The Spaniard

Everything you need to know for dealing with the locals

Who are the Spanish? What are they like? Let’s take a candid and totally prejudiced look at the Spanish people, tongue firmly in cheek, and hope they forgive my flippancy or that they don’t read this bit.

A typical Spaniard is courteous, proud, enthusiastic, undisciplined, tardy, temperamental, independent, gregarious, noisy, honest, noble, individualistic, boisterous, jealous, possessive, colourful, passionate, spontaneous, sympathetic, fun-loving, creative, sociable, demonstrative, irritating, generous, cheerful, polite, unreliable, honourable, optimistic, impetuous, flamboyant, idiosyncratic, quick-tempered, arrogant, elegant, irresponsible, an aficionado, hedonistic, contradictory, an anarchist, informal, self-opinionated, corrupt, indolent, frustrating, vulgar, voluble, helpful, friendly, sensitive, a traditionalist, insolent, humorous, fiery, warm-hearted, chauvinistic, bureaucratic, dignified, kind, loyal, extroverted, tolerant, macho, frugal, self-possessed, unabashed, quarrelsome, partisan, a procrastinator, scandal-loving, articulate, a bon viveur, inefficient, conservative, nocturnal, hospitable, spirited, urbanised, lazy, confident, sophisticated, political, handsome, chaotic and a football fanatic.

You may have noticed that the above list contains ‘a few’ contradictions (as does life in Spain), which is hardly surprising as there’s no such thing as a typical Spaniard. Apart from the differences in character between the inhabitants of different regions, such as Andalusia, the Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia and Madrid, the population also includes a potpourri of foreigners from all corners of the globe. Even in appearance, fewer and fewer Spaniards match the popular image of short, swarthy and dark, and the indigenous population includes blondes, brunettes and redheads.

A complex class strucutre

Although not nearly as marked or rigidly defined as the British or French class systems, Spain has a complex class structure. The top drawer of Spain’s aristocrats are the 400 or so grandees, who are followed at a respectable distance by myriad minor nobles, all of whom tend to keep to themselves and remain aloof from the hoi polloi. Next in pecking order are the middle class professionals, the lower middle class white-collar workers, the blue-collar working class and the peasant underclass.

These are followed by assorted foreigners, a few of whom have been elevated to the status of ‘honorary’ Spaniards (usually after around 100 years’ residence). At the bottom of the heap, below even the despised drunken tourists, are the gypsies ( gitanos), Spain’s true aristocrats. Gypsies are treated as lepers by many Spaniards (except when they’re celebrated flamenco artists or bullfighters) and are even less desirable as neighbours than the Moros (Moroccans).

Spaniards are often disparaging about their compatriots from other regions. Nobody understands the Basques and their tongue-twister of a language, the Galicians are derided as being more Portuguese than Spanish, and the Andalusians are scorned as backward peasants. However, the most widespread antagonism is between the cities of Madrid and Barcelona, whose inhabitants argue about everything, including the economy sport, history, politics, culture and language. Catalans claim that Madrileños are half African, to which they reply that it’s better than being half French. However, although they’re proud of their regional identity, most Spanish aren’t nationalists or patriotic and have little loyalty to Spain as a whole.

In harmony with the foreign population

Most Spaniards live in harmony with the foreign population, although many foreigners (colloquially dubbed guiris, from the word guirigay meaning gibberish) live separate lives in tourist ‘ghettos’, a million miles away from the ‘real’ Spain. The Spanish don’t consider the concrete jungles of the Costa del Sol, Costa Blanca, Majorca and parts of the Canaries to be part of Spain, but a plastic paradise created for and by foreigners so that pasty-faced tourists can fry in the sun and get drunk on cheap booze.

However, although the Spanish aren’t generally xenophobic, they’re becoming more racist and many would happily eject the gypsies, Arabs and North Africans from their country. They don’t care much for the Portuguese either, who are the butt of their jokes (when they aren’t about the Andalusians). It’s an honour for a foreigner to be invited to a Spaniard’s home, although it’s one rarely granted. Nevertheless, Spaniards do occasionally marry foreigners, much to the distress of their parents.

