When in Spain

When in Spain

Nine Spanish culture shocks: Habits in Spain I can’t get used to

February 27, 2019

Nine Spanish culture shocks that I still can't get my head around, even after living in Spain for nearly six years. Here they are...

1. Volume control?

According to the World Health Organisation Spain is the second noisiest country in the world after Japan. This would explain why several times a week I wish I had a universal mute button. Almost everywhere you go it’s loud.

In Spain people tend to live on top of each other in densely packed apartments which has created a phenomenon known as 'radio patio'. The inner courtyards of apartment blocks act as perfect echo chambers broadcasting residents' daily lives. With the windows open most of the year round you can't help but hear it all. Family arguments, phone conversations, TVs blaring, food frying and a chorus of orgasms.

In bars you'll need to bark your order to the waiter to stand a chance of getting served. I've realised that you need a certain kind of voice with a perfect pitch to cut through all of the 'jaleo'. Something I do not possess.

In Spain the car horn is a preferred mode of communication. You'll hear car horns more often than a Brit saying sorry. From a double punch on the steering wheel to continuous prolonged blasts the horn is used to announce your arrival, acknowledge a friend or scare a dog out of the way. If the traffic is particularly bad the driver will resort to simply leaning on the horn to get things moving.

3. Spatial awareness

Personal space in Spain is personal in the sense that it can be intimate. I've lost count of the times in bars when I've been moved to one side by a fellow customer and repositioned as if I were a bar stool. The pressing up against each other, pushing and the hand on the back manoeuvre are commonly adopted on the metro and on busses.

When having a long conversation with a group of friends, standing smack bang in the middle of doorways and pavements is preferred. They've seen you coming. Will they move out of the way? It doesn't matter just dodge around them and into the road while carrying heavy shopping bags. Just don't interrupt their loud conversation.

3. Adventures with customer service

Whether you're in a bar, shop, restaurant or bank, when customer service is good in Spain it's great. When it's bad, it's terrible. In my years of living here I've found that poor 'ateccion al cliente' is a regular occurrence. Now, I suppose it could be argued that the direct, abrupt and often surly interactions are preferable to the overly gushy, forced and fake “have a nice day!” approach of some Anglo Saxon countries.

Spaniards seem to have a high tolerance threshold and are rarely critical or demanding when faced with poor service. One solution is to become a regular. A bit like the tapas that get bigger and better with each round of drinks you buy, so the level of customer service tends to improve with each repeat visit. In the defence of poor customer service, I think economics has a lot to do answer for. 'La crisis' has caused a situation where many businesses try to offer everything with the absolute minimum of staff or resources.

4. Daily timetable

While Spaniards are still finishing off their 'natillas' from the daily lunch menu, back in the UK workers have already been back in the office for 2 hours. Yes, Spain is infamous for keeping late hours. This is something I still really struggle with. Especially when it come to mealtimes. I still can't get my head around eating lunch at 2:30/3pm and sitting down to and evening meal at 10pm, sometimes later on a weekend. The pregnant pause in the middle of the day when many people still head home to eat lunch and therefore finish work at 7 or 8pm. Many of my Spanish friends are divided on this. Half of them agree that they would prefer to take 30 mins for lunch and get out of the office at 6pm.