Leah Carnow ’12 is currently studying abroad in Alicante, Spain.
I chose Alicante because I decided that I wanted to immerse myself in a culture that spoke another language. What better place to improve my Spanish than Alicante, a small, less-touristy city where I hardly have the opportunity to speak in English?
Like any student studying in a foreign country, some amount of culture shock is a part of the experience. I must say though that I’ve haven’t experienced culture shock but rather what I like to refer to as culture surprise. Because I felt so prepared beforehand to experience a completely different culture, I am often pleasantly surprised by food, traditions, attitudes, etc. that are exactly the same as those I’m used to in the U.S. Take for example my introduction to the world of tapas. During orientation I went to a popular tapas restaurant with some of my friends. I had expected food that I had never even seen before, but instead my first tapa consisted of a piece of bread smeared with cream cheese and topped with smoked salmon. “Jew food!” I thought. What is lox and cream cheese doing here in Spain?
That being said, every day I notice something new and different from my life at home in Los Angeles and my life at school in Boston. Here is a list, in no particular order, of lessons I’ve learned, details I’ve noticed, and customs I wish I could bring back to the U.S., all from living in Alicante (minus the stories behind them):
- Many doors open inward.
- A playground can exist anywhere.
- So can a fountain.
- Wine paired well with food makes for incredible gustatory experience.
- A nap is required BEFORE you go out at night since nightlife starts at midnight and goes until at least 5:00 am. As my Spanish friend told me, if he has to be home at 2:00 am, then he doesn’t even bother to go out.
- There are ninja mosquitoes here. I swear, you never see them.
- Answer the phone with “Yes” or “Tell me.”
- Even Spanish Jews eat gefilte fish.
- To write the Hebrew “ch” sound in Spanish, use “J.” Therefore, challah = jala.
- All you need to stock your kitchen with is a pot, a pan, and olive oil. With these three items, you can cook anything.
- Everyone owns a small dog.
- Gelato is not just an Italian thing. Beware: it’s delicious and it’s everywhere!
- Stores will not be open from 2 pm-5 pm. Or Saturdays. Or Sundays.
- Banks are open from 8 am-2 pm.
- Fresh tuna is amazing. Even Spanish canned tuna is amazing.
- Traffic lights are optional. Watch for oncoming traffic and cross when safe.
- Class starts when the professor arrives, so if he’s still drinking his coffee at the café, there’s no need to rush.
- Wear purses with long straps across your body for maximum safety.
- Instead of saying cheese when you take a picture, say patata (that means potato).
- With every lunch and dinner, eat soup or salad or both.
- What’s salad dressing? Why would you ever put sauce on your vegetables?
- The higher up the apartment, the more expensive it is. The closer it is to the city center, the more expensive it is because people like living where the action is. Suburbs don’t exist here.
- Living in the center means that I’m never more than a 20-minute walk away from where I want to be.
- Pharmacies are just for medicine, not toiletries.
- Hugs are for significant others only, not friends. But give two kisses to everyone you greet and say goodbye to. And lean to the left first.
- Putting potatoes and onions in your omelet instead of on the side—why don’t we do that in the U.S.? Spanish tortillas (omelets) are simple and scrumptious.
Assuming you like my posts and want to hear more, check back for updates on what it’s like to live with a Spanish host family, keep kosher in Spain, be a Spanish university student, travel in Spain, and more!