favorite 🙂

    1. Some foods i don’t eat because of lifestyle changes and some others because i just cant find them ?. I remember being in the US and wanting to make a stew. I needed to get some specific pork cuts and i couldn’t even find a proper local butchery to start with!

  4. It is really interesting to read this post. I live US and try to “eat clean”, as best as possible. High protein, low carb. I always eat breakfast and we eat dinner around 6. We travel to Europe a lot. The Southern European countries seem to be similar in offering high carb, high fat content and eating dinner very late… 9-10 pm. It takes time to adjust to that every time we go to Europe. It’s interesting to read that someone native to there has difficulty with that schedule as well.

    1. I have lived overseas for quite some time and this is one of the things that I struggle with the most. I don’t think it is healthy to eat that kind of food that late at night. When I come back home my friends look at me weird ?

  5. I lived in Italy for a while, their meal schedule is almost the same. As I understand it, Europeans are used to having dinner late.

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