Usually when Spaniards and foreigners come into contact (conflict), it concerns official business and results in a profusion of confrontations and misunderstandings (few foreigners can fathom the Spanish psyche) and does little to cement relations. Spain has among the most stifling (and over-staffed) bureaucracy in Western Europe (even worse than the French!) and any encounter with officialdom is a test of endurance and patience. Official offices (if you can find the right one) often open only for a few hours on certain days of the week; the person dealing with your case is always absent; you never have the right papers (or your papers and files have disappeared altogether); the rules and regulations have changed (again) and queues are interminable (take along a copy of Don Quixote to help pass the time). It’s all part of a conspiracy to ensure that foreigners cannot find out what’s going on (and will hopefully therefore pay more taxes, fines, fees, etc.).

Official inefficiency has been developed to a fine art in Spain, where even paying a bill or using the postal service (a world-class example of ineptitude) is an ordeal. The Spanish are generally totally disorganised and the only predictable thing about them is their unpredictability. They seldom plan anything (if they do, the plans will be changed or abandoned at the last moment), as one of the unwritten ‘rules’ of Spanish life is its spontaneity. Spain has been described as part advanced high-tech nation and part banana republic, where nothing and nobody works.

The bumbling bureaucracy

Almost as infuriating as the bumbling bureaucracy is the infamous mañana syndrome, where everything is possible ( no problema) ‘tomorrow’ – which can mean later, much later, some time, the day after tomorrow, next week, next week, next month, next year or never – but never, ever tomorrow (the Spaniard’s motto is ‘never do today what you can put off until mañana’). When a workman says he will come at 11 o’clock, don’t forget to ask which day, month and year he has in mind. Workmen (especially plumbers) don’t usually keep appointments and, if they do deign to make an appearance, they’re invariably late (and won’t have the right tools or spares anyway). The Spanish are good at starting things but not so good at finishing them (hence the numerous abandoned building sites in Spain).

The Spanish are dismissive of time constraints and have no sense of urgency, treating appointments, dates, opening hours, timetables and deadlines with disdain (it’s said that the only thing that begins on time in Spain is a bullfight). If you really need something done by a certain date, never tell a Spaniard your real deadline. It’s significant, however, that the Spanish have a much lower incidence of stress-related disease than north Europeans, which is somewhat surprising in the noisiest country in Europe and the second loudest in the world (after Japan).

Over half the inhabitants of Spanish cities endure noise levels well in excess of the World Health Organisation’s ‘healthy’ limit of 65 decibels. Most noise is caused by traffic, lustily supported by pneumatic drills, jack hammers, chain-saws, mopeds (usually without silencers), car horns, alarms, sirens, radios, televisions, fiestas, fireworks, car and home music systems, discos, bars, restaurants, incessantly barking dogs, loud neighbours, screaming children and people singing in the streets.

In Spain, a normal conversation is two people shouting at each other from a few feet apart (not surprisingly, Spaniards are terrible listeners). Spanish cities are the earthly equivalent of Dante’s hell, where inhabitants are subjected to endless noise. Maybe creating a din is the Spanish way of releasing tension? Spaniards don’t care to waste time sleeping (except in the afternoons) when they can party and cannot see why anyone else should want to.

The world champion hedonists

Spanish men are world champion hedonists and are mainly interested in five things: sex, football, food, alcohol and gambling (not necessarily in that order). The main preoccupation of the Spanish is having a good time and they have a zest for life matched by few other peoples. They take childish pleasure in making the most of everything and grasp every opportunity to make merry. The Spanish are inveterate celebrants and, when not attending a fiesta, family celebration or impromptu party, are to be found in bars and restaurants indulging in another of their favourite pastimes: eating and drinking.

Spaniards have a passion for food, which consists largely of paella and tapas and is always swimming in garlic and olive oil. Like the French, they eat all the objectionable bits of animals that ‘civilised’ people throw away (e.g. pigs’ ears and bulls’ testicles) and will eat any creatures of the deep, the more revolting-looking the better (e.g. octopus and squid). They’re particularly fond of baby food (baby suckling pig, baby lamb, baby octopus), which is preferable to ‘grown-up’ food as it’s easier to fit into the ubiquitous frying pan (when not eaten raw, like their ham, all food is fried in Spain). Contrary to popular opinion, the Spanish are a nation of animal lovers: they will eat anything that moves. They do, however, have an unsavoury habit (at least most foreigners think so) of ‘playing’ with their food and can often be seen chasing their steak around a ring before dinner ( ¡Olé!).

