The Good Life: Cultural Differences Between American and Spanish Schoolchildren

Spanish children have it made.

Spanish children live a sweet life. There is no denying this fact. Don’t even try to argue with me because this whole article is going to prove you wrong point by point.

Before embarking on this crazy adventure to teach English in Madrid, I considered many things. I wondered what the food would be like, if I would FINALLY get over my ex (and I did :-P!), if my Spanish would get better, if I would make enough money teaching English (I do), how often I would travel, what it would be like to be a teacher, etc etc.

What I didn’t expect, however, was for teaching children to change me so positively. I think kids have that affect on all people. They are sick animals. They pick their noses and do God knows what with it. They will put their hands in ANYTHING and still find it acceptable to hug you around your white dress/pants. But their innocence is almost magical. They make you laugh lightheartedly, they spark your imagination and creativity, and they point out things that astound you in a wise-beyond-their-years sort of way.  Teaching children has taught me patience and made me selfless and more open-minded. But I have also learned that in comparison to them, my childhood was robbed. A complete preposterous joke. I will share with you a few of the perks of being a Spanish kid, just to give you an idea.

What’s on the menu?: School Lunches

Lunch for Spanish people is almost more of special occasion than a meal and their children do not get the shaft in this area that is for sure! They are served (yes, SERVED, not forced to run to the cafeteria and fight for a place in line to get the best/hottest food) by a group of cafeteria women as they sit in their assigned seat. They are served two generous courses of the most mouth watering traditional Spanish food, and then dessert. The food, in comparison, is fresh and does not come from a can. It is often steamed or baked and never heated up in a microwave or pre-cooked.

What I was fed in school may as well have been considered jail food. 1% milk in a plastic pouch? Let’s get real.Fortunately as a teacher at a primary Spanish school, I have the option to redeem a bit of my humiliating childhood school lunches and indulge in a 3 course Spanish lunch as well. Divine.

 

Class Trips

When I graduated 8th grade, for our class trip, we went to Burdette Park; a larger public swimming pool in my hometown that had a total of four water slides. Big whoop.

Primary schools in Spain are essentially 1st-6th grade. For their class trip, the 6th grade at my school is going to Calhonda, a beach resort near Granada for 5 days. Their itinerary includes: snorkeling, wind surfing, body boarding, para-sailing, as well as staying in a hotel with 3 buffet meals per day.

A lot of Spanish children spend their summer holiday on the beach. So here’s a cultural difference for you: when the children were being read their activities they cheered when they heard mini golf. I was shocked. The only thing more amazing than this kind of class trip actually existing would be getting invited to chaperone it-which is EXACTLY what happened. Ohhhhh the perks of teaching English in Madrid.

 

Breakfast of Champions

I overheard a 9 year old private class student excitedly talking to his 7 year old brother about what Americans eat for breakfast the other day. “Lucas, que NO ENTIENDO sobre los Americanos es que comen para desayunar…” What I don’t understand about Americans is what they eat for breakfast, he was telling his younger brother in disgust and disbelief. Fried eggs, fried sausage! He exclaimed to him.

For the most part Spaniards lead a very balanced and healthy lifestyle. You won’t find an “American” McDonald’s breakfast in Madrid, because Spanish people just won’t eat that. What they do eat, however, leaves no room to pass judgment on us. Cookies and milk, churros, or a chocolate nutella sandwich are among the most popular breakfast foods for Spanish children. Told you, literally a sweet life.

My mom would have gone gray-haired a lot sooner than she did had she fed me chocolate sandwiches for breakfast my whole life.

Rainy/Snow Days

When I was a kid some of the worst news I ever received was having had to stay inside for recess. I HATED it. I wanted to run free on the playground, like the wild animal I was, NOT sit inside and watch that contraction movie we’d seen a million times. I know you all know which one I’m talking about. I do have to admit that snow days were awesome, especially at the collegiate level.

 

Well for the most part Spanish children (in Madrid) never really get either. MAYBE a rainy day or two the entire school year in which they remain in their class with their teacher and have their snack there (yes, they bring a snack to school for recess; more chocolate sandwiches and Oreo cookies), while pretty much having free reign over the classroom. As a kid, I would have personally chosen a sunny forecast year round over a snow day here and there. Who wouldn’t?

Spanish Children know how to Party: Festivals/Celebrations

Spanish kids may not get any snow days but they celebrate a lot of festivals! Carnaval, San Isidro, Tortilla Day(mmm), Halloween, Christmas, Water Fight Day,-to name a few. So I’m not talking about decorating a card and sharing Valentines and cupcakes, I’m talking celebrating a festival anywhere from a day to an entire school week!

 

Carnaval in Spain is like Halloween and Mardi Gras had a baby; costumes, parades, music and dancing, etc. The week of Carnaval at the school I teach at is essentially what Americans consider Spirit Week (you know, pajama day, crazy hair day, etc). Instead of having class that week the children prepare for the festival by practicing song and dance, decorating and preparing for the big day. The Friday of that week is a HUGE party where all the children put on a parade in their costumes for their parents and the school. They dance and play. As a tradition, the children decorate a paper fish scale where they haven written a desire they hope will change in the future. Then they burn the gigantic stuffed sardine on the playground.  And this is just ONE festival. There are many more throughout the year. These kids know how to party and celebrate tradition and history in a way I don’t think many American children are taught to appreciate.

Bilingual Schools

In the Spanish bilingual school system, art, science, and English are all taught in English. I know the demand for English in other countries is much higher than other languages, but I don’t think learning other languages from an early age in the U.S. could be that harmful. I think it adds an element of culture and enrichment in a child’s life. Many schools all over Spain are structured this way and I think it’s brilliant and extremely advantageous.

 

Speaking for the Midwest (womp) I don’t know of any school systems that offer bilingual opportunities at all. Many schools, however, do offer a foreign language by the 7th grade.

After teaching in Spain the last couple of years, I think my parents and teachers have a lot of explaining to do.

If you are currently teaching English in Spain, what cultural differences have blown you away? -Jamie James

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