I ended up moving to Spain three years ago after I graduated university with a BA in English and not many job prospects. I had heard about a job teaching English in a bilingual school and thought it would be a good way to get out of my extremely small Texas town, explore Europe, and also make some money while I was at it. After two years in Madrid learning how to be a Spaniard I was accepted into grad school at the University of Bamberg in Germany. I arrived in Bamberg nearly a year ago and have now had the opportunity to learn how a different country lives. While Europe might not seem like a huge culture shock when compared to the U.S., there were a few things that took some getting used to; there were some distinctions I noticed right away while others were more unexpected — like how much easier it is to travel in Europe than it is in the U.S.
When I first moved to Spain I didn’t worship food as much as the Spanish would have liked me to. I am used to going into a restaurant, ordering my food, and eating. Servers are also quite different when compared across continents, which all comes down to how much they are paid. In the U.S., servers work for tips; I think the minimum wage for restaurant staff is around $2.13 (€1.94) per hour, and because of this, customers are treated quite differently than in Europe. Servers hardly leave you alone, and wait on you hand and foot. That is, until you have finished eating. As soon as you are done, your waiter comes and gives you the bill. This is the signal that they are finished with you and are ready for a new group of people — more guests equals more tips.
In Spain, eating is an EVENT. The servers don’t bother you, only to deliver food, and you can stay as long as you want. Dinner involves multiple courses and bottles of wine that last until early in the morning, which is normal, since the Spanish don’t start eating dinner until 9 or 10 at night. That particular time-change took a lot of getting used to seeing as from the time of my birth, I ate dinner at 6 — or maybe even 7 if we were feeling particularly crazy. Even breakfast, where I would normally grab a pastry and coffee to go and eat on my commute, was fuel for millions of angry, confused eyes on me.
Apart from that, I also learned that Germany is a country made for eating outside. Growing up, once or twice a year, (let’s be honest, July 4th and Thanksgiving), my family would eat outside on the patio, and we would hardly ever eat outside if we went out for dinner. Restaurants don’t really have outdoor seating, so it’s something new for me to have hundreds of outdoor tables to choose from. It makes the country feel more like a community, instead of individual groups of people who just happen to all be in the same place, which is how it feels in the U.S.
Germany also has a tradition of sharing tables in beer gardens or restaurant patios. This was an adjustment that was somewhat difficult for me, seeing as my bubble of personal space is something that I protect with every fibre of my being — I find a simple handshake the best form of interaction. For some European countries, a handshake seems to come off more as an insult than a greeting. In Spain, double kisses to every person in the room is the norm — and when I say every person, I mean every person. Continue reading