5 Spanish Customs That Don’t Translate in America

5 Spanish Customs That Don't Translate in America | Lavi was here.

With my time in Spain dwindling, I can only think about the differences between the Spanish customs I’ve adopted and the American culture I’m going to return to.

Imagine: you’re back home from a stint living abroad in sunny Spain. Now what? Spain has taken a toll on you. Adjusting is going to be harder than you expected. Here are 5 Spanish customs that just don’t translate well in America:

Dos besos (two kisses, one on each cheek)

Meeting someone for the first time? Regardless of age, nationality, or gender, you greet everyone with dos besos in Spain.

Dos Besos
Dos besos – typical Spanish greeting demonstrated by my two lovely coworkers

This disregard for personal space just won’t translate well in the US. Going to a wedding in America and giving the groom dos besos? Bumping into your old boss in the checkout line at the grocery store and giving him dos besos? I can just picture any of my old bosses backing up and flipping over a shopping cart if I attempted that. Social greetings just aren’t up close and personal like that in America. Revert back to the simple handshake. Or even the head nod. It will feel weird in the beginning, but it’s probably best for all.

The cured meat diet

Not a day goes by in Spain that I don’t at least think about cured meat. And most days I eat it. I’m talking jamón Serrano, jamón Iberico, and chorizo. It’s the norm in Spain to incorporate this chloesterol-inducing, artery-clogging meat into your diet.


The worry about obesity and heart failure just doesn’t exist in Spain the way it does in the US. You’re going to have to go back to eating chopped kale salads and it’s going to be awful.

Stopping life between 2 and 5PM for a siesta

The American culture is more “live to work” than Spain’s laid-back “work to live” lifestyle. So forget about taking that siesta between 2PM and 5PM. The world will not stop in the afternoon for a siesta, coffee, or caña (beer) break.

Closed stores, Madrid
You’ll find lots of closed businesses during siesta time in Spain

Catch all your Zz’s at night because you’re not going to be able to rest during the day back home in the US. And after spending all your money on wine and tapas in Spain, you’re going to need those extra three hours to make some extra cash at work!

Walking slowly on the sidewalk

Life moves slowly and calmly in Spain. If you’re talking to a Spaniard about how busy you are, they’ll simply tell you, tranquilo (relax). If you’re in a hurry on the streets of Spain, you’ll feel like everyone is ganging up on you because people will take their time strolling in the neighborhood and they will slow you down.

Calle Fuencarral, Madrid

The pace is slow for Americans, who are always rushing to get everywhere. And by now, you’ve probably picked up the same slow stride. That’s just not going to fly in the US. If you’re strolling in the streets in a place like New York City, you’re likely to get nudged aside by busy commuters as they mutter obscenities under their breath. It’s time to pick up the pace again!

The descriptive language

My day wasn’t bad. It was fatal (meaning terrible, and said in the Spanish accent, not American!). That meal we had at the restaurant down the street? Buenísimo! Fenomenal! Did you see the guy with the beard on the metro? Guapísimo, eh?

Spanish terms

The Spanish don’t speak in simple terms of “awesome” or “bad”; it’s either one extreme or another. The body language, hand gestures, descriptive language, and excessive emoji use is all so much more attractive in Spanish than English. I can’t get enough of it. Bring that back to America and people will be wondering why you’re so damn dramatic. Fatal? Really? C’mon.

In the end, these Spanish customs and habits really aren’t so bad to have. You just might figure out that despite being an American, living in Spain actually made you more Spanish than you thought.

What other foreign customs do you know that don’t translate well in America?


  1. / 1:30 pm

    I love the part about walking on the street slowly. Just today, in my lovely Spanish seaside city, I was rushing off to teach a class when a group of tourists on Segways blocked my path. I had to quell my sudden urge to yell “Hey! I’m fuckin walkin here!” Can you tell I’m a New Yorker?

    • Lavi
      / 6:55 pm

      Though I’m not a native New Yorker, after 4 years of living there I think I would have wanted to say the same thing! The Spanish lifestyle has a much slower pace, but I love it!

  2. Anamika
    / 7:10 am

    A very well projected line of thought! Pausing to wonder which one I want for myself…….. Spanish certainly

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