You read this everywhere I'm sure but I'll repeat it. Things go at a slower pace so be prepared to wait at banks, stores, bars, restaurants and tourist offices. Waiters and bartenders generally don't work off tips, and while service is generally good they aren't bending over backwards to meet your every need. Yet I've never in my life seen people work harder or faster than they do in some of the bars and restaurants here when things are busy. As for working for tips from my point of view that's great. I can't think of anything I hate more than a waiter trying to find something to chat about when the time for the check nears. I'm here to eat, not to bond with the staff. Some other examples of the patience we've had to exercise here:

  • We waited 5 or more weeks for our television to be fixed. We called every other day and were promised it would be ready "by the end of the week" every time we called.
  • We waited over 3 weeks to get our mattress delivered. I couldn't help but think about 1-800-Mattress in the U.S., with their same or next day service, as I slept on my old bed.
  • We plan for 20 minutes to wait in line each time we visit our bank, although sometimes it takes less.
  • We signed up for automatic bank drafts twice since July with Telefonica. Each month after we signed up a new bill came in the mail saying we had to take it to the bank and pay the balance. When we called to complain they said they didn't have our information and we signed up again. Three months later and we're still waiting for our first bill to be drafted from the account.

Love it, embrace it, hug it like you can't get enough of it because if you're really worried about embarrassing yourself here than you're going to have a hard time. You can't be an expert on the language and culture or know how they do everything. To worry yourself about everything you say or do will keep you from learning more and in many cases advancing your confidence. A little guts with no fear to speak will have others laughing at you from time to time, but you'll make it much further. Every time you learn how to ask for, do or get something it makes it that much easier the rest of the time you're here. And think about it - Sevillanos see and hear these mistakes almost every day so it's nothing new to them. Most of the time when you try to speak or make a mistake you can just smile and the person behind the bar or desk will happily help you. Sometimes they won't, but remember you can find jerks everywhere in this world.

Life is not fair
Remember that saying you always hated hearing from your parents and teachers? Try and think of this often before you come here. Many Americans and others feel entitled to be treated equally, but that may not always be the case in Spain or Seville. The bartender may serve his friends or regulars first even though you've been there longer trying to flag him down. Some people may get olives with their beer while you get only the beer. They may even serve others larger portions of tapas. The store employee may first serve that person who broke in line right in front of you (see below). The person behind the counter in the hardware store may decide they don't have what you want even though you know they do. Someone in El Corte Inglés may tell you there is no way to connect a DVD player to your type of television when there are several ways (hint to the fellow who told us this - I'm watching DVDs just fine on my type of television). These examples are exceptions, not the rule, but they do happen.

Don't expect a lot of English, but do expect waiters and other people to be helpful when you are trying to order something or find your way around here. A little Spanish goes a long way, so try to speak what you can. And practice the art of gesturing a lot - when you can't say something maybe a shrug or a flailing of hands will bring you some luck, if not some laughs.

Personal space

Many of you living in a city in the U.S. already have this one down. In Seville and most of Spain personal space is a much smaller buffer zone. Bumping into or brushing by a person on the street requires a quick perdon and generally nothing more (depending on whether you just knocked down that little old lady). It's not an affront to you or your area and not a reason to become unreasonably angry. Unlike many places in the U.S. you tend to see your neighbors more often and at closer range as you all enter through the same door in the building, hang your laundry on the same roof and walk the same street every day. Quite a difference from waving politely to your neighbor across the yard from your driveway. In terms of the difference between Spain and the U.S. I always think of my trips to the grocery while visiting home. Almost everyone who walked by me in the U.S. while I stared at the selection on the shelves said "excuse me". But why? I'm here shopping and certainly coming within 2-3 feet of me doesn't warrant an apology.

Line breaking
Don't be surprised if that little, (seemingly) sweet old lady pushes her way in front of you when you've been waiting for 10 or 15 minutes. And don't be surprised when they attend to her before you. If you're in a store talking to an employee and someone has a question don't be taken aback if they interrupt your conversation to ask a question. I don't recommend you break in line, too, but don't be afraid to push your way through a crowd to get to where you need to go or speak up a little when you need a question answered.

