Things I Wish the U.S.A. Would Learn From Spain

There’s no such thing as a perfect country. And even though Spain has incredible food, beaches, nightlife and culture, it also has corruption, a crisis, low wages and more. However, there are some things that my country should learn from my adopted country (and vice-versa!) that if combined, would make the end result pretty close to a perfect place. Since I’ve already complained about the things I wish Spain had, back when I was a newbie expat, I’ll leave that out and stick to just the things I wish the U.S.A. would learn from Spain:


Shops and Bars in Vitoria, Spain

Saying “hello” when entering a shop. Here in Spain, when you enter a shop, you’re expected to greet the shopkeeper and/or assistants. Back home, that expectation isn’t there and usually the employee’s will be smothering greeting you first asking you if you need any help (no).

The drawn-out goodbyes. When you go to social gathering in Spain, you’re expected to personally greet and say goodbye to each and every person there; regardless of your relationship with them. Obviously this has its limits, and isn’t meant for your late-night trips to the discoteca. Think dinner with extended family, get-togethers with groups of friends, small, intimate parties, etc. I used to HATE doing this, 1) Because I’m from the land of hugs and handshakes and giving los dos besos to someone I just met used to be weird. 2) I used to get nervous that’d I’d confuse which side of a person’s face to kiss first (left, then right) and accidentally plant one on their lips!


A café con leche

The art of the café con leche. America, please take note. A Seattleite like myself denouncing Starbuck’s may be a bit of a sacrilege, but it’s really not that amazing. A good café con leche will trump your Grande Americano non-fat 1 pump caramel sh*t any day.

Breakfast breaks. Lots of companies allow employees a 10-15 minute breakfast break each morning at around 11 o’clock to perk up over aforementioned café con leche or gobble down a slice or tortilla or two. It’s just  enough to tide you over until the big meal of the day and it makes the day go by more quickly.

Conil de la Frontera, Spain

Conil de la Frontera, Spain

Abundant vacation days. Last year, CNN polled countries on their vacation days, and Spain topped the list with 30 days (France, Denmark Brazil and Germany also enjoy 30 days.) Back home, we’re lucky if we get 2 weeks.

The fervent love of fútbol. Ok, so we Americans have the love of the ‘other’ football going for us, but it would be nice if the emerging MLS was a bit more exciting than what it currently is. We’ll see how the state of soccer is in a few years, I have high hopes that it will continue growing each year!


Three cuties fishing in San Sebastián

 A less individualistic society. I love the drive that many of my fellow country-men have, but the States can feel like a lonely place sometimes because we are all so damn independent. This means more focus on ourselves, and less of an importance placed on family and community–whereas in Spain, it’s the complete opposite. You’ll see families out in the bars with kids in tow, grandmas and grandpas sitting out on the ubiquitous benches chatting, and groups of friends (who’ve been in the same group of friends since childhood) meeting over cañas at what seems like all times of the day–and night.

Local businesses are abundant.  Even though the crisis is hitting small businesses hard, it’s nice to see that so many of them still exist and haven’t disappeared due to big business. I love being able to go to the local carnicería, panadería, pescadería and frutería to do my shopping and support local business.


Pintxos and kalimotxos in San Sebastián

Tapas/Pintxos Culture. In my perfect world, the tapas/pintxos culture would exist everywhere. Here, home entertaining isn’t nearly as common as it is in the States, so the local bars function, in a way, as a living room of sorts. I love going out with friends to grab small bites and sample glasses of wine. I think it’s the heart of Spanish culture, something that from north to south to east to west is basically the same experience–finding something all of the country has in common can be difficult!

What do you think your country could learn from Spain?



    • says

      Haha I definitely don’t like the goodbyes either. I’m an awkward person sometimes, so they just make me feel even more awkward. I do like the definiteness of the hellos, though. Here in Madrid, when I meet an American, I’m never sure what to do, though.

