When Living Abroad Starts Feeling Like Living in America

I could have easily been in a neighborhood pub back home in Chicago. Armed with two guiri friends and a stomach that hadn’t eaten all day, I ordered a cheeseburger meal, piled on the ketchup and sat down on a couch, directly under drapes of spider webs. It was Halloween, and one my friends mentioned that – gasp! – another American friend of ours had had trick-or-treaters the night before in her pueblo.

De verdad? Since when does the oh-so-racio Seville feel just like America?


Slowly, Americana has been permeating into a city as Spanish as the tortilla. At first, I embraced the introduction of peanut butter onto supermarket shelves (and willingly forked over 7€ for it) and made special trips to Madrid for international cuisine. Eight years on, I’m feeling like I’m in a parallel universe sometimes as craft beer, Netflix and my favorite holiday are becoming mainstream, albeit jabbered on about in Spanish.

I’ve long been the guiri who drags her heels when it comes to embracing my culture while living in another. I famously chastised my friends for shopping at the American food store and have yet to set foot in Costco. I do not regularly catch baseball or American football games in bars, nor could I tell you the best place to watch one. Yes, I cook Thanksgiving for my in-laws with American products and dress up for Halloween, but those moments were always reserved for special parties with my compatriots. What I love about living in Spain really boils down to the fact that I love living in Spain.

Cue the hate comments: I didn’t really sign up for an American life when I moved to Seville. And in all fairness, I’m letting it happen.

Spanish potato omelette

The line between life abroad and life as I knew it before 22 is blurrier than ever. I conduct a large part of my day in English, have English-speaking friends and watch TV in English. I just picked up a Spanish book for the first time in three years. I consume news in English via my smartphone and had to recently ask the Novio the name of the new mayor in town. 

I knew I needed to make a change when the Novio suggested we get Netflix as a wedding present to ourselves. Wait, you mean I can watch a show on a big screen with no need to let the show buffer for ten minutes? And in my native language? The fun of the TDT system, which allowed shows to be aired in their original language instead of dubbing. Ni de coña – I will binge watch my American television shows on my laptop. Wouldn’t that 8€ a month be better spent on something else?

While Spain is definitely not America when it comes to lines at the bank, reliable service or a way around 902 toll numbers, I find my adult life becoming more on par with that which my friends are living in the US. I got more than a fair dosage of Americanism this year, spending more than four months of fifteen in the US. Going home is a treat – Target, Portillo’s and endless hours of snuggling with our family dog – but it’s lost a lot of its sheen now that Seville has Americanized itself, be it for tourists or for sevillanos

But at what price? Gone are the decades-old ultramarinos that once peddled canned goods – they’ve made way for trendy bars and clothing chains. While I admit that the Setas – a harsh contrast from the turn-of-the-century buildings that ring Plaza de la Encarnación – have grown on me, they caused a lot of backlash and an entire neighborhood to address itself. Do I really need a fancy coffee bar to do work at, or a gym with the latest in training classes?

Reflections of Study Abroad in Spain

As my world becomes more globalized, I find myself seeking the Spain I fell in love with when I studied abroad in Valladolid and the Seville that existed in 2007. We’re talking pre-Crisis, pre-smartphones and pre-instagram filters, and one where a Frapuccino every now and then helped me combat my homesickness. The Spain that was challenging, new and often frustrating. The Spain in which I relished long siestas, late nights and a voracious desire to learn new slang and new rincones of a new place.

But… how do I get back there? The Sevilla I discovered at age 22 is barely recognizable. Do I love it? Do I deal with it? I mostly stick around Triana, which stills feels as barrio and as authentic as it did when I took up residence on Calle Numancia in 2007.

This sort of rant seems to be a November thing, when rain has me cooped up outside instead of indulging in day drinking and mentally preparing myself to de-feather and de-gut a turkey. Maybe I’m in a slump. Maybe I’m comfortable. Maybe I’m lazy. Or maybe it’s just the fact that Spain doesn’t present the same day-to-day victories as it once did. 

