We’re attending the WordCamp Europe conference in Sevilla this weekend.
We’ve been in Spain for two months and in Sevilla for the last 2 weeks, so we thought it would be fun to pass on some of the cultural lessons we’ve learned, to help other WordCamp Europe attendees navigate the culture and have a great time while here.
We are Americans, and that’s the perspective we’re writing from. So, this is mostly targeted at American readers.
- How to get to the WCEU hotel by the bus from the airport (skip this if you just want to take a taxi)
- Getting by without Spanish (or broken Spanish)
- Using money
- Shopping at grocery stores
- What to eat and drink
- Some restaurant etiquette
- Using wifi
We hope this helps!
Getting from the airport to the venue
As far as we can tell from the website, the conference venue hotel doesn’t seem to have an airport shuttle bus, although we’re not staying there and we could be wrong. (We’ve been renting an Airbnb apartment nearby.)
You can of course take a taxi. This is probably fastest and easiest, but also most expensive.
We opted to take the bus from the airport to save a bit, and it worked fine. We kind of enjoy the feeling of successfully navigating a foreign city’s bus system unassisted. And Sevilla’s system makes it easy.
Taking the Bus
Google Maps’ transit directions seem to be reliable in Sevilla. If you have any doubts about schedules and times, go there first.
The route we took should come up for you at this Google Maps link.
Here’s what you can expect:
- As you exit the terminal through the arrivals door, look for an “EA bus” sign and a metal railing installed in the sidewalk to form a line.
- There will be someone with a machine on a shoulder strap to sell tickets. They’re not wearing a uniform or anything, but they’re legitimate.
- There’s a screen above the queue displaying the estimate time for the next bus’s departure (which I thought was weird, but it’s because the bus hangs around for a couple minutes).
- The EA bus is like a shuttle, so it cost either 4 or 8 euros per person (sorry, we don’t remember how much we handed the guy for the two of us). It does not include a transfer to the next bus.
- Once on board this airport shuttle bus, you’ll see TV screens that clearly announce upcoming stops in Spanish and then in broken English. (“Next estopa…”). No joke, you’ll travel on along a street called Kansas City Avenue.
- Depending on the time you’re travelling, you’ll need to exit at a different stop to transfer onto the C1, the C2, or the C3 bus — so check your schedule, and also make sure you know the nearest stop to the Barceló, and how to walk there.
- The city bus you’re boarding is a more typical city bus. The fare should be €1.40 per person. Stop names announced on the loud-speaker. Request your stop by pulling the chain or pressing the button, just like in any major metro in the world.
Language (aka, Communicating with Words)
Don’t speak Spanish? There’s probably no problem.
We speak very broken Spanish, and understand perhaps 30% of the words people say. We can usually get by with that, understanding from context what they’re trying to get across. And, they eventually understand our terrible babbling. Eventually, when we try hard.
Occasionally, the person you’re talking will speak English, and they’re not afraid to ask if you’d rather give communication a try in English. About as often, someone nearby offers to translate. We are so grateful for these people.
To say “Do you speak English?” in Spanish: “Habla usted ingles?” (Pronounced “Abla ooo stead een glays”).
“Do you speak English?” also usually works.
If your Spanish is bad like ours, but you give it a try anyway, people tend to be patient, interested, and sometimes amused. We try to follow Tim Ferriss’ advice and embrace being the court jester. Whether they’re laughing with you or at you, bringing a smile to people’s face is a way to make a connection and brighten their day. Look on the bright side: They’re interested.
Money in Spain
Of course the currency here is Euros. Fractions of a Euro are called “cents” (“centos” in Spanish).
We’d recommend not worrying about getting cash before your trip. There are ATMs that take VISA debit cards all over the place — just walk a few blocks along a busy road, and you’re likely to find one.
To help you recognize banks, common brands are Santanders, Liberbanks, Bankias, and Deutsche Banks. These are all fairly common. Any time you see “banco”, that’s a bank.
If you must change dollars to Euros, do so at a bank, expect it to take a long time, bring your passport, and don’t be surprised if they require a “cuenta” or check.
That’s why our advice is to get your Euros ahead of time, or — even easier — just use ATMs here. We think their fees are quite reasonable for the time they save us, so we’ve made our peace with paying a bit extra for the convenience.
In our experience, American Express cards are hit or miss, even those with the RDIF chip (which are much more common in Europe than the US). Whatever your preferred money method, bring backups.
Most people pay in cash. It’s just so much easier.
At a restaurant, to ask for the check, say “La cuenta?” (You have to ask — they won’t bring it even if you look done because they don’t want to rush you.)
