Having recently realized that I spent a total of three months in Spain during 2017, it is perhaps not such a mystery that I never cease to discover new cultural differences that make me chuckle. As I may or may not have made it clear in my previous post on this topic, I usually feel more identified with these Southern beings than with my own country mates, and most of the traits I find are those of a good-hearted and easy-going people. Here are my recent ones;
Qué tal tu madre?
I recently sat in a bar with my usual glass of ribera del duero, waiting for my husband buying three tons of food for one dinner (how are these people not obese like hell?). As I am enjoying wine and solitude (I have no shame), enter two young, tattooed, cool-looking Spanish dudes, as taken straight out of an American high school movie. They order a caña each and hang out beside me by the bar counter, and although I was trying to write, I obviously ended up eavesdropping instead. So, before having said anything else to each other, one of them says; How is your mother?
Norway: Unless you know someone’s mother on a personal level, asking this question is socially awkward between men. I am not claiming that Norwegians love their parents less than the Spanish, but they are certainly not as proud of it. Asking too much about your friend’s mother might only result in said friend thinking that you consider his mother a MILF.
Spain: The Iberians are adorably family-oriented, and no matter your degree of toughness, there is simply never a wrong time to ask how someone’s mother is doing. You don’t even need to have met the woman, this question will always be asked with sincere compassion and interest, and answered accordingly. Is Virgin Mary to blame? I mean thank?
I once read that there are more bars in Spain than in the rest of the European Union altogether. Even during the economic crisis, Madrid bars remained crowded, and in our neighborhood, none of our regular spots had to close down (Gracias a Dios!). Quoting a random guy I just passed while walking through a backstreet on my way home; Esta tiene que ser la única calle de Madrid que no tiene un puto bar. (This has to be the only street in Madrid that doesn’t have a fucking bar.) I peeked cautiously from side to side, and yes, he was (probably) right.
Norway: Our equivalent to bars is coffee shops, but a lot of that coffee is bought to go. Norwegians like to drink coffee while they do other things, and only actually sit down to enjoy it if they are meeting a friend or family member. This is also why people sometimes think I am a lonely person with no friends, after finding me enjoying a cup of joe in my very own company.
Spain: Bars are the Starbucks of Spain. Spaniards don’t really drink coffee to go, and prefer going to their regular neighborhood spots, where they can – quoting my husband; «talk to the bartender or complain about politics.» Truth is that lots of Madrid neighborhoods are like small villages, where the residents know a) the workers in bars and shops, b) each other, and c) each other’s dogs. It was actually a bartender that put my mother in law in contact with the previous owners of her current pup.
I hate to out the amazing bar culture of Spain, but the fact is that they tend to hang sausages and hams on their walls instead of, I don’t know, art? Customers spend their evenings throwing stuff on the floor, giving absolutely zero fucks. Los camareros clean it all up after closing, without further complaints.
Norway: This is not even possible, as the controllers from The Government Food Safety Authority would come and close down your bar at once if you even thought about storing food anywhere else than in ~the restricted food area~. As well, get ready to be crucified by a mob of fierce waiters if you intentionally drop your dirty napkin. Norwegians are kind of obsessed with hygiene and are generally not into let’s say, eating from the same plate (unless it’s with their partner). It does not take a lot for a Norwegian to say Æsj (Yuck), and in comparison, the Spanish language actually lacks an equivalent to this word.
Spain: If you’re really considerate, you might actually aim for the garbage can, but if you miss, you probably won’t even be able to distinguish your own filth from the other stuff that has already been thrown on the floor. This is not considered rude, but it does have the tendency to frighten foreign (especially Norwegian) customers from even entering. Food being used as decoration does not ever exclude said food from being eaten later on.
Catholic, conservative Spain, right? WRONG! At least regarding the following.
Norway: Holidays are exactly that; holy days, and it is forbidden by law for others than kiosks (defined by a certain maximum size) to be open on days like Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Christmas day, and so on. On the other hand, the majority really doesn’t care about the religiousness of these days, but they do care deeply about not having to work. Taking a look at what people wear on Norwegian beaches (that one week when it is actually enjoyable to visit them, best case scenario), does however make it seem like we are the conservative ones, with our big bikini bottoms and without a single topless girl in sight. Is it because we are so shy? So decent? So… pale?
Spain: Yes, lots of shops are closed on holidays (which are fewer than in Norway in the first place), but they close because the owners choose to. The government does not interfere with what you do with your business, so if you want to work your ass off all year round, you are welcome to do so (The Chinese community of Madrid is a good (and very convenient) example of this). Also, the huge mall chain El Corte Ingles is seriously never closed, not even on holidays that fall on a Sunday. Secondly, if you have ever been to a Spanish beach (or even a pool inside the city), you have for sure seen both tits and string “covered” butts. Not few of them either. Oh, such conservatives!
Madileños love dogs and I don’t think I have ever seen such a dog-friendly city. They even used to have small plastic bag dispensers installed on the public garbage cans.
Norway: Being an animal lover, I tend to put on a goofy smile every time I pass by a dog, cat, snake or you name it, and sometimes I try to say hi. Norwegians however do not like to be approached by strangers for any reason, and their dogs are usually quickly pulled away. If you want to see a real Norwegian poker face, trying to make contact with someone’s dog will show you the perfect example.
Spain: Dog owners tend to stop and chat among each other while their pets do the same, and when you walk your dog, you are likely to be approached by strangers wanting to give your four-legged friend a pat on the head.
All countries have old people (right?), but this part of the population might live their lives differently from place to place.
Norway: Old people are pretty much prisoners of their own homes from late October to midst April, unless they are suicidal or devoured by dementia. The climate makes sure our pavements and roads are heavily covered in layers of ice, and I for one usually fall at least once every winter; lastly in February, landing on my butt in a very cartoon-like way. At least it doesn’t hurt where the flesh is thickest.
Spain: Old people are much more defined by other things than their age, perhaps because you actually see them all year round. Even raisin looking hunch backs on the peak of reaching three digits can be seen enjoying cañas y tapas on the street terraces or walking their equally soon-to-die doggos. It is all very charming, and I am convinced that Spain is a great place to grow old.
How people approach the use of medicines, is probably one of the biggest culture crashes there are between these two countries. However, when it comes to mental health, Norway has a much higher suicide rate than Spain, which perhaps tells us that they are doing something right? On the other hand, they will most likely be the first country to develop bacterias that are completely immune to antibiotics.
Norway: We do not ever give people medicine that they don’t absolutely need. If we have it, we like to put the patient (including ourselves) through significant discomfort before we even let them know that said medicine exists. Neither doctors nor patients have a problem with this, as there is a common understanding regarding the importance of not putting chemicals in the body if it can be avoided.
Spain: Most Spanish households have a drawer that I have chosen to call ~The great medicine drawer~. This drawer contains everything from throat fixers and sleeping pills, to antibiotics and everything else, – a lot of which you can use to kill yourself. Spaniards tend to see only the positive abilities of medicine and do not really see the point of healing naturally or endure physical or psychological pain if there is a chemical cure or pain killer.
Spanish people are also very open about let’s say, their mental issues or other health problems, like difficulties regarding fertility. I have had people telling me really intimate stuff after having known them for five minutes, – things that Norwegians don’t tell their friends after five years. Very few things are taboo in Spain, and regarding the mentioned topics, I applaud them for that!
For more stuff regarding Spain versus Norway, check this out.