February 1

Being Asked for Directions, and Eye Contact in Spain


The last time I was in Spain, I made a comment about having a “panhandle me” kind of faces and/or demeanor. This time in Valencia, I was the apparent source of directional goodwill for other visitors to the city. I was asked for directions six times, with varying degrees of success in letting the person asking know that I had no clue about very much, actually. They should have been thanking me for what I didn’t do: get them lost.

I tried to get around the city as much as I could without a map, and the only way I could do that was to write out step-by-step directions to my destination before leaving my hotel. On the street, I was singularly focused on turning left here, right there, and making it to my destination. Sadly, that left very little room for any other thought in my novelty-of-it-all baffled brain.

One funny observation that we laughed about during a social gathering was around the differences of eye contact when on the street, in restaurants, and in stores. In my experience in America, eye contact is minimal on the street or sidewalk, with just a quick scan of the other person before reverting back to looking in neutral space before you.

Not so in Spain! I was thoroughly inspected as I waited to cross the street, as I approached other people, and as entered a room. While I am not so comfortable making eye contact outside of social situations that encourage interpersonal connections, I felt a little weird at first locking eyes with strangers. If I was dining alone in the evening in a restaurant, I was inspected by the other patrons as I entered and exited. Once I realized that it made me uncomfortable, I started observing the behavior more closely. I think I’ll just have to chalk it up to intercontinental cultural differences.


culture, directions, eye contact, maps, panhandle

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  1. Thank god im not the only one that went through this . It happend to me all the time , I don’t know why they lock eyes with you without even knowing you , and it’s not even a nice stare , they look at you like they would want to kill you

    1. Nope, you’re not the only one. Looking at other people is deeply ingrained in our cultural backgrounds, like eye contact and greeting new acquaintances. In Spain, they are often very direct, and staring at other people is just part of the whole behavior pattern. Happy travels!

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