Cultural differences are interesting to get to know, and appear in the strangest of forms, – often on subjects where one has not even considered the possibility of their existence. It is usually mostly entertaining, somewhat educational, and – I will not lie – at times slightly annoying. Anyhow, it’s worth writing about, and I hereby declare that the following observations are based on the Spanish and Norwegian individuals of my own life, and might be totally wrong for the rest of the countries’ population, but I tend to think they can be applied to the greater majority. Prior to further reading; brace yourself for stereotypes, generalizations and (although I hate to admit it) exaggerations.

Watching TV while having dinner

Norway: The taboo among dinner customs; mostly considered the practice of dysfunctional families that don’t care for actual communication. Apathetic faces staring blankly at some kind of useless sit-com or TV-shop woman selling a vacuum cleaner, while not noticing that grandma died in her chair an hour ago. In reality, most people dine in front of the TV from time to time, but they DO NOT tell anyone, due to the shame and social exclusion following such a reputation.

Spain: The TV is on most of the time, also whilst consuming one of the many meals during a day in the life of the average Spaniard. Another family member might be watching a youtube video and a third one checking out a song on Spotify. No one turns down the volume, and no one stops the five conversations that are going on across the room at the same time. Watching TV while eating in Spain is not anti-social, and does not mean that you don’t enjoy conversing with your family members. Spaniards are world champions on multitasking and seem to think that no activity excludes another.

Sleeping with the window open

Norway: Ah, fresh breeze from the window, all year round. Thick duvets all the way up to the chin, winter temperatures in the room, slippers ready by the chunky carpet on the floor. No headaches, no old air (as we like to put it), cold nose but a really, really warm body. And the comforting sound of rain or wind slowly lulling you to sleep.

Spain: For PUTA’s sake do not open the window, are you LOCO? Turn on the heat, make sure the vents are closed, the fan is off and that #noairwhatsoever is let in. If there is a tiny breeze from like, your cat sighing, we will get sick. We will get a cold, sniffy noses, sore throats and probably swine flu, aids and rabies. And we will not be subtle about it. We will complain and we will let you know every five seconds that YOU ARE TO BLAME.

Bringing kids into bars

Norway: The first sign of real child abuse. Call teachers, neighbors, the police, social services and the pope. This child is being molested by every single person inside the family, and it is plausible to conclude with both violence and general psychological torture, all to be blamed on the occasional beer within the presence of ~a child~. All future offsprings will be automatically aborted by the prime minister herself.

Spain: A bar is a social place, where there may or may not be a drunk fellow. Anyhow, your kids will not really notice, nor be frightened by them, considering that present parents won’t treat mentioned drunk people as something shameful nor dangerous. Most people however will have a couple of cañas and some tapas, while having their kids run around just like in the average Starbucks. Parents don’t drink enough to get affected by it, and kids are usually having fun with other kids, while their folks earn a well-deserved break from everyday life. All are happy.

Doing stuff

Norway: Let whoever doing something, do it in peace and quiet. Leave the person undisturbed until the task is finished, unless there is something really obvious you can do to help. When in doubt, just ask, but prepare to have your offer to help rejected.

Spain: Your husband, your mother-in-law, her father’s third cousin’s long lost nephew and his dog are coming with you to do whichever task you have before you. They will tell you how to do it, maybe try to do it for you, or discuss the best way to execute the task. Sometimes while staring at you and standing way too close for you to do what you need to do properly.

The concept of NOW

Norway: Being ready to leave NOW means that you’re standing fully dressed by the door with the keys in your hand. NOW describes the moment of something happening instantly, mostly within seconds, with the exception of the real-time (HAHA) signs belonging to the public transport system. Those were probably made by Spanish workers and auctioned away with Norway as the only bidder.

Spain: NOW is relative. NOW can mean right away or within some hours. You can be waking up from your siesta, naked in bed, looking like an earthquake, and telling your hubby you are ready to go NOW, meaning that you will be ready an hour later. Ironically the public transport system is actually reliable, but after the one-minute limit has passed, the real-time sign goes to zero minutes. Otherwise, no one would know when the transport is actually coming, obviously.

