Monday, 2 May 2016

5 things I'll never understand about living in Spain

I've now lived in Spain for five years. There was my first stint in Alcal√° de Guadaira back in 2004–5, a few months in Seville in 2008, a year in Madrid from 2009–10, and my current three-year stretch. On some levels, it feels like home. It's where I spend the vast majority of my time, where I work, pay my rent and tax. It's also where part of my heart is. But even after five years living in two different regions, do I understand everything about living in this incredible country? As they say in my native Lancashire, do I heck.

5 things I'll never understand about living in Spain


1) The amount of bureaucracy

Spain 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 toilets

Many 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 greetings

In 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 friends

I 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?

8 comments :

  1. THE PAPER NAPKINS!!! WHAT ARE THEY GOOD FOR!!!

    Can you tell I've been thinking of a post of this nature for ages?

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    1. Haha so true! The list definitely doesn't stop at 5 things I don't understand...

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  2. As an expat in Spain, I totally agree on the difficulty to make Spanish friends. They are so friendly but then it is very difficult to plan something and create a long-term friendship. I have more friends from foreign countries because we share the same experience and I am really happy today about my life in Spain.

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    1. Thanks for your comment - that point tends to resonate with a lot of expats! I completely agree regarding making the transition to a friendship. Most of my friends are fellow expats too - no bad thing, it's just remarkable how difficult making close Spanish friends can be.

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  3. I can completely relate to this post! As for point 2, I think we need to start a revolution (it's the mamas fault).
    I have also found it quite hard to make close Spanish friends, but luckily through my coworking space I have been exposed to open-minded locals. However, many do have their long-standing friendship circles, which are tightly knit. I do think it gets harder after a certain age wherever you live, with relationship, family or work commitments added into the equation. I'm sure things will fall into place soon enough though :D

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    1. Point 2 reallly needs to change!
      It's great that you've been able to connect with and make friends through work. I do agree that it gets much harder after school/university age no matter where you are though - it'd be the same if we moved to other cities in the UK I guess.
      What will come first, the friends or the toilet paper?? :)

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  4. I'm a Spanish that has just returned to Spain after 5 years in Australia. How friendly do you think Australians are? I could totally use this article and change Spanish to Australian and would reflect my experience.. I guess it happens everywhere. People have their own life and don't care about meeting an expact, making and effor to understand us with our accent, different culture, jokes.. Etc. Unless they are open minded, curious or have similar interests. I'll let you know how it goes as an ex-expat back in a city that is not my hometown :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment, Lorea! Yes, I'm sure lots of other expats have this experience when it comes to making local friends. I bet the same thing happens to Spanish people in the UK. I hope you enjoyed your Australian experience though!

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