Latin Americans Reveal Culture Shocks of Life in Spain


By Alejandra Gomescasseres

‘‘Oh, so you snort coke and sell it, right?’’

This question was posed by the first Spanish student one university freshman met after introducing his nationality in class. A questionnaire filled out by numerous Latin Americans revealed the many stereotypes held against countries in Central and South America. Colombians responded to being commonly perceived as drug lords or corrupt beings. Mexicans said they were constantly asked if they had ever been kidnapped or had a part in trafficking. Dominicans depicted their indignations of women being overly sexualized and seen as ill-mannered. Guatemalans mentioned how people reduced their country to being a village with only indigenous people. Venezuelans remarked how they are rendered as illegal immigrants and homeless individuals. As detailed by these answers, there are many generalizations made about third-world countries in the eyes of a first-world country such as Spain.

Adapting to a New World

Latinos are an increasing population in the Iberian peninsula, and as they settle into this new country, they encounter numerous culture shocks starting with the startling prejudices held against their countries. These misconceptions are a prelude to the numerous difficulties Latinos encounter when assimilating into Spanish society. After being asked how hard the adaptation has been on a scale from 1-10 moving to Spain as a Latino, the average response was an 8. From the mannerisms, expressions, vocabulary, working hours, and use of public amenities there is a radical shift in the lifestyle between cultures. 

For example, siesta is a sacred concept in Spain. Stores around the country have specific opening and closing times which include a three-hour gap to rest after lunch. This means going to the bank, shopping, printing, or even fixing keys is quite difficult from 2pm-5pm given that many establishments close their services for siesta. ‘‘I can not believe people have such a great gap in working hours, I have lived in Mexico and Colombia and only see people work from 6 am to 7 pm, there is no time for siesta.’’ As was declared by a student who recently moved to Madrid, Latin American countries are not familiar with stores closing at any time of day. Many convenience stores around Madrid are owned by foreigners; an Ecuadorian family that moved to Spain opened their own and shared “We were used to working around 10 hours, even 12 hours a day, here, people take the quality of rest very seriously which is not negative but it was crazy to us.’’

Additionally, the opening hours for establishments that provide a service such as gyms, medical centers, and banks are uncommon for Latinos. Mikaela, another student struggling to adjust her daily itinerary in Madrid says, ‘‘Back in Ecuador, I used to start my day by working out at 5 am when the gym opened and had the flexibility to choose any hour in the afternoon to go to the bank, and here neither of those is an option when the gym opens at 9 am and the bank closes at 2 pm.’’ 

Speaking with Spaniards

In addition to the schedule the Spanish keep, the interpersonal interactions are also quite different from Latino interactions. Latin Americans shared multiple experiences in which the warmth and involvement they are accustomed to was nonexistent. ‘‘Every time I enter an elevator, I excitedly greet people and receive weird stares. This never happened to me in Venezuela where I even said hi to people on the street, ’’ A young adult who moved to Madrid five years ago stated.

Samuel Ibarra, coming from Colombia has been working in Madrid for two years now and affirms there are quite a few individualized relationships amongst coworkers, “Back home, the relationships I had with all my peers were almost family-like. By the second day of work there we already had nicknames for each other. Also, the interactions between workers and clients are quite different in Spain. Here, there is more formality and space. In Colombia, it was more familiar and intimate.’’

A group of Spanish workers in Madrid anonymously wanted to take part in this subject with the response that while respect is a must, they do not feel the need to become friends with clients who come and go every day. Many Latin Americans agreed that the fuss and noise was a prominent characteristic back home while in Spain it is of much more serious regard to respect others’ space.

Learning The Luxury of Public Transport

The way people move around Spain is also a big culture shock for Latinos. “In Puerto Rico, we only traveled by car, there was no other option if you wanted to stay safe. Here, people have options to walk, ride the bus, metro, or even use bikes and scooters, something I never even saw possible.’’ All Latin Americans shared this common cross-cultural adjustment in the way they traveled from point A to point B. For Spaniards, it seems like an ordinary requisite, “My family has always relied on public transport, it is simply convenient,’’ as shared by a teenager born and raised in Madrid.

Not only is transit a big shock, but it is also impressive how cities have multiple norms and arrangements to ensure order. Having to rearrange schedules, learn societal norms, and process public transport procedures is a complete readjustment for those coming from third-world countries where this was never a possibility. As experienced by an Argentinian in Spain, “The first time I ever took the bus, I hadn’t realized people were in an orderly line entering it and accidentally made a crowd very mad after just stepping into the bus without noticing. A lady then approached me and called me a spoiled brat.’’ 

As individuals from Central and South America migrate to the Iberian peninsula they face their new reality. This one involves a realization of multiple changes in their agendas, mannerisms, social behavior, and lifestyle. As every new day goes by, there is an enrichment of knowledge and appreciation of culture from every Latin American that decides to take on their new life as a student or worker in Spain. Waking up nine thousand kilometers away from home is truly a hard realization for many, yet knowing many other people are going through the same transition is a relief. Latinos moving to Spain creates a bridge in which there exists a magnificent exchange of ideas and customs that leads to a harmonic affair. Spaniards and Latin Americans now have a chance to hold hands and enrich their experiences and cross-cultural connections.

More from Author



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here