What They Don’€™t Tell You About Going Abroad

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Upon arriving in Spain six days ago for the first time in my life, I was immediately taken aback by several subtle cultural differences that were never elaborated upon in any of the guidebooks that I had read on the plane. Things are definitely different in Europe, but not in the ways I expected them to be:

Dogs are people, too.

Without exaggeration, 99% of dogs I have seen thus far have been wearing clothing. Quilted jackets and argyle sweaters (and even one tiny, pink Baby Phat dog sweatsuit) are all the rage for dogs, who are apparently very cold here despite their natural fur coats. Speaking of fur…

Fur is huge here.

Among men and women both, fur is incredibly popular. Most stores sell clothing embellished with fake fur, and real fur is not nearly as taboo as it is in the US. You don’t have to worry about getting paint thrown on you by PETA, so break out your minks, guys!

PDA is…different.

At least in Spain, it seems like all couples, even the elderly ones, link arms or hold hands while out walking in public. In the same vein, it turns out that public displays of affection are a lot more acceptable in places other than the United States. Like, making-out-on-the-subway acceptable and there-are-BEDS-in-certain-clubs acceptable.

It’s not that hard to avoid getting robbed/pick-pocketed.

I hope I won’t be eating my words later in the month when my wallet mysteriously disappears on the bus, but so far it seems like common sense goes a long way when it comes to defending yourself against pickpockets. Based on the accounts of family and friends, I assumed that upon my arrival in Europe I would literally have my purse ripped off my shoulder and carried away by a running thief, Mean Girls style. In reality, all you need is a watchful eye on busy streets and crowded subways.

Personal space is also different.

I remember stumbling upon a guidebook in Barnes & Noble a few years ago that was meant for European tourists traveling to the United States. Some of the very first pages contained various warnings (at which I scoffed) about Americans being highly protective of their personal space. “I’m not weird about personal space,” I laughed to myself. Silly guidebook. Then the man driving me from the airport to my residence touched my arm and leg at least 10 times during our ride, and I was sure my life was about to turn into Taken 3. Imagine my surprise when I was not kidnapped and sold into sex slavery as I had expected, but was instead dropped off at my residence with a friendly “hasta luego!” from my driver. Lesson learned: I guess I like my personal space, after all.


For more articles on Study Abroad, check out:

10 Places You Need to Visit While Studying Abroad

10 Best Places to Study Abroad

11 Study Abroad Essentials


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