Organized chaos?
What seems to be out of control really is well under control. How do those bartenders keep up with your tab when there are 40 people in the bar? Why isn't everyone losing their minds as they try and make their way through the Semana Santa crowds? Little social rules guide behavior so it's not such a strange or chaotic situation to Sevillanos as it is to visitors. Although many times things are more orderly here - try the butcher, cheese or fruit counters at El Corte Inglés. I prefer the "take a number" method to my deli counter back home, where everyone relies on common courtesy to say who is next when the attendant asks.

Bag it
What do do when the person at the checkout counter of the grocery store tosses a few plastic bags in the direction of your groceries? Put your stuff in a bag, of course! Unlike the U.S. don't expect anyone to come by and bag your groceries for you. You're expected to pack them yourself in most any supermarket so the checker can move on to the next person in line. Likewise, you are expected to take all of your groceries out of the cart or basket and place them on the conveyer belt for the checker to ring you up.

Don't touch the fruit!
Many times in supermarkets you need to wait for the attendant to pick your fruit. Unlike in the U.S. you can't always reach out and squeeze that tomato or plum to see if it is ripe. You can, however, ask that they pick out a certain piece of fruit for you if it looks good. In general if there is an attendant around it's wise to ask first if you can touch.

Throw it on the floor
Is the floor in that tapas bar really that dirty? Well, yes, but it's ok. What are all those people doing throwing their trash on the floor? Keeping things clean. While it doesn't take place in the nicer restaurants you'll see many people exercising their rights to throw napkins, olive pits and cigarette butts on the floor. Not to worry, someone will come by later and clean it up, but it sure keeps the mess off the counters.

Keep your feet on the ground
You're relaxing outside at a cafe so why not stretch out and kick your feet up on the seat next to you? If you do so you may be asked to put them back on the ground. Many vacationing Americans see care-free Spain and think doing this couldn't offend anyone. But the street is probably the dirtiest thing around. Why else would those little old ladies spend so much time mopping the sidewalk in front of their house? Putting your feet, which surely have been touching the ground recently unless your vacation is going all too well, on a seat is putting all of the dirt, dog crap and anything else from the street where someone plans to sit.

Ahora y ahora mismo
What does it mean when a bartender or store clerk says he will help you - ahora, le atiende - and then walks off? Ahora means now, doesn't it? Sort of. Many times ahora means in just a minute, or your next when I finish what I'm doing. Ahora mismo, however, means "right now".

Spaniards smoke everywhere and you'll still see the occasional fool smoking in the department store even though there are no smoking signs. The only place I've seen the no smoking rule completely respected is in hospitals. So be prepared to inhale second hand smoke. And I've never, seen anyone, anywhere ask the person next to them to please put out their cigarette, except once in a movie theatre about 10 years ago. And hey, you shouldn't smoke there.

Mucha Gente
Why are there 100 people spilling into the streets while trying to squeeze into that bar that only holds 25? Spaniards like to be where the action is. An empty bar is empty for a reason. In an American's eyes this may be an advantage but in a Spaniard's eyes this is a sign: it's not the place to be tonight.

Beer, beer, everywhere
In McDonalds, for example. Or in the corner market, the bread store, a drink machine. You can find beer almost anywhere. And that goes for liquor as well. Not controlled by some puritan state law, you can buy a bottle of whisky in most food stores, as well as get a mixed drink in most any bar. I can even get a bottle of rum in my local video store. While not always the case, many locals drink in moderation. Sure, six or so drinks are nice, but not in the same place. Making, or rather walking, your way to each bar tends to burn that stuff off. Many also prefer a beer or wine with lunch or dinner rather than a Coke.

Aw, crap
Dogs are wonderful - I am a dog lover. Despite laws in the city that owners must pick up their dog's business hardly anyone does it. It is tempting to look up at all the buildings and monuments, or just the beautiful blue sky in Seville. I have learned to keep one eye on the ground when walking around to keep my shoes clean. So far this year I've yet to step in any but the dogs are doing their best to get me. And while near the Cathedral and other tourist sites in the center keep an eye out for horse crap, too.

Walking in the shade
I know this one seems obvious, but it is a necessary practice in the summer heat to keep yourself going. You'll see plenty of people cross the street to walk in the shade - follow their lead! In June they place toldos or tarps over the narrower streets in the center to keep everyone in the shade. Another way to keep yourself out of the sun is to keep a Spanish schedule. Eat at 3pm, and take a nap or relax afterwards. Then head out around 5:30 or later so you avoid the hottest part of the day. Remember, in the summer there's light until 10pm, so there's no rush.

