Category Archives: Culture

Holidays in Spain

Here I will highlight a few of the biggest cultural celebrations within Spain. If you can plan your travel around these times, they can be truly incredible and life changing experiences!!

First is La Semana Santa, or Holy Week. It is widely celebrated as Spain is a largely catholic country, during the week leading up to easter. There are various events that take place during holy week, but daily, parades can be seen on the streets of every major city in the country.

One cultural distinction that is important to note between the US and Spain is the hoods that have been traditionally worn during holy week since well before the US was discovered. They wear multicolored, pointy hoods, out of reverence for different saints. Unfortunately, the KKK in the US has a similar outfit, though the two could not be less related. Do not be surprised to see these hoods in parades if travelling during holy week!

Though Christmas is celebrated in Spain, traditionally, children receive their presents on El Día de los Reyes Magos, or Three Kings day. This shortly follows christmas on January the 6th. It represents when the wise men travelled to discover Jesus as a baby in the manger, and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

La Tomatina is a giant food fight. Literally. Starting in the late 1940’s, the town of Buñol, an hour drive from Madrid, has played host to one of the worlds largest food fights. It has grown so large that fire engines have to pressure wash the town square to clean up all the mess afterwards! It happens the last wednesday of every August, so travel around this time if tomato fights sound like an activity for you!

This is just a glimpse of some of the crazy and super cool holidays that take place in Spain throughout the year. These are once in a lifetime experiences that you will not want to pass up on if you have the chance to observe, or even participate!

Sadler, S. (2018). Top 7 cultural celebrations in Spain. Retrieved April 10, 2021, from

Rituals in Madrid

Every culture has rituals. Before you automatically assume that I am saying that everyone in Madrid is in a cult, just know that that is not the sense I am using Rituals in. Rituals are simply cultural norms practiced on a wide scale that set a standard.

One such ritual would be the traditional Siesta. In Spain, it is commonplace to eat up to six meals a day! The biggest of which is usually El Almuerzo, or lunch. Historically, Spaniards would take a break in the middle of the work day to go home, eat food with family, and rest. This is a norm practiced frequently during the workweek, making it a cultural ritual. This practice has faded over the years, as Spaniards have moved to favor a traditional workday, but it is still accepted in some industries.

Another example of a ritual would be going out with friends. If you go out for dinner, usually you actually go out around 9 or 10 pm, and return around midnight or 1 am. There is much more prevalence to night life with friends in Madrid than in the US traditionally.

Given the different pace of Madrileño lifestyle, it is no surprise that they have various other rituals and norms compared to the US.

Corrigan, D. (2020, June 4). What you should know about the Spanish Siesta. Retrieved April 07, 2021, from Family traditions in Spain. (2018, October 01). Retrieved April 07, 2021, from

Madrileño Demeanor

Everyone knows stereotypes about Parisians and their general dislike for tourists. It can make what would be a magical trip to Paris significantly less so. Obviously, the more effort you put into understanding their culture and following their norms, the less friction there will be. However, upon reading about Madrid, it becomes clear that there is significantly less stigma against tourists. It is always a great idea to learn a few simple phrases in the native language, but do not worry about an overbearing sense of hostility. It is fantastic you are going out of your comfort zone in the first place, and Madrid is a fantastic destination.

Spanish Context

Spain is considered to be a high context culture, meaning people take the context of the place you are in both physically and geographically to interpret what you are saying. Verbal cues are important, but they are not the only things to remember to consider when talking to a Spaniard!

Take a look at the quiz above to calculate your high vs low context communication scores. The bigger the difference between the two, the harder it can be to communicate across that barrier. Tips for traditionally low context people travelling in a high context culture include:

  • Consider social differences between you and the person you are communicating with
  • Understand social pressures that you or they may be facing
  • Try to read the context around what they say, rather than taking everything at face value
  • Confirm what you mean with the person you are communicating with to avoid unnecessary confusion

Keep these tips in mind, and you should be set up to communicate effectively with Spaniards abroad!

Cultural Dimensions

When travelling to any new country, there are cultural norms that will be different than things within the US. Spain is no exception, and there are a few dimensions that I would like to contrast between the countries.

As you can see on the chart above, individualism differences between the countries certainly stick out. The US, as one of the most individualistic countries in the world, promotes a sense of everyone fighting for themselves, attempting to get to the top. Spain is much lower in this metric, where social interactions can be much more protracted, less about “what can you do for me” exchanges, more focusing on superordinate goals and values.

Uncertainty avoidance is significantly higher in Spain than in the US. This is interesting to note, in one of the most individually focused countries in the world, we are still okay with personal uncertainty. I digress, however it is intersting to note this high level of avoiding uncertainty. If there is not a clear path for the future, Spaniards can spiral to an extent, which makes this something to keep in mind. Mexico similarly avoids uncertainty, and when talking with one of my friends who grew up there, he made it clear how true this was. Negative social stigma could even result from people who were not seen as having a clear goal for their future.

Finally, the dimension of timeliness must be discussed. Daily schedules in Spain can be much more relaxed than in the US, and it is not uncommon for Spaniards to be late for plans. Traffic, home issues, or any number of things are acceptable reasons to be late. This contrasts starkly with the US’ focus on punctuality, so be ready for this adjustment.

Keeping these dimensions and their differences abroad in mind can keep you from making cultural mistakes that may be detrimental to your trip abroad. Do learn and understand them!

Compare countries. (2020, June 08). Retrieved April 05, 2021, from

Culture Shock in Spain

There are four recognized stages of culture shock. Do not worry if you feel the symptoms of these different stages during an elongated stay! It is common to go through all the phases, and come out the other side an adjusted individual.

The first stage is the honeymoon phase. During this time, many of the appealing aspects may be very apparent, and it can seem like a magical new culture to be a part of. This is followed by the hardest part, the actual culture shock. While initially things seemed incredible, you start to notice some differences between the new location and home, and start to miss the familiarity. Six meals a day in Madrid may initially sound great, but maybe after some time you’d begin to prefer the standard American 3.

After a time, however, you can begin to adjust and appreciate what the culture has to offer again. Maybe you aren’t eating cheeseburgers every night, but light tapas can make for fantastic conversation! The fourth and final stage is adjustment, where the new culture becomes routine and normal. It may be tough at first, but believe me, you will get there, and become a true Madrileño!

WANG, M. (2015). Culture shock-one of common problems in intercultural communication. Retrieved April 02, 2021, from

McCluskey, L. (2020, January 20). Culture shock stages: Everything you need to know. Retrieved April 02, 2021, from