The biggest culture shocks in Europe

  Writing from my office in Barcelona.
Writing from my office in Barcelona.


Growing up the US, the plan from middle school through to college graduation seemed linear, planned out, and definite. It also felt heavy with expectation at every new chapter to do things the correct way or the way everyone else did it. 

I saw so many friends apply to colleges, jobs, move to cities, etc. based on the footsteps of those around them. Any misstep from that plan was seen as failure in their eyes. 

I came from a competitive southern business school and then lived in New York City for a few months prior to relocating to Barcelona. 

Clearly I’m not one to stick to a convention path, and even then, Barcelona has shocked me. 

Here are some of the things I’ve found are wildly different and also an opportunity to learn from: 

Career is the last thing you talk about. I have a group of friends here that are so incredibly diverse in their career aspirations and financial standing….and all hang out. One is a senior manager at Deloitte and one is a waiter. Career is something you talk about last. This is a huge culture shock for me as I graduated from a US school where career is a top and completely open subject.

The acceptance of smoking. Where I’m from, touching cigarettes is not even slightly cool or acceptable. We were one of the first places to ban public smoking. Here in Europe, it’s a part of social life and a part of work life. I feel like it’s almost an equalizer. 

People do not hang out at home. All hours of the day and night, every day of the week people are out at restaurants and cafes socializing. You rarely go to someone’s home to spend time. In the US, sitting on the couch doing nothing is hanging out. There is a huge expectation that you are out socializing all the time. It’s been a huge change for very introverted me.

You don’t sleep. Seriously. I no longer sleep. Mind you, I have my own growing business so, naturally, I don’t sleep. But now I really don’t sleep. We go out to dinner at 10, drinks at 12:30, and don’t get home until 8–9 in the morning. And life goes on as usual fueled by endless espresso.

People dress up. My old uniform of yoga pants, tanks, jackets, and flip flops does not cut it. People put on outfits. Every. Single. Day. If you’re leaving the house, you are completely dressed no matter what for.

So yes, HUGE change. But a very wonderful experience. I’ve been changed for the better in a lot of ways. I’m more social. I feel happy being surrounded by people who genuinely just want to spend time out talking.

And I now dress like an adult woman.