One of the strongest comparisons between the Spanish and American culture is the different needs and expectations for space. In the United States, having your own home that is separated from others is part of the “American Dream.” (Somebody cue the white picket fences!) In Spain, that dream exists, but the social aspects of Spanish culture encourage more interaction, more communal living, and more in-person interactions than in the US.
The Spanish dream of living in a separated house exists, but not necessarily in the same way. Two of my friends have homes in the countryside, with animals and gardens, but most of my Spanish acquaintances live in or near the city. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle: people want to live near other people and services like restaurants, doctors’ offices, and attractions. (To draw a stark comparison, most people in the US live in city suburbs and have to drive 30 minutes to an hour to get into the city.)
In the city, people build upwards by creating apartment buildings. Even in small towns, you will see the apartment building or multi-family attached homes to maximize the living space and minimize building expenses. It’s economical, and fits the social needs of a very social culture.
But what does that have to do with malls? Well, gentle reader, that’s a good question!
In the United States, malls are declining for a number of reasons. Online shopping has become easier than going to a store to purchase items. The cost of driving (sometimes hours) to the store to shop is daunting. As a result of the pandemic, businesses and websites that brought their products to your home thrived. Malls were no longer the social destinations they used to be, and the escalators, stores, and food courts found themselves empty. People retreated into their homes and found new ways to connect with others through online work and social groups.
In Spain, though, the intense need for in-person interactions is essential to Spanish culture. Whether it’s meeting someone on the street and saying hello, having meals together at a café, or chatting with your neighbors, malls and shopping centers are a great way to combine several activities at once. In the photos below, you’ll see that even on a relatively calm Wednesday, there were quite a few people in the mall at midday. Additionally, the food court is open-air and the restaurants vary from chains (hello, Taco Bell and McDonalds. I see you!) to more unique eateries with a characteristic Spanish flair, you can enjoy a variety of meals with friends.
The shopping itself is similar to American malls, although there are some key differences. Many malls have a grocery store included, making the concept of one-stop shopping more possible. There are banks, department stores, and other business types all available in one spot. There are plenty of places to stop and have a soda or snack between stores. Parking and connections to the metro and buses make getting to the mall easy and convenient.
It seems like malls will be around for quite some time here in Spain!