Generations mix
One thing that sometimes surprises people visiting Seville is the generational mix. It's not uncommon to see a whole family sitting outside at a bar, perhaps even 4 generations from the great-grandmother to the great-grandchildren. Don't be surprised to see a mother, her daughter and her daughter walking arm in arm down the street. It's not that this doesn't happen in the U.S. or elsewhere, it's the fact that this is not a rare occurrence in Spain.

The myth of sangria
Many travelers think of Spain and they automatically think of casually sipping sangria outside of a bar. The problem is most bars don't have sangria, and more often than not those that do are tourist bars. Sangria is a wonderful drink, they just don't go to the trouble of making it every day in every bar. I see many tourists pointing at glasses of tinto de verano and asking the bartender for sangria. So what is a tinto de verano? It's red wine on ice mixed with your choice of soda: blanco, limon or naranja. If you are dying to try sangria but can't find it anywhere try this instead. While simpler and not exactly the same it does the trick. Plus it's easier to make at home when you get back to the states.

The myth of gazpacho
Ditto on the above - many think gazpacho is everywhere. It generally is, but generally during spring and summer, and not very common in fall or winter. Many menus will even list gazpacho en verano. Also, don't be surprised to have your gazpacho served to you in a glass instead of a bowl. This is more common in tapas bars. Some restaurants will server gazpacho in a bowl with guarnicion- little bits of green pepper, fried bread, ham and hard boiled egg. And while gazpacho gets all the hype many people fail to ever try salmorejo - it's like gazpacho, but always served in a bowl, most often with bits of serrano ham. It's thicker and a bit sweeter than gazpacho.

The myth of paella
Paella is everywhere here, although maybe in a little different form than what you see in the pictures. They tend to call it simply arroz (rice) in Seville, and while many bars and restaurants offer it every day a lot don't. You'll discover places offer it only on Saturday and Sunday. As for that picture you have in your head of a large dish with delicately arranged seafood on the top - try to forget it. Most of the time it comes in a big scoop on a plate. Expect different variations wherever you go, with possible combinations of chicken, shrimp, pork, squid and clams. In the nicer restaurants you can order paella and get what you've seen in those magazines, but it'll likely taste the same.

Agua De Sevilla
It runs through the river between el centro and Triana, but it also is a popular drink offered at a few bars here. Try this instead of sangria if you're feeling bold. Don't finish the night up with a pitcher of it, though, as it packs a punch. Served in jaras (pitcher) or media jaras (half-pitchers) be prepared to pay a hefty price - anywhere from 20-30€ for a pitcher. Here's what's in it:

  • zumo de piña (pineapple juice)
  • champagne
  • whisky
  • ron (rum)
  • Licor 43
  • Cointreau
  • nata (whipped cream: on top and then stirred in)
  • azucar moreno (brown sugar)
  • hielo (ice)

Feria, las tiendas and how to have a good time there
Feria is a very festive time in Seville. It's a fair in Seville with a lot of tents where everyone's drinking and dancing, right? Well, it's in Seville but across the river on the other side of Los Remedios. Just a little hike to get there but not too far. What you can't do when you get there is enter most of the tents or tiendas, as they are private. A few community tents are open to everyone, though. Feria is a great time, although the daylight hours may be the best for visiting. On some nights it's crowded and often hard to move around, and you can expect the folks in the crowd to be well past drunk. Like fairs in the U.S. expect overpriced food and drink and the same kind of carnival games and rides in the appropriately named calle de infierno.

Don't eat the oranges
Orange trees in the spring provide flowers and the wonderful smell of azahar. Then there's the color of the oranges which brightens up the sidewalks and makes for great pictures. Later there's the wonderful smell as oranges fall to the ground and are crushed by the passing cars. A nice ripe orange looks thirst quenching, but don't try and eat them - they aren't so tasty. Most of the oranges are collected later and shipped off to make orange marmalade, which better suits their bitter taste.