      I definitely agree with tapas/pinchos, but it’s not very plausible in most smaller towns as things are so spread out. However, maybe in walkable cities it could work!
      Kaley [Y Mucho Más] recently posted…Drinking Domus in ToledoMy Profile

      • says

        I can be so awkward too, and learning that whole routine definitely emphasized that quality in me! By far the most awkward is greeting another American/non-Spaniard in Spain…I also have to ask! I’ve had a few really embarrassing moments there.

        Isn’t it sad that we couldn’t make tapas/pintxos work in the USA even if we tried? :(

    • says

      I’ve learned a lot about Spanish culture over the years, but am nowhere near an expert! It’s fun to compare and contrast the differences sometimes, however.

    • says

      You know what I find funny about the coffee thing, though? You hear Spaniards say their coffee culture is not that good when compared to other places, and you just think they don’t know what they’re talking about.

      Although drinking coffee in Italy > drinking coffee in Spain. Longing for those cappucinos that I had this summer. :)
      Kaley [Y Mucho Más] recently posted…Drinking Domus in ToledoMy Profile

      • says

        I’ve never heard Spaniards say that. I was just in Rome and while I loved all of the Italian pastries to go with my coffee, wasn’t sold on the cappuccinos! The best coffee I’ve ever had was in Greece.

  1. says

    I think that one of the things I love most about Spain is the walkability of cities, even some of the bigger ones. the US should change zoning regulations so builders could implement mixed use spaces so grocers could open below apartment buildings. imagine not having to drive to get to a bar or restaurant and worrying about DUI checkpoints. this would be a lot to ask for but probably could lead to one of the biggest societal changes the US could see. wages could be directed away from owning a car and placed on other aspects of life. it wouldnt be as unnecessary to waste hours stuck in trafic a week. check out a book called Geography of Nowhere

    • says

      You’re absolutely right, and it’s actually a point I forgot to include! I love the walkability of Spain. Doing that in the States would require a complete overhaul of our current system…I can’t imagine us moving away from the suburbs, but it would be nice to see more “mixed space” buildings that we only tend to see in the cities in the states. Will definitely check out the book recommendation–thanks!

  2. says

    I definitely agree wth all of these! I would add that in the US, the driving culture and suburban cities adds to the individualism. Most people drive home from work at night by themselves and park in their garages, which leads to ten spending the rest of the night at home. In most of Spain, people are walking or taking public transportation to work and/or school which makes them more open and a part of their community.
    Mike recently posted…Becoming a Global CitizenMy Profile

    • says

      Good point! Our culture basically lends itself to being anti-social in some ways. I love the walkability of Spain–all that walking allows for more room for tapas too 😉

  3. says

    Ok, can I first say I LOVE your new lay out? Such a chic design, and easy to navigate for the technologically-impaired like myself.

    Also, I agree with everything in this post. I still miss Spain every day, and the majority of that comes from my yearning for la vida española. Life in New York is the complete opposite of the laid back, friendly, welcoming atmosphere of Spain in general, but especially el sur. Luckily, Chelsea has adopted the tapas culture a bit, and is chock-full of tapas bars ideal for a little hop, so I can get a tortilla/pulpo/rioja fix when I’m feeling especially homesick. Although, the whole paying $12 for a glass of tempranillo and then $10 for salmorejo hurts my heart. And wallet. I can’t wait to get up north and try out the pintxos upon my return!

    I think the number 1 thing I miss though, is the less individualistic society. Oh, and the vacation days. A dose of these things would make for a much happier US of A.

    You put it beautifully. Loved this post!
    Julia recently posted…an insider’s guide to getting lost in granada {el albaicín}My Profile

    • says

      Aww, that made me smile, thank you! Apparently it’s not showing up the same on certain browsers, so I’m looking into a fix.