Aesthetics

Norway: A scratch on your car must be fixed immediately. Any respectable citizen will renew the kitchen every tenth year or so. Clothes with tiny holes or stains are simply unusable (Trust me, I worked in retail for eight years).

Spain: In Madrid, people actually calculate distances by slightly bumping into the cars in front and behind when parallel parking. Cars get scratches, and nobody cares as long as they still run. Regarding appearances, it is easy to assume that the good people of Spain can be compared with their stylish fellow southern Europeans in France and Italy, but nothing could be further from the truth. Most Spaniards are naturally attractive and charming, but they are also totally chill and casual, and everything but snobbish.

Rules

Norway: Rules are made to be followed! Five hundred grams overweight when you check-in your luggage at the airport means that you pay, – not for four hundred and ninety-nine, not for five hundred and one, – but for five. hundred. grams. Norwegians like equality, and therefore rarely make exceptions from the rules. They also rarely question the rules, if said rules are made by higher forces (meaning the government, not Jesus C.™)

Spain: If you enter a bar that says restrooms are only for paying customers, you might very likely still get to use it if you ask nicely. Also, getting minor services on let’s say, your car, doesn’t necessarily have to cost you a single Eurocent. If the car repairman doesn’t feel like he has really made an effort to solve your problem, he might just say hasta luego baby and leave, while you, having the role of the confused foreigner, are left with your credit card ready, not knowing whether to feel relieved or uncomfortable. No wonder the country has had some economical issues when they insist on working for free. Spaniards are the mere opposite of square, and their relaxed attitude has them bending the rules all the time, especially if the rules imply more work. Which is also why the airport employees won’t even charge you for five kilos overweight.

How the day works

Norway: It is almost socially frowned upon to have a job that does not take place between the hours of eight and four. At five people have dinner, and most of these workers go to bed before eleven, after having put their kids to bed at eight.

Spain: People generally work later, not to mention have dinner no earlier than ten. Before that, they have what they call lunch, which is basically the first dinner of the day. The lucky and/or traditional ones also sleep the famous siesta after dinner number one, and people (including children) go to bed way after the majority of Norwegians are already asleep. It’s like the whole day has been moved three hours ahead, like the primal Spaniards overslept and their descendants never managed to catch up.

Greeting

Norwegian: No one is introducing me. Maybe I just say hola. If I’m in a good mood I’ll wave from afar.
Spaniard: No one is introducing me. Better take matters into my own hands.
Norwegian: Oh-oh, Spanish stranger approaching. What does he/she want?
Spaniard: Why is this person reversing like a car?
Norwegian: Fine, I’ll do a handshake.
Spaniard: Handshake? What are we, politicians? (Damn politicians de mierda) Come here, amigo!
Norwegian: Why is his/her face approaching mine? What are you – ? What? No. No! NOOOOO
Spaniard: That was a good kiss! Now let’s do the other side.
Norwegian: Now what? I thought that was it!
Spaniard: Good thing I didn’t let go of that hand. Better pull. Ngh –
Norwegian: You gotta be kidding me!
Spaniard: There! My work is done.
Norwegian: This trauma will forever haunt my soul.

(Play this inner dialogue in very fast motion to know exactly what happens when a Norwegian and a Spaniard meet for the first time)

Conclusion

Norway Pros:
• Being on time, and actually knowing when people arrive.
• Being left alone when you need to.
• Getting to sleep without sweating through your sheets.
• Routines and rules.

Norway Cons:
• Hysterical and slightly judgemental attitude towards people doing things differently.
• Being left along when you actually do need help.
• Living in a society that basically discriminates everyone who is not an early bird.

Spain Pros:
• Being a part of a very inclusive society, without even trying.
• Not stressing about anything, – no pasa nada! (nothing will happen!) is a very comfortable life motto.
• Having the opportunity to live life as a night owl.
• A life dominated by variation and adaptiveness.

Spain Cons:
• No one is ever on time. On the bright side, that means you don’t have to either.
• Not being given much space when you need it.
• Having your car scratched more frequently.

I guess the pros and cons mostly depend on how one is wired, but I tried to be as objective as possible. That said, I know where I belong.

I hereby present two of my most common traits; I tend to personify things. I tend to have some level of insomnia.

