Later this morning we fly from Madrid to Greece, so we wanted to share a few last thoughts about Spain and Spanish culture.


We had read that many countries virtually shut down in the summer as everyone closes shop and heads for cooler climes, but this is the first time we’ve actually experienced it. A few shops began to close in July, but on the first of August, the exodus began in earnest. Now, it’s not uncommon to walk down a street and see three or four shops in a row with signs in their windows saying they are closed for the month.

The Spanish are used to things closing down at inconvenient times, though. Many stores shut down for siesta from about 2 until 5 or 5:30, and then stay open until 8 or 9. Amy and I never quite adjusted to this schedule and would regularly find ourselves ready to run an errand at 2:30 only to realize nothing would be open.

Even the trash shuts down here. Our high-rise apartment building has a small courtyard in the middle of it where the trash bins are kept. The courtyard is locked every afternoon, reopens for a bit in the evening, and then closes again at night. It’s also locked on weekends, and tenants don’t have a key to get in. The first weekend we were here we realized this too late, and had a stinky bag of trash to throw away on Saturday morning. We tied it up tight and put in on the balcony.

Spanish Food

Amy’s tutor, Jesús, is a bit of a foodie, but he told her he prefers Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and other foreign foods to Spanish food, which is very simple and basic. He’s got a point. Spanish food is, for the most part, the same from restaurant to restaurant. You can get a few varieties of bocadillos (sandwiches) but they often consist of just slices of sausage or cured ham on a roll. There are tapas (basically appetizers) but most places seem to serve the same varieties as every other place. You can find paella, but it’s more of a regional dish from Valencia.

Spanish food isn’t very spicy, either. Any thoughts you may have that Spanish food is like Mexican food should be banished. People cook with what they have, and there must be a lot more hot spices in Mexico than in Spain.

Hanging Out

In much of America, most socializing happens at home, whether at a dinner, a party, a barbecue, or simply a night in to watch movies or play games. In Ireland, most socializing happens in pubs, where there might be live music or a rugby match on TV, but it’s not really necessary to have an excuse to go to your local and have a drink. In Spain, socializing happens outside.

It’s not unusual to stroll the streets at 11 p.m. and pass groups of octogenarians sitting on benches, chatting away. Walk by any park any evening and it will be packed with people of all ages talking with friends and neighbours. Stop at a plaza (which you’ll find every few blocks), and not only will there be dozens of people sitting on benches, but many others leaning out over the balconies of the high rise apartment buildings overlooking the plaza.

The weather being so warm (often hot) in Spain is undoubtedly one reason for this outdoor culture. Try sitting on a park bench in Cork and you’ll get your butt wet most days, but lounging in a park in the evening breeze is a pleasant way to pass the evening in Madrid. Also, in a big city like Madrid, there are no yards, so getting outside means being in a public place.