Semester abroad introduces student to new customs

Column by Courtney Fishman

When I was 13 days old I took my first plane ride. By 16, I was confident that I would study abroad. And 12 days ago, I boarded American Airlines flight 66 to do just that, live in Barcelona, Spain for a semester.

Europe has always felt glamorous to me. The narrow streets, ancient architecture and corner cafés possess this elegance that the United States cannot match.

But with almost two weeks under my belt, I’ve been surprised by a lot of the differences. I wouldn’t exactly call it “culture shock,” but some things we take for granted in the U.S.

5. Free Water and Refills: The first time my flat mates and I went to a restaurant and asked for tap water, the waiter’s face tightened as he scoffed in our faces.

“Tap water? You’ll go to the hospital if you drink that,” he said. Fact is that’s not true.

European water is 100 percent A-OK, but don’t expect them to bring any to your table.

Water is served bottled and at 3 Euros apiece, and same goes for soda.

Want a refill on a Coke? Expect to be charged.

4. Laundry: Three months ago my biggest problem was that the Goodwin-Kirk Hall dryers didn’t actually dry my clothes for at least two cycles. In Spain the concept of a dryer is practically fictional. Everything here is air-dried and lacking some much needed fabric softener.

3. The Animal Culture: Back in the U.S. we see animals two ways.

The first way is as a pet. The second way is skinned, de-boned, cleaned, pre-cut and placed behind the counter of your local grocery store.

The same doesn’t go for Spain. Maybe you want a piece of fish for dinner?

Well you can see the fish in its natural state: skin, eyeballs, head and tail included, at any market you visit.

Better yet, when I ordered paella at a restaurant, the shrimp came right from the Mediterranean and onto my plate.

2. Tipping: With my Dad’s experience in the food business I was always taught to tip well.

Twenty percent was my usual and 15 percent for bad service. Just like dryers, tipping is a foreign concept in Europe.

If you get a check for €9.84, the nice people leave €10. And even then waiters don’t expect it.

So what does this mean for your dining experience? It lacks service.

Waiters don’t come around asking, “How are you enjoying your meal?” or if, “They can start you out with a drink.”

They earn a salary and don’t work for their tips, so the small talk is kept to “Te Quieres (what do you want?)”

1. Coffee: My hardest adjustment is getting used to the coffee culture here.

Coffee drinking is prevalent, almost a ritualistic activity among the locals but very different than in the U.S.

Drip coffee is not a thing. Coffee is served in espresso form, and in a very small package.

Coffee makers don’t exist. You either break down and buy an espresso machine or drink instant.

To-go options are also limited. I’ve found that coffee drinking is more of a social activity than a morning starter.

So please savor those venti Starbucks coffees for me, because I’m lacking my sufficient caffeine intake.

Fishman is a sophomore public relations and magazines double major and can be reached at

One Comment

  1. Great, I love that you liked Barcelona, ??but to taste the best paella in Spain you will have to come to Valencia, what else!