Hello friends! Here are some tips that I am sure are not exclusive to Spain. But they are some (hopefully) useful tips for traveling around Spain.
1) People understand, and often speak, a good bit of English! Can you have a long, in-depth conversation about Shakespearean soliloquies with the the average person next to you on the metro? Probably not. Can you do that with a random person you meet in public in the USA? Also no. Most people here understand more English than they can speak, just like you can understand more Spanish than you speak. This is not to discourage you from practicing your Spanish; rather just to point out that you can probably roam around most major cities and be fine without high fluency.
2) Keeping the above in mind, I suggest learning the phrases, “Vale” and “Venga” in addition to “Por favor” and “Gracias” (Please and thank you, respectively).
Colloquially in Spain, “Vale” and “Venga” mean “ok!” “sure!”
Literally: vale-3rd person present tenese of Valer=to have value
venga-Subjunctive 1st and 3rd person of “Venir”= to come.
3) Its always a good idea to keep some toilet paper on you. Not a whole roll (unless you just want to…) Just a few sheets for you and possibly a friend. Bathrooms here are sort of hit and miss about having toilet paper on hand. Though in general bathrooms are usually clean.
4) Most napkins you find at the table will do nothing to help you wipe off your hands. Or at least, you will need about 10000000000000 of them to get the job done, as illustrated here
5) Lights in bathrooms and hallways are often on a timer and/or motion detector. So don’t panic if the bathroom light at the restaurant turns off, or the hall light as you’re walking to your hotel room cut out. Though you might either have to reach for the nearest switch or wave your arm around to buy you more time.
6) Please learn about Amish culture before you leave. For some reason everyone I meet asks me about the Amish within the first five minutes of conversation (only mildly exaggerating. Some take less than five minutes). Have you ever been to an Amish settlement? Do you know why they choose that lifestyle? What is the history there? What sort of technologies do or don’t they use?, etc, etc, etc. The more you know, the better.
7) That whole no-one-likes-USAcitizens-thing is overrated. Even when they disagree with what goes on politically (its not a big deal to talk about politics and it is not meant as a personal attack) like 99% of the planet they are able to distinguish between a country’s politicians and their every-day-loveable-citizens. Especially if you are polite, smile and are being respectful of their culture.
8) Don’t eat paella for dinner. Paella is usually consumed at lunch. I mean, do if you want. But be aware that a) No spaniard does it. I told someone at school my sister and I were going to a paella place for dinner and there was an audible gasp. b) Paella comes from Valencia and does not traditionally come with seafood.
***Not to discourage you from having seafood paella at 10pm if you are so inclined. The logic is that since Paella is a really heavy dish, so eating it at night can be uncomfortable.
9) The different life schedule is real. Most coffee shops don’t open until 8AM.
-Breakfast is often served through noon.
-Lunch starts at 1:00pm at the earliest. I asked friends to lunch at 1:30pm and I got a lot of weird stares. 2:00-3:00pm is an ideal lunch time.
-Dinner starts around 8:00pm. the very earliest. 10:00pm would be a solid normal time.
-Any restaurant that is open for dinner and/or has a kitchen that doesn’t close might not be the most “authentic” place. But if you’re starving and don’t have access to a kitchen or light snack to hold you over, you do you.
-Most places, even in Madrid, will close in the afternoon. Shops usually from 3ish-5ish. Restaurants from 5ish-8ish.
-“mediodia” (mid day) is not 12noon. Its 2pm. I learned that the hard way.
-Its not unheard of for someone to make plans to have a beer around midnight. Its actually very normal.
10) As in many parts of the world, military time is useful to understand. Most signs, flyers, schedules, etc will be written this way. 10=10AM. 22=10PM. 3=3AM, 15=3PM. You get it.
11) Everyone loves a “terraza”. Sitting outside, even when its not that sunny and/or cold. People just love the fresh air and charming plazas. Or not so charming side streets. Doesn’t matter. If there is a way to sit outside, more often than not, people will chose it.
12) Cafe con leche is the greatest. This is coffee more espresso style with steamed milk. I think maybe we would call it a flat white? Either way, delicious! And usually less than two euros!
13) Flamenco is also superb. It usually makes me cry! It comes from southern Spain; the Andalusia region to be precise. So if you are down there, do not miss a chance to see a flamenco show!
14) When eating at lunch, also opt for the “menu”. Most places will have a menu of the day thats no more than 15 euros (really most places are 10 euros or less. I suppose if you go somewhere fancy 15 would be right), that include 2-3 options for a 1st course, 2-3 options for a 2nd course, your drink (beer, wine, coke, etc) and dessert or coffee. This is by far my favorite way to try a little bit of what the restaurant has to offer! Especially if you are traveling with someone willing to share.
15) While it is true that tipping is not the same as in the USA… you should still leave a little something. If you had a good lunch, leave a euro/person. If it was complicated, they really bent over backwards for you, they had to bust out some english, etc, maybe leave 2 euro. If you are at a really nice dinner, leave a few more. No need to go the 20% route like in the USA. But a few coins here and there are much appreciated.
16) Public transit is great! As I mentioned in my Favorite things about Madrid, the public transit system both in Madrid and in Spain in general is very good! There are so many ways to get around. Renfe (train system) has some good deals if you book ahead of time and once you factor in getting to the airport and back, can often be cheaper than flying. If you are really feeling adventurous, BlaBla car is a fun way to get around! There are buses that can take you pretty much anywhere. Of course flying is also always an option, but I do suggest looking into the aforementioned options. Especially for in-country travel.
17) Try a “tinto de verano” while here! I know it may seem like a sin to water down the excellent but cheap Spanish wine with soda water, but I swear it is so good and refreshing! Just try it once and if you don’t like it, at least it was probably less than 3 euro. In fact, if you ever pay more than 5 euro for a glass of wine here, it was too expensive. Unless you are somewhere really fancy I guess.
18) Take that after dinner shot. A lot of places, if you go for a sit down meal (rather than just “tapas”which is also fun and highly recommended!), you will more than likely be offered a digestive shot. Try it if you’re game! They are usually pretty mild and tasty.