Latin lovers?

When not eating (or playing guitars or flamenco dancing), the Spanish are allegedly having sex – Spanish men have a reputation as great lovers, although their virility isn’t confirmed by the birth rate, which is one of the lowest in the world. In any case, most of their conquests are drunken tourists (only too keen to jump into the sack with anything in trousers), so their reputation doesn’t bear close scrutiny. (A recent survey found that the average Spaniard makes love badly and infrequently: just 71 times a year compared with the world average of 109 – how do they know these things?) Their macho image has taken a further pounding in recent years as women have stormed most male bastions and today are as likely to be found in the university, office, factory, professions or the government, as in the home or the church.

Most Spaniards are anarchists and care little for rules and regulations, generally doing what they want when they want, particularly regarding motoring (especially parking), smoking in public places, the dumping of rubbish and paying taxes. Paradoxically they’ve taken to democracy like ducks to water and are passionate Europeans, firmly believing in a united Europe and the euro (so would you if you’d had to put up with the peseta!). However, like most sensible people they care little for their politicians, whose standing has plummeted to new lows in the last decade following a spate of corruption scandals.

Beware of criticism!

The Spanish are sensitive to criticism, particularly regarding their history and traditions. Whatever you do, don’t ask an old man ‘what he did in the Civil War’ or mention Franco, the Falklands or Gibraltar. Spaniards are intolerant of other people’s views; criticism of Spain is reserved for the Spanish (who do it constantly) and isn’t something to be indulged in by ignorant foreigners.

Since throwing off the shackles of dictatorship in 1975, Spain has resolutely turned its back on the past and embraced the future with gusto. In the last quarter of a century, the country has undergone a transformation influencing every facet of life. However, although most changes have been for the better, many people believe that the soul of traditional Spain has been lost in the headlong rush towards economic development.

The modern Spaniard is more materialistic than his forebears and has taken to the art of making a fast buck as quickly as any North American immigrant ever did. Progress has, however, been purchased at a high cost and has led to a sharp increase in crime, drug addiction, alcoholism, poverty, begging, and the devastation of unspoilt areas by developers hell-bent on smothering the country in concrete and golf courses. Despite being hard hit by the recession in the ’90s, the country has made a strong recovery in recent years and has one of the most promising outlooks of any EU country.

To conclude

Despite the country’s problems, the Spanish enjoy one of the best lifestyles (and quality of life) of any European country and, indeed, any country in the world; in Spain work fits around social and family life, not vice versa. The foundation of Spanish society is the family and community, and the Spanish are noted for their close family ties, their love of children and care for the elderly (who are rarely abandoned in nursing homes). Spain has infinitely more to offer than its wonderful climate and rugged beauty and is celebrated for its arts and crafts, architecture, fashion, night-life, music, dance, gastronomy, design, sports facilities, culture, education, health care and technical excellence in many fields.

For sheer vitality and passion for life the Spanish have few equals, and whatever Spain can be accused of it’s never dull or boring. Few other countries offer such a wealth of intoxicating experiences for the mind, body and spirit (and not all out of a bottle!). But the real glory of Spain lies in the outsize heart and soul of its people, who are among the most convivial, generous and hospitable in the world. If you’re willing to learn Spanish (or at least make an effort) and embrace Spain’s traditions and way of life, you will invariably be warmly received by the natives, most of whom will go out of their way to welcome and help you. Spain is highly addictive and, while expats may occasionally complain, the vast majority wouldn’t dream of leaving and infinitely prefer life in Spain to their home countries. Put simply, Spain is a great place to live (provided you don’t have to do business there).

¡Vivan los españoles! ¡Viva España!

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
Click here to get a copy now.

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Other comments

  • John Mortimer, 13 January 2012 Reply

    Total trash.

