I would like to write today about the subtle differences in between Spain and the US. First of all……….there is no Walmart!
I know that sounds extremely simple of me, I probably sound like an arrogant American and that should be a given. But you would be surprised at the amount of things that are easily available at stores like Walmart that take a little extra searching to find here in Granada. For school supplies where do you go? Office Depot, Staples, Target? No, no hay. You have to go to a specialty shop like a papelería where they specialize in everything paper: notebooks, folders, etc. or a librería where they sell books. Alternatively you can go to a droguería or a “chino” store. As the name suggests these places are like pharmacies in the US (like Walgreens or CVS) but they don’t sell medicine. They usually have everything you need (or close to everything nothing can live up to Walmart) and for the prices are usually reasonable. Price hunting is a particularly important activity for anyone studying abroad in Spain, because on any given item or food you can get the best deal of your life or you can get robbed for all you’re worth. Speaking of getting ripped off, a good piece of advice: don’t buy anything from the farmacia (pharmacy) if you don’t have to. They have the worst prices! I have already experienced this myself, I bought a probably 8 oz bottle of off-brand mouthwash at one for over 4 euro, so that’s definitely more than $5.
Another big difference is eating out. This can be a pleasure compared to the United States and Granada’s an especially good location for eating out. In this city there’s a restaurant, bar or cafe (or restaurant-bar-cafe) on every corner. No, that’s probably an under-estimate; it seems as though there’s one for every person here. Well the important thing to remember is that there’s a lot of them and people go to them all the time (except during lunch break of course, they’re closed). Generally the food and drinks are a lot cheaper than in the US, but it’s also a matter of going to the right places. Here in Granada there are free tapas, which is extremely popular. You go to a restaurant and order a drink and you get a free appetizer basically, and you only pay 1-2 euros! The trick is you have to know Spanish and you have to know how to use euros. Besides that it’s a breeze.
The Norms are a little different, usually when you walk into a place you will be assisted immediately. This can pose as a challenge because it means you have to have some idea of what you want before you go into the place! After you’re done with your meal or drink you will not be rushed out as a matter of fact you camarero (server) won’t solicit you for the money, you have to ask the price. This part can take a long time before it’s accomplished because in Spain you usually sit around for a while and talk while you eat or after you eat. The camarero doesn’t usually want to be bothered because he’s got his own thing to do whether it’s serve other people or just other kitchen duties. Of which, they usually have many because restaurants and bars are only staffed by an average of 1 or 2 people daily. I think this is a major difference than the US and it even seems that its pretty common for the owner to be the main server. This would never happen in the US, you hardly ever see the owner of an institution working there! Oh ya there’s one more difference I almost forgot, in Granada there’s no mind-boggling math and ethics that goes into leaving a tip because you don’t give any! At most institutions here in Spain you just pay your bill and leave, it is not custom to leave the server a tip.
So, long story short, figuring out daily activities can be hard in a foreign country, and it can be easy to miss your life at home and usual customs, but the best way to deal with this is to just try new things. You live and you learn!