Insomnia might not sound like such a big deal for those who have not had it. But in addition to messing up your nights (hence also your days), insomnia is both a cause for and an effect of mental diagnoses like anxiety and depression. Believe me, I’ve had it all, but I still don’t know if the chicken or the egg came first.

Well, all of these things can be cured one way or the other, but the trauma of insomnia is what still haunts its victim, even in the healthiest of times.

I love sleeping, and if nobody wakes me up or if I don’t put my regular three alarms, I can still sleep like a fourteen year old full of raging hormones. This would be a good time to mention that I have checked my vitamins, changed my diet, and so on. So, sometimes, being more than averagely spaniardized, I take a nap. A good old siesta.

And I fall asleep within minutes. I sleep deeply and heavily and I struggle with getting up. When you remove the pressure of going to bed at night, the thought of the consequences of failing, I’m a sleeping machine. More than I would like even, I tend to think most people live years longer than me, counting only waking hours.

When you have or have had insomnia, the bed is your enemy. No matter how comfy it is, no matter how expensive your silky bedsheets are, your bed is a monster, and it tortures you and gives you the feeling of performing an impossible task. You go on stage in front of a million people with an instrument you have never played before. You know you will fail and you know that it will make you desperate on surviving it and that it will ruin your day. Tomorrow too, probably even the next one.

My body becomes alert. If I go through every part of it, I can feel how my mouth is twitched in a grim, how my forehead is wrinkled and my fists closed. When I go through each one of them, they have twitched again as soon as I reach the starting point. The feeling of lying down doesn’t feel relaxing anymore, instead, it feels like rays of lightning inside my body are making me want to change position, only to change again and again.

I sleep on the bus. On the train, on the tram, and on the subway, even on cheap Ryanair flights with absolutely no space for my way longer than average body. In fact, I may relax so deeply that I start drooling on the shoulder of my neighbor. Most of the time it’s my husband’s, but not always.

So I have started imagining my Zs as evil little bastards that for some reason despise my bedroom, and live to mess me up. They make up for it by showing up at absolutely any other opportunity. In class. When I read. And don’t even get me started on mornings. It’s like they return after a hard night out partying, only to have invited a hundred more of them to an afterparty above my head. They’re physically holding me down. Tired is just not descriptive enough. I feel sick. I feel depressed. I feel like I’m dying. And the world is just not made for my kind of folks.

On the bright side, my asshole Zs make me sleep very lightly when I actually do sleep, which results in a number of vivid and complex dreams every single night. I remember them in detail, and I very much enjoy having my slightly overly developed imagination go wild, bringing me new stories every time I beat my enemy and actually drift off. It is indeed a useless and energy-consuming (oh, the irony) kind of sleep, but it is definitely interesting. Being a creative person, I often find them inspiring, and I try to write them all down.

I have of course found several tricks to beat my Zs. For some reason, these things seem to keep them where they should be for long enough to let me relax;

• Meditation apps, – but not all of them, and if I listen to the good ones too long, they stop being Z magnets

• The music from the original Blade Runner movie, – mostly successful, but the same goes here, – do not listen to it every night! If you learn every musical gesture by heart, the Zs will leave

• Counting, – not sheep, but breaths. Listening to one’s own breath can be very soothing and it’s difficult to get higher than about five hundred before you a) fall asleep, or b) get desperate and go nuts

• Staring at the inside of your eyelids, – this tends to work, but beware! Doing this for too long can make you see some weird and potentially scary LSD-like shit that might wake you up and leave you even more nervous and tense. This could definitely be something that just happens to me, I might be insane or possessed or something, but there is a chance I am not alone, right? Just say yes.

So, those were my tricks. Do them stealthily, so the Zs don’t realize that you’re putting them in a cage. Seriously, whistle unsuspiciously or something. Don’t underestimate them. They’re mean. At least mine are.

Ok, time for bed. Good night. Or, enjoy never getting those wounds that paralyzed people that lay still for too long get. While getting to know every little detail of your ceiling, accompanied by the snoring beast beside you. Every insomnia victim has an anti-insomnia sidekick.

Unfortunately, I’m the main character in this story.