Hey waiter
As explained above the waiters don't work off tips, but they do work hard. When sitting outside at a bar or restaurant I've found that they are harder to flag down to order that second round of drinks or tapas. And when the time comes for the check it seems there's a blind spot in front of your table. You must ask for the check in almost all cases. People like to linger at tables and waiters won't chase you off by bringing you the check (hint, hint) after you finish your meal. And don't always expect wait service at the tables. Some bars have tables inside and outside but you have to order at the bar and bring it yourself to the table. It's called autoservicio.

Children in the bars
The generations mix, including in los bares. Some are shocked to see a a couple with their 8 month-old and 4 year-old in a bar at 1am. Not only is it smoke-filled, but the children should have been in bed by 8 or 9pm! Two things will help you understand what's going on. First, while bars in the U.S. are for people 21 and older there are many with a family atmosphere in Spain. Just because it says "bar" outside doesn't mean it's all sports, dancing and lots of beer drinking. Second, bedtimes for children here are much later - consider that dinner is often served at 9 or 10pm and sometimes later in the summer.

Have a drink on me
When out with Spaniards it's often custom to pay for a round of drinks rather than splitting things up. Or sometimes you or they may pay for several rounds in one place. The next round or place and it's your turn. Sometimes you come out ahead while other times you don't. Now worries - it'll all even out eventually.

Curiosity killed the cat, but not the Spaniard
Groups form quickly here: in the street, outside a bar, near a street performer or next to a store window. There are many magnetic situations that attract people: a couple arguing, a group practicing for a Cruz de Mayo, a strange noise or just about anyone giving out anything for free ("What's free?!? Where?? I don't care. I want it!"). Most Spaniards I've met are the first ones to tell me they're simply a curious bunch. There is often no shame in watching the spectacle, whatever it may be, because it's ok to stop everything you're doing, run into the street and see what's going on.

Curiosity breeds the art of staring. In the U.S. this can get you into trouble with the wrong people ("What're you looking at?!?"). Here if you look a bit different or are simply walking by someone in the street be ready for others to stare at you. And don't be surprised if they look longer than a few seconds. Unlike the U.S. it's not time to square off and get into a defensive position. Sure, some people may be muttering some insult about foreigners under their breath, but the majority are simply curious and getting a better look.

This one's well known and you're in Europe, so I won't go into it too much. Just don't be surprised to see breasts, a butt or even complete nudity in a magazine, a poster, on regular TV (an ad or when showing an R-rated movie). Some local television stations also show explicit adult shows and movies after midnight.
And yes, some women, although very few, are topless on the beaches...

It's not how much you've drank, it's where you've been
For the younger of the visitors here, most folks are not interested in how much you drank last night. Sitting in one bar and downing beer after shot after beer is not going to win you many prizes or much respect. Most people going out here tend to hop from one place to another, drinking a round or two and then heading on to the next place. All the walking involved in la marcha helps burn of the alcohol, if you're interested in doing that (you should be!). Many do get drunk, but in general you see less ridiculous behavior when you're in a bar than when in the U.S.

Is this a napkin?
Your sitting in a bar eating a tapa, your hands are a little greasy and you reach for a napkin. But wait, what is this semi-transparent thing you just pulled out of the napkin holder? With the absorbent power to handle maybe 3 drops of water, it may take 4 or 5 of these to clean yourself up. Cloth napkins will be available in some nice restaurants, but otherwise you'll need to get used to these little guys masquerading as napkins.

How much was that? The peseta lives on
Just because the currency changed doesn't mean the thinking has. While prices for smaller things are often only listed in Euros it's a challenge to rent an apartment or make a larger purchase without someone either first telling you the price in pesetas, and then letting you do the math, or converting it the second they tell you the price in Euros. While it may seem strange to hang on to the old currency many people spent their lives earning and saving in pesetas, so the mental calculations don't go away that easy.

No diet, thanks, I just want it Light or with saccharin
Not everyone is diet crazed in Spain, so when you're looking for sugar-free soft drinks ask for a light, as in Coca-Cola Light, instead of Diet Coke. And if you've long forgotten about Tab and it's saccharin filled goodness, well it's alive and well in Spain and in most supermarkets.

Does red mean stop?
When it comes to traffic lights I used to think so. And while most people stop for a red light it's not uncommon to see a car slow down and then "sneak through" if nobody is crossing the other way. And as for mopeds they're the worst, most of them thinking they have the right to run through any light. So remember that old saying "left, right, then left again"? Make good use of it here.