To ask “What’s the price?” you can ask “El precio?” (Literally, “The cost?”), or “Cuantos?” (“how much?”).
They are everywhere. Look for signs for Supermercado, Dia, Lidl, or Mercadona. You can get anything you need there, including water (of the flat and “gaseous” varieties).
Bring your own shopping bag or expect to pay 5 cents for one.
What to Eat
Tapas — Andalucia (Sevilla’s region) originated tapas. Historically they were complementary “toppers” for when you ordered a drink. A plate to keep the insects out of your drink and keep it cool in hot weather looks awfully inhospitable without a bit of food on it. This evolved from buying a drink and getting whatever was cooking in the house kitchen that day for free, to what it is today — a menu of small plates that you order individually.
In our experience, tapas in the US is usually luxury food in chic foodie joints, an opportunity for chefs to charge a little less for a lavish dish by restricting the portion, and treat the eater to. Here, it’s much more simple. It’s still delicious (seriously), but it’s everyday peoples’ food that is cheap. Tapas is sort of the standard supper in Sevilla.
Many places have English menus and English-speaking staff. They’ll often have menus posted outside their restaurants or on sandwich board sidewalk signs. Don’t be scared to order using charades (aka “point and pray”). Just about anything you pick will be amazingly good small portions that you should enjoy slowly, with bread. We think you’ll be impressed with the low cost compared with the urban food prices we Americans are used to. If you don’t also order a drink, you’re weird.
Paella — We recommend hitting up Valencia for the very best paella, but it will be good just about anywhere. Paella is one of the many Spanish methods for cooking rice. It’s actually named after the type of pan used: a paella pan. (It’s like how what makes a casserole a casserole is baking it in a casserole.)
Paella is delicious. Our advice is to go find some.
Note that it’s traditionally a lunch meal. If you order it for dinner,expect some funny looks, unless you’re in a touristy place where they expect you to not know better. The Spanish eat their biggest meal mid-day around 2pm, pre-siesta. Tapas is more standard evening fare.
What To Drink
- Espresso shot: “un cafe solo”
- Two espresso shots: “un cafe largo”
- Espresso with a little milk: “un cortado” (that is, “a short”)
- Latte: “un cafe con leche” (“espresso with milk”) — It’s uncommon to drink these after 2pm and you will almost definitely get surprised looks or gasps if you do — like they’re actually concerned for you… so we don’t order these after noon.
- Drip coffee — This generally doesn’t exist in cafes (although perhaps it will be availabe at the Barceló). Ask for an Americano, instead.
- Americanos (espresso with hot water): “un cafe americano” — “machina” means from an espresso machine; the alternative is Nescafe instant, which is common.
You’re unlikely to see anyone who has drunk past their limit in Spain. We have seen exactly one person drunk to excess in the two months we’ve lived here.
What’s amazing, is that they can — and everyone does — have several drinks throughout the day. Like their foods, they enjoy small portions with their alcohol, which allows them to have several and still stay trim! Not a bad idea!
Every cafe of every sort has alcohol available. You’ll see people on sidewalk cafes enjoying their 11am break with beer. You’ll see people cracking open a beer can as they walk down the sidewalk. The Spanish think nothing of enjoying alcohol throughout the day. (We imagine they get very thirsty when visiting the US, with our residual post-prohibition puritanical attitude toward drink.)
Gin and tonics — If you’re a fan, you’ll love them here. These are big in Spain, and awesome because of the generous portion as well as the great variety of gins. Don’t just ask for a “gin and tonic”, rather specify the brand of gin you’d like. If you’re unsure which to ask for, Beefeater is a standard. Bombay Sapphire is a bit pricier and Matthew’s favorite. Some places will pour the gin right in front of you and fill it up until you say stop. It’s great.
By the way, the pronunciation of “gin and tonic” is still a little hard for us. It’s something like “jeeeen tohnique.” That will get you close enough.
Cafe con ron (a shot of espresso with rum) — Less common, but still ubiquitous, some people drink alcohol in their coffee at any time of day. For us, it’s a fun novelty. If you’re interested, go ahead and ask for it — you won’t get a second look.
Vino tinto negro — Dark red wine. Expect it to be served chilled here on account of the scorching temperature. Sometimes this comes in a cocktail of fizzy water and juice, like a fizzy sangria. Delicious in the heat!
Vino rosado, or Vino blanco — Rose-colored wine, or white wine, if you’re into that sort of thing. There are local colloquial terms for these we haven’t picked up yet, but these labels should work.
