What I Learned About Spain from VaughanTown Felix Wong

By being a volunteer Anglo at VaughanTown, I helped Spanish people become more proficient in the English language in the course of one week. But knowledge here was not a one-way street: by talking with the Spaniards for at least eight hours a day, I gained a lot of insight into Spanish culture that I would not have otherwise.

Here is a list I made of a lot I learned about Spain.

  • Unemployment rate is 22-27%; 52-55% for young people.
  • “The crisis” was largely caused by an unsustainable housing bubble that eventually popped (much like in the United States) and caused a collapse of the financial industry when people started defaulting on loans and housing prices plummeted. (From Maria Jesus.)
  • Families are close knit, with children living near parents and grandparents. This has helped absorb the shock of “the crisis” for now as it has enabled the scores of unemployed young people to have a roof over their heads.
  • Lots of young people looking for jobs overseas. For example, Ecuador is offering EUR5000/month for new PhDs. Problem is that all the “brains” Spain has invested in are now leaving the country especially to the UK, Germany, or Italy where the wages are high, or to Latin America.
  • Unemployment may not be so evident because 1) adult children often with live their parents anyhow, 2) unemployment insurance lasts for 2 years, and 3) lots of jobs are offered under the table (to avoid taxes).
  • Most young people not only are getting undergraduate degrees, but graduate degrees as well due to the crisis and not being able to find jobs anyhow. (From Barbara.)
  • “Companies are not hiring people over 50 years old.” (From Miguel.)
  • Morocco is really growing whereas Spain has stagnated. A lot of Spanish companies relocated to Morocco for cheap labor, and now Morocco is growing on its own.
  • It is not unusual for people to have 40- or 50-year mortgages. People move less frequently than in the U.S.
  • Even after a bank has foreclosed on a property, mortgagees are still responsible for paying back the difference between what they owed on a property and how much the bank was able to resell it for, even after they had lost their homes.
  • Popular sports include football (soccer) and NBA basketball. Secondary popular sports include tennis, cycling, Formula 1 racing. (From Javier.)
  • Workers in Madrid do not take siestas. Siestas are more common in, say, Sevilla where people can go home and take a nap. (Companies generally do not permit sleeping at work.)
  • Siestas used to be common because of the weather: it would be too hot in the afternoon to do any physical labor outside, particularly in the summer.
  • Both Madrid and Barcelona have gotten snow before, but it’s unusual. A few years ago Madrid got about 10 centimeters (4 inches) of snow, which shut down the city. (From Maria Jesus.)
  • Barcelona is much more humid than Madrid. Winter temperatures in Barcelona are higher than in Madrid and perhaps lower in summer (but humidity makes it feel just as warm or warmer). (From Maria Jesus.)
  • College is generally inexpensive in Spain. PhD students are paid a modest stipend like in the U.S. (From Barbara.)
  • The best journals are based in the U.S. or the U.K., so Ph.D. students need to write in English in order to get published in them. This is true for science, economics, and just about every discipline. (From Barbara and Antonio.)
  • While there are over 30 countries that speak Spanish, most are poor and have little clout in academic circles (hence the need to publish in English). This is slowly changing.
  • Men are not offered more than a couple days of paternity leave. Also, in Spain men are not allowed to leave work early to take care of their kids since that is “a woman’s job.” (From Bernardo.)
  • A new (last 5 years) emerging sport is paddle, which is kind of a cross between tennis and racquetball. It is only played in Spain and Argentina right now. Bernardo likes paddle more than tennis or racquetball because it takes less athletic skill and energy and more thinking, he says. This is largely due to the smaller court size. He also says it only costs a couple thousand euro to create a paddle court inside a building (they aren’t built in parks due to the potential for vandalism).
  • Spaniard government is encouraging parents to have kids learn three languages: Spanish, English, and Mandarin Chinese. Kids are being treated more like machines with packed schedules, similar to the U.S. (From Barbara.)
  • The Spanish government has had several instances of corruption lately. Some politicians have been incarcerated for it, but others have gotten away with stealing millions of dollars from the treasury. “It has become like Latin America, and the Spanish people are very ashamed of it.” (From Maria Del Mar.)
  • There are several political powers with influence, unlike the United States which has primarily been a two-party system. Unfortunately, these politicians are trying to fix “the crisis” with no experience in business, so the people are skeptical that things will get better any time soon. (From Miguel.)
  • Catalonia is similar to the rest of Europe where people keep their friends, colleagues, relatives, and other groups very segregated in their personal lives. In the rest of Spain outside of Catalonia, people will introduce “members” of their groups to their other ones. (From Angeles.)
  • In smaller towns in Spain such a the one Angeles is from, getting together for beer with colleagues after work is very popular.
  • In Spain, breakfast is generally at 9:00, lunch at 14:00, and dinner at 21:00 or 22:00.
  • In general, Spaniards drink wine with lunch and dinner, but prefer beer at the other non-meal times. They will have chips or a light snack with beer at, say, noon or before or after dinner.
  • Beer is more popular with Spaniards than soft drinks like Coke.
  • There is much less nightlife in Barcelona from Monday to Wednesday. In Madrid, there is nightlife 365 days a year with restaurants open until 4 A.M.(From Miguel.)
  • The beaches are better and longer in southern Spain (like Valencia) compared to Barcelona. (From Miguel.)
  • The Barcelonan football teams live about 20-40 km outside of Barcelona in nice places. These places tend to have a high population of gay people. (From Miguel.)
  • Companies in Spain are resistant to outsourcing. They prefer to keep their manufacturing and processes internal. (From Miguel.)
  • Except for a university in Catalonia that actively encourages students to start their own companies, universities tend to prepare students for working for someone else. (From Miguel.)
  • Food (including fruit) is expensive for Spaniards relative to their wages. (From Susana.)
  • By 2020, Spain has mandated that all new buildings are Net Zero Energy buildings. I.e., they produce as much energy (with, say, solar panels) as they produce. By 2050, this must apply to all buildings even though that means retrofitting older ones. (From Quico.)
  • Cannondale, Scott, Specialized, and Trek are all famous and popular bicycle manufacturers in Spain. (From Antonio.)
  • The cost of attending college and having medical services done (previously free) are getting a lot more expensive since the government has little money now.
  • When it comes to eating, the employed (at least in the big cities) are becoming like Americans: packing a lunch, taking only 30-minute lunch breaks, and eating at their desks. For these people, three-course meals are reserved for the weekends and evenings. (From Maria Jesus.)

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