Even though France is a neighbour country to Spain, there are still some cultural differences. I normally live in Paris and am not used to the Mediterranean way of life! So, here are 5 cultural habits that struck me when I arrived in Valencia.
1. It’s 12h30, and no one is eating
I wanted to go into the restaurant. Really. I was starving. It was past noon, so it was time for me to have lunch. But there was no one inside.
In France, you usually eat at noon. In my school, our lunch breaks are even at 11h40! Then you eat a little something around 4 or 5 and have dinner at 7 or 8 pm. In Spain however, you have lunch at 2 or 3, and dinner at 9 or 10 pm. It took me some time to adjust but I got used to it. I just have a “second breakfast” around 11h30.
2. La siesta
I wanted to buy a cover for my bed when I arrived in Burjassot. So, I went out on the streets and started to look for one. The town was absolutely empty. I arrived on the main street and started walking it down. Everything was closed. I stopped. Looked at my watch. Sighed. I had completely forgotten about la siesta.
In France, the afternoon is the moment when you are active: you go shopping, you go out, you do everything you have to do and then, you relax in the evening. Here, you relax in the afternoon (my French conception of afternoons is that it lasts roughly from 2 to 5pm), and you go out in the evening!
The differences between living in Spain and France are not shocking, but still big enough to be noticeable.
I learned in the following days that la siesta is not a rule everywhere. If everything indeed closes in Burjassot, the shopping area in Valencia around Colón and Xàtiva however remains open.
3. How to be a pedestrian in Spain
How amazed was I when the cars stopped at the crossing lines to let me pass! That happens almost every time here. I can more or less cross without looking. Which I obviously won’t do because it’s hard to break a habit.
The time you must wait for the green light is however longer than in France. I thought it was only an impression, but a fellow Frenchie told me that he realized it as well.
Oh, and now, let’s talk about the metro escalators! In Paris, if you’re not climbing them, you stand on your right to let the others climb it (and if you stand in the way, expect to be asked to move). Here, a few people climb them, and most people don’t care about where they stand.
4. Everything comes alive at 7pm
This is when the city is going to get crowded. Siesta has come to an end: let’s go party and enjoy life. Let’s drink and nibble some appetizers! Let’s go shopping!
Another thing that struck me is how people smell and look super good at 7. That’s a weird observation to make but bear with me. Try to take the metro at 7 in Paris: it won’t be very pleasing. You’ll see weary faces, mostly. But here, it seems that people take advantage of the Siesta to put on some perfume and relax. They are all dressed up and it is as if their day was just starting!
5. The metro is so nice!
Speaking of the Valencian metro, it’s very modern compared to the lines I am used to take in Paris. It also seems to have more space, to be cleaner and to provide an overall friendlier atmosphere.
What particularly struck me the first time I saw the metro map of Valencia was that several lines followed the same path for quite some stations. I was also amazed at the simplicity of the map: I had no trouble understanding which lines I had to take. On the opposite side, the Parisian map is quite messy and harder to read.
I have not experienced an overcrowded metro in Valencia yet, which is truly a delight. Even when there were strikes it was really bearable! If I had only one thing to criticize, it would be that there are not stations everywhere in Valencia and you have to walk or take a bus to access some areas.
Cultural differences are one of the main reasons why I love traveling. It’s always amazing to be confronted to something new and unexpected! But it’s not a bad thing to know what you’re signing for, so be sure to know a little about Spain before coming!