Four Tips for Settling into Your New Spanish Life
Settling is easier for some than others; you may be lucky and feel at home right away, but there is always likelihood chance you will experience some of the challenges many expats face, including culture shock, homesickness and alienation. These problems affect the majority of people moving overseas, so the important thing is to accept it as part and parcel of your personal expat experience and take steps to minimise the effects.
Don’t Isolate Yourself
One of the most important things to consider is to not isolate yourself when you arrive. It may seem difficult to fit in at first and you may feel like you stick out like a sore thumb, but just remember that Spain’s population is made up of 13% expats so rest assured you’re not alone.
Integrating yourself into your new Spanish community can sometimes be a lot easier when you enlist the help of an online community. No matter where you are in Spain, there are plenty of forums online to help you find other expats in and around the country. Some of the more popular forums include Expat Forum, Eye on Spain and AngloInfo, though of course there are plenty more out there.
Experience Your New Surroundings
Exploring your new location is a must if you want to get a feel for where things are and the local amenities on offer, so have a walk around, introduce yourself to the locals and glean some inside information. Spanish locals are often extremely friendly and hospitable and are happy to advise you on great places to eat, which beaches to visit and which bar sells the best tapas. Just remember to return the favour in the form of a friendly beer or chat!
Learn the Traditions
Tradition is an important aspect of life to many Spaniards, stemming from the rich cultural heritage of Spain, so make sure that you get out and learn more about the traditions and culture in the area you now reside. Some of the more popular traditions include:
Siestas are an important part of Spanish culture; withdrawing from the heat of the day to rest and recuperate for the evening. The time differs depending on which services you require: shops and businesses tend to close between 14:00 and 17:00, while restaurants and bars tend to close between approximately 16:00 and 20:00. Naturally, it depends on the area and the region, so getting to know the closing times in your town will be of great advantage.
Tipping is considered polite in Spain. Leaving the change to round up to the nearest Euro is a common gesture or usual tipping is around 10% of the bill.
Meal times in Spain differ from what you may be used to. For example, breakfast usually takes place around 8:00, although this is typically a light meal. Many may just have a hot beverage. If you start to get hungry later in the morning, do not fear, you will more than likely have a mid-morning break, which is when many have their actual breakfast (around 11:00). Next, it is time for the Spanish main meal of the day, lunch! Lunch is a big deal in Spain and can sometimes take a full hour depending on those attending.
Next we move on to the afternoon snack, this is to keep you going until the late dinner. This snack tends to happen around 17:00 and often consists of a sandwich. Dinner in Spain might be a different experience for you since Spanish people eat dinner much later, around 21:00. Don’t expect many restaurants to be open for dinner at 19:00! As mentioned above, they may still be closed for the siesta.
There are a number of traditional festivals in Spain, ranging from Carnivals to Corpus Christi and All Saints Day celebrations. One not to be missed is La Tomatina Festival, the biggest tomato-fight in the world. Dates may differ depending on your location so check locally. In any case, getting involved with festivals may be just the ticket to fitting in to your new community.
Bring Some “Home” along with You
Homesickness can be one of the most debilitating feelings experienced by first time expats. Most of us are familiar with that deep pang of longing intermingled with nostalgia — it can be a strong and overwhelming desire for home.
Whilst packing up again and moving back may seem like the only thing you feel like in that moment, it is essential to remember that homesickness is only temporary — and indeed can be treated with small reminders of your previous home. Taking some family belongings with you, such as photographs, artworks, furniture and even familiar scents or herbs can do wonders in helping you transition from being homesick to feeling at home.
Keeping in touch with your family back home will also help to reduce those feelings of isolation and anxiety. Many expats choose to start a blog, so as to both document their new life abroad and to keep family updated without having to contact them in real time.
Alex Johnson has spent much time exploring the incredible culture and food of both France and Spain. He now works for Currency UK, who offer financial services to businesses, individuals and expats worldwide.