One thing I know for certain is that I’m looking forward to jumping back into the Spanish manera de ser once the Novio arrives back home this week. I can’t wait to head to San Nicolás, sans computer, and search for castañas, to sleep without an alarm and to remember why and how Spain became mi cosa.

Do you ever feel like you’re no longer living abroad? Any pointers to get me back on track?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. Haha, Cat! I love it!

    While I am in Barcelona, I am more “globalized” on this side of Spain, but I still feel a large dose of everything Spanish/Catalan here. The pop culture though has definitely infiltrated my world, where my family and I watch mostly DVDs in English, I read almost all my news, blogs in English, and we buy all the cool American stuff on Amazon. It is kind of sad though when you start seeing Brooklyn-style hipster shops and restaurants, culture pop up. Then that US home culture seems so passé. I suppose it’s all about finding you’re own happy medium, right? Haha..still laughing at this post…There’s still so much more to to talk about in this conversation!
    Justine recently posted..The Media-TIC Building and its Supergreen DesignMy Profile

  2. I always have to remind myself to fall in love with Málaga. Whatever that means at that time.
    Find a new receta, go to the market, or just get out of the globalized US-wannabe city.

    This blog post helps, too:

    Ánimo, que es solo una racha!

    • I do a lot of Spanish things daily, but sometimes I just feel like a fish out of water (though my Spanish friends would say differently!).

  3. This is why I love(d) Zamora and the quiet parts of Castilla y Leon so much … they lacked that Americanization. Yet when I was in Madrid I cherished the ability to buy American products and have American friends. Ah, the good old paradox.
    Kaley recently posted..So You’re Dating a Spaniard—JamieMy Profile

  4. These days i don’t even think about globalization anymore. I guess it become part of normal life. it is here to stay and it is unstoppable,.. as we become more and more all of us citizens of the world, there is also, like with everything, a price to pay… but also so much to gain… peace, unity, common interests.
    Love the post.
    Laura @Travelocafe recently posted..A Look at Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2016My Profile

    • You make a great point, Laura. Globalization has brought about so many great things – I just can’t help feeling that the permeation happened so, so suddenly!

  5. Kristen Woods says:

    I’m still struggling with some homesick feelings, so I can’t say that I mind the major US influences. Maybe in a few years I will feel differently, but right not I would offer my first born for a Portillo’s hot dog! Or even one made with beef.

  6. In America I’ve so often heard people complaining about non-English-speaking immigrants that whenever I have moved to a new country I have made it a point to learn the local culture and language. But still, it’s hard to avoid American culture no matter where you go.

    I’m not sure whether to embrace it or not … I was happy when I found cranberries and turkey for sale in late November in Panama but disappointed to see a Christmas tree in Bali’s mall and people dressed up in costume for Day of the Dead in Mexico City.
    Linda Bibb recently posted..One Day in Barcelona, Spain: 11 Things to DoMy Profile

  7. On our recent trip to Spain, I found that Spain is slowly “americanizing”. On other trips we enjoyed the real spanish things but most are gone now. It is sad, when we go to Spain we do not want to eat in Burger King, McDonalds etc. Where are the small restaurants selling 3 course spanish lunches and dinners? The stores, except for tourist ones, sell the same things found in the States. The movies are mostly american , etc, etc, etc. it is a pity! Still, we love Spain, and hope to be back soon.

    • Hi Conchy,

      I definitely think that those small restaurants are still there; areas where you won’t find a burger king or mcdonald’s for miles as well, independent fashion shops that yes, while modern, are own and run by young Spanish girls so still has that Spanish feel/element, etc. The thing is that these places are way outside of where people usually go when they visit Spain; everyone would visit Malaga but not everyone would head out to Cartama for example, which is a town about 20 minutes away and still quite “Spanish”.

      That said, I do lament the increased North American presence in Spain. For example, I’m disgusted that “Black Friday” is now a thing there.