      I’ve never been to NYC, but I can only imagine how different it is from Spanish culture, apart from maybe Madrid or BCN. I think the USA’s take on tapas bar is interesting to see unfold–I love that Spanish food is becoming popular in the world, but once you’ve experienced the original, it’s hard to go back, much less pay NYC prices for something that costs a euro or two over here! Soon enough you’ll be back, and dare I say it, even sick of Spanish food! :)

  4. says

    Great post! I am preparing to go to Spain in a few months for six weeks. I have been before but these are a few good reminders on what to expect when I go back.

  5. says

    The vacation days are the best! It really does help make me much happier with my life and job. I couldn’t believe it when I got more vacation days at my entry-level job in Spain than my parents do at their jobs.

    Also, what Kaley said above about Spaniards saying their coffee culture sucks…they say that all the time to me! I don’t get it.

  6. says

    Generally speaking, life in Spain is much more relaxed and it shows in all the stuff you mentioned in your post. People take much more time to enjoy life, family, friends and all those little magical moments life grants us every day. In US we’re too consumed with making a living and end up forgetting that it’s not the end goal.

  7. says

    Definitely some interesting ideas here! I wonder what differences you are noticing with the culture of Pais Vasco vs Andalucia? Also, I didnt see on here how long you have been in Spain? I’ve been here just 6 months and loving reading all the bloggers out there and their growth, experiences and observations of life here in the Iberian Peninsula :)
    Vanessa recently posted…Transit in Madrid is UHhhhMAZINGMy Profile

    • says

      I’ve been here 3.5 years already! Time has flown by. There is actually quite a big cultural difference between Basque Country and Andalucia. I think it’s one better experienced than explained!

  8. says

    I absolutely understand your confusion about kisses.
    I hold a corporate job here in the US and the vice-president of our organization is a lady. She flew in for a visit recently and held a meeting with everyone in the department. As I walked into the conference room, she was right there to meet us. I greeted her and went to hug her and ended up kissing her. At first it felt awkward but I knew it was OK as there was a certain level of familiarity.
    I knew that she was used to this kind of personal greeting because she had worked in the Latin American division.
    Others in the office could not believe I did it.
    Eduardo@Andaremos recently posted…La Fortuna waterfall – Costa RicaMy Profile

  9. says

    Local businesses selling snacks are everywhere here in Thailand too, which I love. Every time I go back to the US, it seems soooo difficult to get quick, delicious food unless you go to McDonalds, which I refuse to do :)

    BTW, agree with you on all of these and they’re just some of the many reasons why I love Spain so much~

  10. bawa says

    What’s better than a café con leche? A café con leche en vaso! One of my comfort orders.

    I think a lot of countries could learn a whole lot about food culture and eating out in Spain. If someone has not experienced it, it is difficult to explain how “natural” it is to be able to get something to eat, even in the middle of nowhere. And how quality is automatically expected and given, without making such a fuss and a point about it.

  11. says

    I really loved this post, not only because I wish the US *would* learn these things, but because you really pointed out some of the things that make us expats fall in love with Spain every time we come back to the country; it’s these little things—in addition to the food, the architecture, etc.—that make Spain such a wonderful place.
    Trevor Huxham recently posted…6 Weird Things We Do in the United StatesMy Profile

  12. says

    Hello, tocaya, I just found your blog and I love it! I especially like what you said about the Spanish not being so individualistic. Caring for the greater society is not anti-capitalistic–it’s just reaching out and acknowledging and embracing the humanity of all of those around us. I really miss that feeling that we’re all in this together. And another thing I wish we had here is the great radio stations with programs like “No es un dia cualquiera”–I listen to these as podcasts now, but I sure do miss them. I’m writing a novel that takes place in Santander, and it’s great to see that you are sending out the same message about the many wonders of northern Spain–I wholeheartedly agree!!
    Christy Esmahan recently posted…Hunting for SetasMy Profile

  13. says

    I agree with you it will be perfect if we could combine the good things of each cultuif cause I miss some when I lived in NY, but the most…the tapas! Can’t live without!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge