Unexpected oddities

By Margaret L.

July 24, 2020

There’s a lot that I expected to be different about Spain. I expected more fish and olives from a Mediterranean diet, walking culture, a conservative/Catholic atmosphere, cheek kisses as greetings and smaller portions and smaller homes. But there were some things I did not expect, things that were really small parts of life, barely noticeable from a distance really, but took me completely by surprise.

First of all, their doorknobs, especially those of exterior doors, are often in the middle of the door. And they don’t turn. They’re just something to assist in pulling the door shut as you leave. The opening of the door comes entirely from turning the key, not the knob. You turn the key (not in the knob, I may add) and push. The knob is non-essential.

Unexpected oddities
Hallway view of the door to an apartment in Madrid.

The second thing I noticed is that their milk is different. Sure, it comes in a tetra-pak, like juice or plant milk, but that’s not what shocked me about it. It tastes different. I had a glass of milk one of the first nights I was there, and I thought maybe I was crazy, so I Googled it, and it turns out that Spanish milk is typically sold UHT pasteurized. Ultra-high-temperature pasteurization scalds the milk proteins a bit and they give the milk a bit of a “cooked” flavor. It also gives the milk months long un-refrigerated shelf life. Thusly, milk is sold in a normal, non-chilled aisle in Spanish grocery stores, and not refrigerated until opened. Evidently, some organic milks in the U.S. are sold like this, but I personally never encountered it until Spain, and Spaniards I told were stunned to find out that’s not the way everybody does it.

Unexpected oddities
Typical Spanish milk carton that says “UHT” for ultra-high-temperature.

Third, Spain is obsessed with Burger King. On my 15-minute walk from my family there’s apartment to the IES Center, I passed three Burger King restaurants each day. One on each side of a diagonal of Plaza Mayor. Why would you need two Burger King restaurants less than a 5-minute walk away from each other? Also, why Burger King and not McDonald’s? I only ever saw one McDonald’s in Salamanca. Who knew Burger King was winning the Spanish market? Not me, but I guess now you do.

Certainly not lastly, but perhaps last for this post, I was surprised to find that when you go to a laundromat in Spain, you do not need to bring anything but clothes and coins. The washing machines are pre-stocked with soap and auto-dispense it when you start your load. There’s not even anywhere to put in your own soap if you wanted to. If you did, you’d probably create a sudsy overflow because there’s no option to cancel the auto-soap. I would highly recommend it. It is both convenient and pleasant smelling.

Learn more about this blogger’s study abroad program: IES Abroad: Advanced Spanish Immersion in Salamanca