      • It’s definitely one thing I loved about living in Cerro de Aguila, and something that I find in Triana. But abroad, I am sometimes happy for a familiar brand (like the time I got stuck in Romania and knew that a Hilton hotel would have English-speaking staff and internet).

      • Ugh! Black Friday has become a “thing” in France, too! I don’t understand it because the reason Black Friday exists in the U.S. is because Thanksgiving is a holiday, so, everyone takes the four-day weekend, which thus boosts sales on Friday since everyone (except those poor retailers and restaurant servers) is already off. There is no Thanksgiving in France (and I imagine Spain, too), yet stores still use “Black Friday” in their ads. They’ve latched on to the idea of ‘Black Friday’ but it will never truly be Black Friday like it is in the U.S. France is going through an Americanization problem, too, and it’s so, so sad. It’s rarely the tourists that you see at McDonald’s, no, the American tourists are eating at authentic French or Italian restaurants; however, the French are now crowding the McD’s. A culture that is supreme in culinary arts is now resorting to McD’s? I’m disgusted and saddened by this. It makes me even more sad to hear that Spain is going through the same thing. Sure, a few stores selling peanut-butter are nice – but, we leave the U.S. to find something different. But, I suppose everyone wants in on the “peanut-butter” money – it must be a good economical strategy if everyone’s doing it.
        Beth recently posted..Peace for ParisMy Profile

    • hi Conchy and the rest, i don’t think that Spain is Americanising in general, i mean, Spain is not Madrid or Barcelona two touristic cities where you may find a Starbucks or Wendy’s, Spain is villages with people who don’t even know of those foreign things, in fact my mother doesn’t even know Starbucks, Wendy’s, Nascar or Kentucky Fried Chicken, let alone the elderly.

      having said that i must admit that we’ve been Americanised in terms of cinema and the telly, for we’ve always had American films and TV series from the middle and late 80’s that have marked whole generations of Spaniards as well as other Europeans, say, Superman, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Dirty Dancing, Growing Pains, McGyver, Knight Rider, V, Rambo, etc another thing that we’ve got from North America is the bloody Halloween thing! haha

      Spain from my point of view does keep the traditions and its things while at the same time we may get something from North America because of the film industry mainly, for example Halloween.

  8. I’m lucky in that I live in small-town Andalucia, where simply finding an English speaker is a rare and beautiful thing. The whole region is still very old-school Spain, where siesta sees the streets empty, 11pm sees the tapas bars full and the Mercadona doesn’t even have an ‘international foods’ section. The days that are important in my home country go totally unnoticed here and no-one’s even heard of Steve Irwin, so I’m afraid I can’t sympathise with your merging-cultures problem!
    Caelli recently posted..Down The Rabbit HoleMy Profile

  9. Nice post, and it definitely is interesting to read about your take on the globalization that’s happening across the world.
    Cest La Vibe recently posted..Three ways to experience Dominica’s Hot Springs for FreeMy Profile

  10. Try heading down here to the pueblos of Cádiz! Sill plenty of Spanish charm to go around
    Chelsea of Andalucía Bound recently posted..My Top Three Tips for Maintaining Long-Distance FriendshipsMy Profile

  11. The Spanishness of Seville is one of the reasons I’ve always preferred it to Madrid. But then again, it would have been that much harder to adapt to Madrid without other [Black] American friends, international restaurants, and easy access to things such as original version movie theaters.

    When I’m trying to fall back in love with Spain/fall in love with Madrid, I go to Spanish restaurants that I really like (instead of getting Mexican/American/Italian/etc food), and monuments, museums, parks, and other quintessentially Spanish places that I enjoy. I feel like I need to rediscover what I really enjoy about being here.

