Discover the European way – 7 things done differently that might surprise Americans

by Lorraine Williamson
Americans visiting Spain

Embarking on a Spanish adventure can be a thrilling experience, but there are subtle differences that might catch Americans off guard.

Florida based, Italian-American travel writer and blogger, Maria DiCicco, has a property in Zaragoza where she spends part of her time with her Spanish husband. In her latest blog, she wrights about things that are done differently in Europe that Americans might find surprising. In this article, we share 7 of them particular to here in Spain.

Passport protocol at hotels

Checking into a hotel involves a unique twist in much of Spain. The front reception desk may request your passport and ask you to leave it and pick it when you check out or once. While it might be unnerving for some, rest assured, it’s a perfectly normal practice.

Bed and breakfast delights

Spanish hotels often offer the option for a delightful breakfast buffet to be included in the room price. Typically these feature homemade delicacies like breads, cakes, and pastries. However, if you can avoid the overpriced hotel breakfasts, opt for a more local experience at a nearby café for a coffee, juice, and pastry. Or even try the “pan de tomate” (toasted bread with olive oil and grated tomato).

Elevator floor confusion

The first (or ground) floor in European buildings is labelled 0, not 1. When pressing the elevator button, remember that 0 or G is street level. Be grateful for the elevator and make sure to exit on the correct floor.

Metric system for fuel

Prepare for the metric system when refueling your vehicle. Gas is sold in litres, and the displayed price is for one litre of petrol or diesel. Multiply by four to estimate the gallon price. Also, distances on road signs are in kilometres, and your speedometer shows km/h instead of mph. Learn the conversions to avoid confusion.

Navigating roundabouts

In Spain, the rules of the traffic circles are quite different and can be quite tricky. For a start, you are driving on the left.  This can add an extra layer of complexity for American drivers. You may receive specific instructions from rental car agencies. However, if you are unsure, you can read this article for full information.

Cogesa Expats


Retail stores in Spain may close around 2 pm for a leisurely lunch break or siesta, reopening at 5 or 6 pm. Additionally, be mindful of bank holidays and Sundays when most stores are closed.

Also, US residents can claim a tax refund on occasional purchases made in Spain of items for personal use or as gifts which they wish to take back to their country (with the exception of purchases made in the Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla). Get full information here on how and where to claim the tax-free refund on your purchases.

Tobacco shops as convenience hubs

Tobacco shops are ubiquitous in Spain, primarily selling tobacco products. However, some also serve as one-stop-shops for train and bus tickets, stamps, and other convenience items. Apart from vending machines, you will not be able to buy tobacco except from an official “Tabac“.

Maria DiCicco’s experiences and insights shed light on the nuances of European Spanish culture, ensuring that Americans can embrace these differences and make the most of their travel adventures.

Culture and cuisine

Another intriguing cultural difference that American visitors can wholeheartedly embrace in Spain is the vibrant tapas culture. Unlike the traditional sit-down dining experience, Spaniards often opt for a more social and casual approach to meals, indulging in a variety of small, flavourful dishes known as tapas. These delectable bites offer a diverse culinary experience, from savoury cured meats to mouthwatering cheeses and richly spiced olives.

And, what may initially seem like a late dinner schedule is, in fact, a reflection of the lively and convivial atmosphere that permeates Spanish evenings. Spaniards typically don’t sit down for dinner until 9.00 pm or even sometimes as late as 11.00 pm.

Also read: Record breaking amount of American tourists flocking to Spain

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