Una Cerveza (pronounced “serve-ay-sa” here in Sevilla, and the much more fun-to-say “ther-VEY-tha” in Barcelona) — Beer is often on tap, and is a common cooling drink served any time you need something refreshing. The default is a small glass — “Cerveza corta”, or “cerveza pequena”, we think (sorry, we don’t drink beer). If you’re looking for a pint, stipulate “larga” (large), because otherwise you’ll probably get a small glass.
Agua con gas — Literally “water with gas”. This is what American’s call sparkling or fizzy water. Delicious. We drink this a lot.
Water (“agua sin gas”, literally “water without gas”) — If you order this at a restaurant, you’ll pay for a nice bottle of mineral water. If you’re dying for a glass of flat water, we recommend you fill up a water bottle at a sink or drinking fountain to carry with you. Sevilla’s tap water is perfectly fine: safe to drink, and not heavy or mineralized like in some other parts of Spain (like Valencia).
Jugo (Juice) — There are lots of delicious fruit juices available here. Mmmm.
Stay hydrated! It is really hot here!
People say there’s no customer service in Spain. We disagree: The service is present, it’s just different.
In the States, we expect servers to be attentive to us at all times, so we have to expend as little effort as possible when we need something. Their courtesy is being attentive.
In Spain, the expectation is sort of reversed, and it makes sense once you get used to it. They assume you want to be left alone and not be bothered, and that you will let them know when you need something. They don’t go out of their way to smile or be pleasant, because they figure they are the last thing you care about in this experience you’re having. Their courtesy is to not rush you, not distract from you having a good time, and take up as little of your attention as possible — so they stay away.
At least, this is the rose-colored sense we have made of what we experience here.
If that sounds unappealing, we suggest you approach it with an open mind. We’ve had to adjust to being bold about asking for attention when we need it, but we’ve never had any complaints, and we enjoy a lot more leisure time while eating out than we’ve had before in the States.
The big upside to all of this is that you can crash a restaurant or cafe for hours and nobody bothers you. They truly don’t care. They don’t even hint that you should continue buying stuff throughout your stay. A 1 Euro coffee is enough to buy you a seat for a whole day if you like.
- Wait long periods of time for someone to come check in on you at the table. They may not, for half an hour or more!
- Tip. Seriously, don’t tip at all. More on this below.
- Catch servers’ eyes whenever you need something. If they aren’t attentive, call out to them politely but unapologetically. They expect you to let them know when you need them.
- Walk right in and take a seat wherever you’d like, unless there’s a sign indicating otherwise.
- Connect with the server when you first arrive to let them know where you’d like to sit and make sure they know you’re ready for the first round of drinks. If you want your stuff served outside, say “afuera”
- Look for signs that say “autoservice”. This means “order at the bar”
Spain is not a tipping culture. This was really hard for Catherine to accept, as she’s made her living before off of people’s tipping generosity. But for the first two weeks that we tried to tip in Spain, we were always getting chased down as we walked away and hollered at on the sidewalk… They really didn’t want us to forget our change!
At our first bar, upon receiving our first gin and tonics in Spain, Catherine tipped our bartender a (now we realize whopping) four euros. It felt natural for us, but the gal behind the bar was horrified and kept trying to push the coins back. Catherine insisted, and the bartender finally accepted — a bit embarrassed, we think. We only did that once.
Wifi out and about in the city
If you come from a location where there’s a culture of people rocking Macbooks in coffee shops (shoutout to Portland!), you won’t find the same thing in Spain. There are places that cater to the laptop crowd, but they are few and far between, and mostly in touristy areas populated by foreigners.
(A theory: Coworking seems to have caught on more quickly here than the in the states. Perhaps most of the laptop workers are just cloistered away with their coworking colleagues.)
Starbucks exists here, though Matthew tends to get very frustrated with their wifi. It isn’t free in Spain unless you “like” them on FaceBook — which we’ve found doesn’t work reliably as advertised. And when it does work, it’s slow.
Wifi is pronounced “wee fee” in Spanish. To ask if the place has wifi, ask “Tiene wifi?” (pronounced “tee-enay wee-fee?”, with an upward inflection).
Some places have “Wifi Zone” signs up. Most places that don’t have the sign, don’t have the wee fee.
You might find a higher population of wifi cafes closer to the University of Sevilla (which is gorgeous, and you should walk around if you have the time). This is a wonderful (and touristy) neighborhood where you’ll get wonderful views of the cathedral or go tour the Alcazar gardens. (But beware in that neighborhood of women wanting to bless you with rosemary. Just say “no.”)
See You There
We’re excited for the weekend!
This post is part of the thread: Spain – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.