by Aiden Shadis ’16
After living in Spain for 8 months and visiting a myriad of important cities and towns, I have finally allowed myself to write this article regarding the differences between the culture and lifestyle as seen from the point of view of a Mainer. Everything that I write is just based on my experiences here, and although I try to avoid generalizations, I’ve found that it’s impossible when talking about large groups of people. When I first arrived in Pamplona, a couple things immediately struck me as odd or different, such as the fact that you greet people with kisses on the cheek, or that the people here are generally less patriotic about their country, but love their autonomous community. In Pamplona at least, many people hang flags belonging to Navarra or the Basque Country from their apartment windows, but I have yet to see Spain’s national flag flying from a window here. This is very different from The United States where American flags can be seen not only in schools but also on t-shirts or hanging from people’s houses and boats.
As expected, the food in Spain is very different from that of Maine. Serrano ham is of course very popular here, as is Spanish tortilla and paella, but I was genuinely surprised with some of the other differences that I observed when it came time to eat. For example, lobster is considered a luxury item here, and the majority of my Spanish friends have never even tried one! It’s also very rare to see somebody in Spain cooking with butter. Olive oil rules here and whenever it can be used instead of butter it is. My first week here, when I went to get butter out of the fridge for my toast, my host mom explained to me that she never buys it, and she taught me to use olive oil and salt instead.
Peanut butter is rarely eaten here and the idea of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is unheard of. I couldn’t believe it when my host mom told me that neither she nor her children have ever tried one. The milk here comes in boxes and does not need to be refrigerated until it is open. It also tastes and looks like it’s been mixed with water. Eating raw vegetables like cucumbers or broccoli as a snack is a very foreign concept here in Spain, and on the day that I decided to bring a bell pepper to school with me for lunch my classmates were so surprised that they gathered in a small crowd to watch me eat. I could probably write an entire article based on the differences between what people eat in Spain and in Maine alone.
One of the bigger differences between life in Spain and Maine is the daily schedule. Everything happens later in Spain, and the siesta factors into this. To give an example, my Spanish school starts at 8:30 in the morning while Lincoln Academy begins classes at 7:50. Everybody here eats lunch between 2:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon when they get home from school or work, and dinner is usually served in my house at 9:30 P.M. Because the Spanish workday starts at about 9:00 A.M. and goes until 2:00 P.M. before breaking for the siesta and resuming from 5:00-8:00 P.M. it is very common to eat a late dinner.
In Spain choosing a university to attend is not as big of an ordeal as it is in the United States, and students don’t even have to write college application letters. They are simply accepted or declined based on their grades and test scores. The vast majority of students that I know plan on attending a university in their own city, and moving away from home to go to school is rare. In fact, one of my teachers told me that Spaniards typically live with their parents until about the age of thirty. I think that this is due to the importance of family here in Spain. From what I have seen, independence is not valued as much as it is in the United States, and people tend to rely heavily on their families here for everything. I often see elderly parents in wheelchairs being pushed around the city by their children, and other activities pertaining to family that are not as common in The United States being regularly practiced. For example, a couple times a month, my host family drives to a city three hours away just to visit their relatives.
Lastly, public transportation is great in Spain and fewer people have cars than in the U.S. Here you need to be 18 years old in order to get a driver’s license, and it is very expensive. For this reason, young people typically don’t drive or own cars. Gun laws are also very different in Spain, and while the police officers carry rifles in the street, the bearing of arms by civilians is not considered a right and almost nobody can purchase a gun for any reason. All of these differences contribute to a lifestyle and culture very unlike that of Maine, but one that I am happy to be able to experience.
Aidan Shadis is a senior at Lincoln Academy, currently spending the school year in Pamplona, Spain with Nacel International. He is the son of Brooke Cotter and Gabe Shadis of Damariscotta.