Free Food and Awkward Conversations: a guide to coping with culture shock.

To me, experiencing a culture shock is one of the most interesting aspects about moving to a different country. Going to university every day and getting into a routine can sometimes start to feel like normality – even when it’s in a new and strange country – so realising and savouring these differences is a major component to enjoying and appreciating your time abroad. As cliché as it sounds, they makes me live in the moment, reminding  me to enjoy my year abroad as this time next year I’ll be back in sunny Scotland. Experiencing culture shock reinforces the fact that this new and exciting place is your home for a year and that you should make the most of it while you are here. So I’ve compiled a list of some of the cultural differences that I love and also the ones I will (hopefully) learn to love on my year abroad in Granada:

No tipping:

As a stingy student the no tipping rule brings me great happiness. You don’t have to carry a ton of change on you and you don’t need to debate who hasn’t chipped in when going out with friends. No one expects tips, therefore no one is offended and everyone is happy. Woo! Eating out has never been better.

Tapas bars:

This brings me on to one of my favourite parts of Granada culture. It is customary in most restaurants to give free tapas when you order a drink. Yeah, that’s right. FREE FOOD. And not just any food: delicious food. In some restaurants you can even choose what you would like, but in the majority you are given whatever. But who’s caring what it is when it’s free and tasty? Very often I will go out for drinks with my friends and won’t need to buy dinner because the tapas are enough. I could write an essay on how much I love this aspect of life I Granada, but I don’t think you need anything more detailed to see how great it is.

Free tapas on Calle Navas. These prawns were delicious!

I devoured these mini empanadas.

I devoured these mini empanadas.

The laid-back lifestyle:

However sometimes eating tapas is not just a luxury but a necessity after a tough day in Spain. I thought I was a patient person before I arrived in Spain, but they do things here on a very different time scale. Table service is slower than it is in the UK, which is usually something that doesn’t bother me. When you’re in a rush, however, it can get a little frustrating. If this is the case I would recommend asking for the bill when you order your food, just to save time. I hate sounding like a complaining customer but I suppose it just highlights the difference in cultures. However, the time scale doesn’t just differ for many small events; it also applies to more important events. For instance, getting Wi-Fi felt like the longest process of my life – so much so that I actually accepted we would never have it. This laid-back attitude also applies to professors arriving to class. Staring eyes can feel like daggers when turning up to lectures a couple minutes late in Glasgow: in Granada the teachers arrive around fifteen minutes after class is supposed to start. This isn’t something that necessarily bothers me, but I definitely became aware of it pretty quickly. Just a heads up to those thinking about studying here – don’t expect things to happen quickly and make sure to embrace the more laid back culture. I am definitely growing to love it.


Unfortunately the university enrolling system isn’t as smooth as it is in Glasgow. It was about two weeks into the start of the university year that I was allowed to officially matriculate in my classes. However, because I didn’t know what classes were full out of the ones I preferred, I had to go to everything I was vaguely interested in so that if I were able to take that class or had to pick it as a second option I wouldn’t be behind in terms of the work. The first two weeks were very tiring to say the least, especially as the classes are two hours long. I only heard along the grape vine that we had to sign a sheet to make an appointment to enrol. To my dismay the next free appointment was on the 9th October so there was a long wait until I had my official classes.

The Translation and Interpretation Faculty.

The Translation and Interpretation Faculty.

Speaking a different language (who would have thought):

And finally the most important culture shock of all – the language barrier. Obviously I knew that is was never going to be plain sailing, but I didn’t anticipate quite how difficult it would be to express my personality and be myself.  At the moment I find conversations with native Spanish speakers quite rigid and almost textbook. It’s hard to have a laugh because even though I can think of responses in English, I spend too long conjugating verbs and racking my brain for the right vocab for them to be even slightly interesting or amusing. It can be a shock when you suddenly realise that making friends is ten times harder than usual but, like everything, practice, time and perseverance is what is required in order to overcome this challenge. Saying that, I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to the day when the conversation is flowing and I can talk about all the stupid stuff I would in English. You don’t realise how much you love daft chat until it’s gone.

So I say embrace the culturalisms, adopt the habits of the locals and eat as much free tapas as possible because I know that my year abroad will be over in a flash and turning up late to class, not tipping and generally being laid back about everything will sadly not be acceptable.


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