What's the first thing that comes to your mind when I say Spain? Is it fiesta? Or perhaps siesta? Yes, most probably I did get one of those right, didn't I? Let's be honest. It wasn't that hard anyway. However all those words ending in -iesta only scratch the surface of what's Spain. So let's go deeper than the stereotypes, in order to reveal more of the "real Spain". Cause if you are seriously considering moving to Spain, you should be better prepared. And an intensive flamenco course is not at all what I have in mind.
1. Spain is slightly more than twice the size of Oregon. Yet as diverse as the United States.
How is that even possible? Well, history has all the answers. But we have no time for them. All you need to know is that Spain comprises of 17 autonomous communities and each one of them is governed by its own constitution and organic laws. Some of these regions may even have their very own language or dialect (depends on how you look at it).
Nonetheless, this diversity is not only visible in the laws and the language, the geography and the weather are quite different too.
So if you have the luxury of choosing the region best for you, you should do some research upfront. Northwestern Spain has a cool year-round climate. Dry summers and cold winters are typical on Spain's inland. Whereas the coastal areas, to the east and to the south, have a Mediterranean climate. If you like it hot, then you should pick the third option. It kind of goes without saying.
2. ¿Hablas ingles? very often gets "no" for an answer.
Simply because not everyone knows how to speak English. Spaniards are still far from that. Perhaps your job will not require Spanish language skills. But even if that's the case, you should still have a basic understanding of the language to deal with everyday situations.
However do bare in mind that learning Latin American Spanish (the most common Spanish dialect taught in the U.S.) can feel like a complete waste of time, at times. Cause Spanish is not the only language spoken in Spain. Catalan, for instance, which is spoken in Catalonia (Barcelona) is very different to American Spanish. While in the Basque country the majority speaks Basque as their first language. Just to name a few.
One last warning: Don't get way too confident when speaking Spanish. Since there are a bunch of words that sound like English ones, but have a completely different meaning. You are not supposed to eat a "pie" in Spain, unless you are some kind of a pervert. As pie means foot in Spanish. Don't learn it the hard way.
3. Forget the American dream. Live the Spanish reality instead.
It's true that the unemployment rate in Spain had hit double digits. Then again as the Spanish economy slowly recovers from the recession, unemployment has started to go down.
Job opportunities are on the rise for medical practitioners, chefs as well as tourism and hospitality workers. Recently, the Employment & Social Security Ministry has even raised the minimum salary to 764,40 Euros per month. Which is apparently still low.
But then again you have to take into account that the cost of living in Spain can be lower than in United States. Take for example the cost of living in Barcelona, which is about 24% cheaper than in San Diego, California. You may not achieve the American dream while in Spain, but the Spanish reality may suit you better.
4. Find yourself a job before you find yourself crying that there are no jobs!
I guess you've already read the 3rd point. It went something like unemployment blah blah job opportunities blah blah. Whatever. Just remember one thing: find a job before you jump on the plane!
90 days (visa-free period for Americans) may be far less than the amount of time required to actually get a job in Spain -given that money were no object-. On top of that, obtaining a work permit can be a knotty process.
I don't mean to scare you off but the process goes something like this: To be able to legally work in Spain, you must first get a job. After that, your employer will apply for your work permit. Then once authorization to work has been granted, you will need to request for a visa. - Are you still there? -
Once you've done all of the above, and as an extra bonus for your patience, you can register for your social security number and benefit from Spain's public health system. Not to mention fiesta and siesta!
5. Business etiquette in Spain? At very least know the basics.
The mentality of "this is how we do it in America" will not get you far. After all, this is Spain. So here are a few handy things to know.
Spaniards are not known for their punctuality. But running late is not an option. Even if that means getting stood up for 5-10 or maybe even 15 minutes. What's more in business settings a handshake would be the norm, unless you know the other party well.
Now, what's the deal with last names in Spain? This can be very confusing to outsiders. To be on the safe side use señor (Mr.) or señora (Mrs) before the surname, full name or professional title. Unless told otherwise.
It's also good to know that deals don't close fast here. Be open. Be patient. And do your best to win Spaniards' trust. And qué será sera.
6. Prepare to change your (biological) clock
Once you land in Spain, you'll need to set your clocks six hours ahead. You will probably be jetlagged for a couple of days. But that's not such a big deal. Then again adapting to the Spanish timetable may give you a hard time.
Contrary to popular American belief, siesta does not happen anymore, especially in big cities like Madrid and Barcelona. It is, however, true that the Spanish time schedule is different than that of the USA. So banks and public service offices are open from 8:30 - 2 pm and may not reopen in the afternoon. Furthermore, pharmacies are usually open from 9:30 am to 2 pm and 5 - 9:30. You'll ,therefore, learn to run your errands at different times than when you were back home.
Very soon, you will also find out that meal times run on a different schedule. Lunch can start at 2, 3 or even 4 p.m. Moreover Spaniards have dinner as late as 9 or 10 o'clock at night. At 12' o clock, the night is still young! So "I have to go to work tomorrow" in Spain is not a good enough excuse to leave your friends/colleagues and head home. You'll soon learn firsthand what "la madrugada" means.
If I had to pick a country to move to, that would most certainly be Spain. But I am me. And you are you. So I will not bet my bottom dollar that you'll be happy to live and work in Spain. In any case, don't get me wrong, but I am green with envy.