5 things I'll never understand about living in Spain
1) The amount of bureaucracySpain takes paperwork to a whole new level. From compulsory tax returns to admin that can only be done in your bank branch, there's a whole lot of bureaucracy even a native Spaniard has to deal with. Throw in your expat status and the form-filling, officials to speak to and inevitable misunderstandings triple. Why does Spain love admin so much? Well, I once heard that the number of bureaucrats had to do with creating employment. So rather than having one form to fill in and one official to talk to, you have several. I'm not sure whether I believe it, but it's a convenient theory to explain away the dreaded papeleo. Come on Spain, let's streamline.
2) The toiletsMany a guiri blogger has already expounded the horrors of Spanish servicios. Restaurant and public bathrooms are almost always dirty, with wet floors and a distinct lack of paper or soap. Find both of those two commodities and you feel like you've hit the jackpot, no matter how skanky the surroundings. And don't get me started on the amount of pee on the ladies' toilet seats, or the number of women who don't wash their hands on exiting the bathroom. Spanish homes may be immaculate; Spain may be the number one consumer of bleach in the world, but when it comes to public toilets, the characeristic cleanliness goes out of the window.
3) The obsession over what you can eat and when
|Paella: Not to be eaten in the evenings|
Now I may have adopted the maxim that rice is for lunchtime, but I'm all for freedom of foodie choice. In England, anything goes. Here you'd never eat anything legume-based in the evening, street snacking is a no-no that will earn you a few frowns, and choosing a drink is a minefield according to the time of day. Take this recent example. I was with a close friend, waiting to pick someone up from the train station. It was 2pm, I wanted my lunch, but we had to wait until the other friend joined us. 'What do you want to drink?' she asked. I thought, 'Nothing, I am absolutely starving and would really like my lunch right about now'. I said, 'I don't know, maybe a juice?' 'A JUICE?? What are you going to have a juice NOW for?' was the incredulous reply. Well, maybe because I don't like fizzy drinks, I've already had a coffee and if I have wine on an empty stomach I'll get drunk. I had no idea there was a time window for juice consumption, but apparently there is. Live and let live, people. I don't judge you for thinking a tuna sandwich is a breakfast food. Oh OK, maybe I do. Just a little bit.
4) Unnecessary greetingsIn an increasingly online age, it's easy to feel like we're losing human contact. So although I think it's charming that in small shops in Spain, customers greet everyone present with a general 'Buenos dias', and I'm on board with the 'lift hello' when taking an elevator in a shared office building, there are some situations where it's just not necessary to saludar. Keeping yourself to yourself in a gym changing room is preferable: greeting strangers in the buff is just plain awkward, in my humble opinion. Nor do I need colleagues to say 'Hola' or 'Hasta luego' to me in the office bathroom, particularly when this is the only interaction we ever have.
5) How difficult it is to make Spanish friendsI may have been here five years, but I can count the number of close Spanish friends I have on one hand. And I don't even need all my fingers. I know it's not just me: plenty of expat acquaintances have the same problem. But if I ever tell this to a Spanish person, they look at me with confused disbelief. Now Spaniards are very friendly, but there's a difference between being friendly and being friends. I'll admit that the problem is worse in big cities: one of my friends lives in a medium-size town in Andalucia and has far more Spanish friends than I do in Madrid, But still, it's often the case that Spanish people move around the country less than Brits – they usually attend their closest university, for example – and so maintain the same group of friends they've known since school. When people do change cities for work reasons, they often return to their pueblo at the weekend. I've found most people to be very welcoming and hospitable, and have many times hoped things will translate into the foundations of a friendship. Of all the things I don't understand about Spain, this is the one I'd most like to crack.
Do you agree? Is there anything else you don't understand about living in Spain?