During my Junior of High School I went on a Europe trip with juniors and seniors at my High School . We spent 10 days in Europe visiting Paris, Nice, Florence, Pisa, and Rome. It was an incredible trip, especially because it was my first time traveling outside of the United States. But returning to Europe three and a half years later, feels completely different. I think this is for several reasons. 1. I have grown so much and been through so much in the past three years, making me feel like a different person. 2. I am here with my friends and people I chose to come with, not my high school class filled with high school drama. 3. I have complete control over all planning including what we see but also how we see it (transportation, time management, dining, etc.). It is empowering and also intimidating, but overall it is incredibly exciting. Here is a small recap of our trips to Rome, Italy and Barcelona, Spain.
I went to Rome with my best friend and her boyfriend. We also met up with a friend who is studying abroad in Florence, Italy from Colorado State University. Getting to Rome was an adventure in itself. We took a train from Glasgow to London to meet up with my best friend’s boyfriend. We were only in London for a brief 8 hours before getting up at 2am to Uber to the bus station, then take an hour bus ride to Stagnated Airport in London, and then flying to Rome. We had taken all forms of transportation within 24 hours, which besides the exhaustion was fairly impressive. Rome was terrific, we spent half the day Friday and all day Saturday exploring and seeing all the famous sites like the colosseum, pantheon, Trevi fountain, St. Peters Basilica, Spanish Steps, Altar of the Fatherland, and Piazza Navona. The architecture was beautiful. I think the Trevi Fountain was my favorite place but I was thrilled to see all the other sites as well. In High School, we were on a guided tour and had a group of 60 students and chaperones. Even though, it was an eye-opening experience, there was not much cultural interaction, so during this trip I noticed many more insightful cultural differences.
- Traffic and Driving in Rome: I have one word for driving in Rome: Terrifying. We took Ubers to and from the city center since our hotel was too far from the center to walk. The traffic near main sites like the colosseum and trevi fountain was insane. You have no idea what cars are going where, there is no direction, just people turning wherever they want, cutting each other off, and honking anytime a car hesitates for any reason. We got stuck in so many traffic jams which did not bother us but our Uber driver was not happy with the congestion. I could never imagine driving in a city like Rome because I a so used to American roads with traffic signs.signals at every intersection, marked lanes, and wide streets. In America, it is rude to switch lanes without a turn signal or speed up around someone if they are going slow, but in Rome it would be weird to not drive in that manner. I’m sure those drivers are used to it, but I was glad to just be a passenger with no driving responsibility.
- Eating later and reservations: Restaurants in Italy are not lacking in any way. There is a pasta and pizza place every couple shops down the streets, especially near the main sites like the Trevi Fountain and Colosseum. However, us Americans who are used to being able to stop into a restaurant at 4pm or 5pm for an early dinner were shocked when most restaurants don’t open until 7 or 7:30. The ones that do are typically booked full with reservations making it difficult for us spontaneous tourists to just walk into any restaurant that looked good. We were advised to get to restaurants early if we wanted to steal a table before the rush of reservations which was definitely worth it after eating authentic Italian pasta and drinking homemade limoncello.
- Finishing Food at Restaurants: I did not know about this cultural difference until I saw it in action. On our last evening in Rome, my friend was very full from her lunch and only ate about two-thirds of her dinner. The waiter came by the table after we had already gotten our food and been eating for about 45 minutes and when he saw my friend’s plate he was shocked. “You don’t like it? Your food is cold!” He seemed so concerned about her plate, but she calmly laughed and said she was just very full and could not finish the dish. He looked at her like she was crazy because in Italian culture you always finish your food. It is considered rude not to finish your food and the only reason you would not clean the plate is if you did not care for your meal. It took a little more explaining before the waiter accepted her answer and took our dishes away. In America, as a server people rarely clear their plates. Americans are know for large portion sizes and there are even times I see people barely touch their food. I rarely ask people why they did not finish their food, because it seems rude to interrogate the guest about their meal and Americans have no problem telling the server if they do not like their plate and want something different, so this interaction was very interesting to me.
Food and souvenirs in Rome are cheap compared to Glasgow and London. They are not the cheapest in the world but, the cheapest I have seen so far. We went to fancy dinners, ordered drinks and appetizers for four people, but the bill did not break the bank, making Rome one of the lest costly adventures in my travels.
Our trip to Spain consisted of two nights. We spent time wandering around the city, walking along the beach, eating incredible seafood, and admiring Gaudí’s architecture. Ubers were not very popular in Spain. It is more efficient and easier to flag a taxi from the side of the road than wait for an Uber with your phone. This was new to us since, getting Ubers and Taxis through the Uber app had been our main form of transportation in the united Kingdom and Rome.
The most notable cultural observations I made were regarding speaking English versus Spanish. I have basic Spanish speaking skills. I can hold a basic conversation. However, I found my skills very challenged in Spain. First, I am used to Latin America Spanish which is different form the Spanish spoken in Spain. I did not think there would be as much of a difference as there was. I also get very shy when speaking Spanish because I feel like my pronunciation and grammar is not perfect. In America when I try to speak Spanish to people I feel embarrassed and have even been mocked for trying. So, my hesitancy in Spain combined with my Latin America-based Spanish made for more language barriers than I anticipated. This was different from when I travelled to Mexico last May. In Mexico I was reserved at first with my Spanish skills however, once people say I had a basic knowledge of their language they were so excited and wanted to talk to me in Spanish and teach me new words. I had so much fun speaking Spanish in Mexico, but in Spain when I tried to speak Spanish the people would talk back to me very quickly and when they saw my confusion or surprise, they immediately gave up and started speaking English. Barcelona is a tourist hot spot so I was not surprised that many people in Spain, especially restaurant workers knew basic English. But, I felt disappointed that I could not put my Spanish skills to work as much as I wanted to. One of my friends from DU is studying abroad in Bilbao, Spain and she told me English is hardly spoken there. Clearly the English and Spanish speaking norms are different in different areas, but Barcelona was not what I expected. This did not deter the trip at all, I fell in love with Barcelona and cannot wait to travel back one day.
Another notable cultural difference is similar to Spain in the way that everything happens later. Restaurants open later and clubs/bar stay open later than 2am (closing time in America). I actually saw that some restaurants that are open for lunch and dinner close for a few hours from 4:30pm to 8pm. Originally, I thought I was going to study abroad in Spain and when I was researching the culture I learned they have siesta hours in the afternoon where restaurants and shops close for the workers to take breaks. They can go home and take naps (siestas), run errands, or really do anything, but it is very common in Spain culture. Sometimes, I feel sad I did not study abroad in Spain, but I have a feeling I am right where I am supposed to be in Glasgow. When I left Spain and returned to my Glasgow flat, I remember being exhausted form the busy weekend and thinking to myself that I was so glad to be home. I never thought I would call a place other than Colorado home, but I have made my own little home in Glasgow and I can’t put into words the feelings of pride, joy, and comfort that brings me. I think I will be ready to go home in December, but for now I like my home here.