  12. Luckily for me, Logroño isn’t very americanized, but I have noticed that this year feels easier more normal than last. I think on thing has to do with fewer day-to-day victories and/or challenges as ‘m more accustomed to things here. Whenever I feel like I’m in a slump, I try to go out of my way to have conversations with people, join groups, and do different activities with Spaniards that I’ve never done, here or in the U.S. I appreciate a good American Halloween party or Thanksgiving feast, but I fell in love with Spain, the Spain you were talking about, that wasn’t America.
    Mike of Mapless Mike recently posted..Thoughts on Returning to the U.S.My Profile

    • It’s probably a lot easier being in a smaller city (and an awesome one, at that!). My first-year friends are either still here or still connected to Spain and Seville, so I think we’ve gotten a bit too comofortable! Or maybe I’m traveling less to new places, so Seville has lost its sheen. Who knows!

  13. I loved this post and can completely relate. I have a love/hate relationship with the fact that Madrid has become increasingly more cosmopolitan and hipster during the six years since I first moved here. I chose to live in Madrid rather than Barcelona because Madrid always felt more authentically “Spanish.” However, this has definitely changed and I will admit that whereas an afternoon at Starbucks used to be a once in awhile treat to help combat homesickness, I now have many weeks where I find myself doing exactly what all my friends back in Seattle do–visiting it on an almost daily basis AND taking it back to my apartment! But then again, I feel so much more at ease in Madrid knowing I can now find the cosmetics I want, order things on Amazon and easily find wifi in coffee shops all over the city. I wonder if I would find myself more frequently considering moving back home if it weren’t for the way that life in Madrid has shifted over the past few years? I’ll really never know. But I do know that it takes intentional effort to make sure I don’t fall into the expat bubble here in the capital of Spain–to make sure I’m interacting with more Spaniards, keeping up on Spanish news, speaking in Spanish!! Thanks again for your post, it really brings up a lot to reflect on! besos!

    • It is a weird, almost foreign feeling – I’m constantly teetering between making peace with it and abhorring it!

  14. Coming back to Spain from London for the holidays, I was appalled to find Costa coffee shops here. It’s like metastasis.

    What’s the solution? As always, it boils down to whether the government is willing to put money towards protecting the city’s identity against multinational business and financial sharks. We should look at what Paris has done with their book shops.

    It’s soul crushing to see places who grew organically to have their own identity turned into generic dump #7038, everything local a thing of the past no matter what continent it’s in, full of the same heinous box architecture, shopping malls, chain shops (with the same 0 hours contracts), same language, haircuts, same thoughts. But it’s up to us to decide if we want that or not. It’s a budgeting question.

  15. Love this post Cat!! Sometimes it’s nice that the world seems so globalized, but then again, it’s also pretty sad. So much of culture is at risk of being lost. I felt the same way when I was living in Madrid. I loved the times where I really felt I was living in “Spain.” When I could sit down at lunch with no further plans for the day, talking around the table for hours with no sort of rush in mind. Or sitting at a bar with friends and no one having their phones out, genuinely enjoying the company of those around you. Even over my two years living there though, things changed SO much! A bagel store opened across from my apartment (Which of course at first I was thrilled about), peanut butter starting becoming available on the shelves. At first it seemed like a blessing, but then I realized how much these little things were taking away from the Spain I fell in love with …. It’s hard to find a balance, but if anything I’m sure Sevilla still has a lot of that authentic Spanish charm left! I have faith that you’ll find it 😀

    • Madrid is a far different place today than it was on my first visit in 2005, and I love the old-school Madrid that my husband’s tios still seek out there. Seville’s change has been a bit slower and almost reluctant, but I see it transforming rapidly in the near future!

  16. Reading these comments just reminds me of why American haters leave the US to begin with. Sad that Spain is becoming “americanized”? Poor you! What a bunch of arrogant elitists….

  17. America – you can run, but you can’t hide from it! 😉


  1. […] blogger Cat describes watching her adopted city transform before her eyes. In her article “When Living Abroad Starts To Feel Like Living In America,” she says she’s “seeking the Spain I fell in love with when I studied abroad in […]

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