    This is a ridiculous article, none of it is true. I am a resident of Spain and disagree with every part of this rubbish, obviously the writer has never even visited!

    • male 08 Mar 2012, 11:54

      REPORT

      I agree with John, Yo don´t know at all Spanish people, at least the north of my country. It is a pity article,,,,
      en otras palabras no tienes ni idea de como somos los españoles, por favor, ,,,, NO GENERALICES ASI

    • Snopes 23 Aug 2012, 10:51

      North

      Alt least the north? So the south does match with the rubish this ignorant wrote? Eres tan ignorante como él entonces.

    • Jessey 28 Mar 2013, 07:29

      Very Well Written Article

      I think your article is great because it tells it like it is...both the good and the bad. Every country has its good points and its bad points and people should grow up instead of getting offended. I saw all of those exact same patterns when I lived there for 2 years. That is exactly how I saw the country as well coming from a North American perspective. I grew up a certain way and so, upon moving to Spain those same things really stood out to me as well. I don't understand why Spaniards get so mad at any little criticism about their country when they do the same thing constantly. They love to criticize other countries and say that Spain is the best in every way. So, they should be able to take it when other cultures criticize theirs. Its called maturity people. Relax and realize that NONE of our countries are perfect yet we ALL have wonderful beautiful things about our cultures as well. No country or people is any better than any other. We are all just people living in this world together.

      Creo que tu artículo está bien escrito porque lo cuenta tal como es…lo bueno y lo malo. Cada país tiene sus cosas buenas y sus cosas malas y la gente necesita madurar en vez de estar ofendida. Yo vi los mismos patrones cuando viví dos años en España. Es exactamente como me parecía el país desde una perspectiva norteamericana. Crecí de una manera distinta entonces al mudarme a España las mismas cosas me llamaron mucho la atención. No entiendo porque se enfadan tanto los españoles por un poco de crítica sobre su país cuando ellos hacen lo mismo constantemente cuando hablan de otras culturas. Les encanta criticar a otros países y decir que España es lo mejor en cada sentido. Entonces, deberían ser capaces de aguantarlo cuando otras culturas critican a los suyos, si no es un poco hipócrita, no? Se llama madurez gente. Reléjense y dense cuenta de que NINGUNOS de nuestros países son perfectos pero también que tenemos TODOS cosas bonitas y maravillosas sobre nuestras culturas también. Ningún país ni gente es mejor que cualquier otro. Nada más somos gente viviendo juntos en este mundo.

  • Caroline, 03 May 2012 Reply

    Beware the Spanish male's need for total authority and dominance

    On May 1st, 2012, I was sitting in a dining room and overheard a conversation between several adult couples from Canada, America, and Germany. ALL of them has suffered from the same treatment is Barcellona and that involved sitting for hours in restaurants in restaurants and waiting for service or food while local patrons were well catered to. I joined in the conversation stating that we had shared the same type of experience the previous night and when I complained to management(after 80 minutes), he asked me if I had ordered in Spanish. I respectfully responded that I was most limited in Spanish as Canadians spoke English and/or French primarily and I added that the waiter had interacted with us and I was confident he understood the order. Within minutes, all of our courses were dropped on the table( cold and piled one next to the other as it was a table for two. We left the restaurant and did not pay the bill which was well over a hundred Euros. I told him to call the authorities if he wished but he declined. The hostess walked us to the door and said there is a great deal of anger towards tourists, especially women who appear affluent!!! In this economy, how can they possibly develop such a mind-set???
    We found a lovely place nearby and had a very late but enjoyable dinner. Avoid places on Avenidad Diagonale as several had nasty experiences.

  • Valerie, 03 May 2012 Reply

    Trip to Spain cancelled for 2013

    After witnessing violence is prominent restaurant between staff, being ignored as patrons in other establishments, and discussing very negative experiences that dozens of other tourists had been subjected to in several Barcellona restaurants, we shortened our trip last week , returned to Canada, and cancelled our accommodations for April- May 2013 in Marbella, Barcellona, and Madrid.

    • Steve 11 Jun 2012, 09:18

      "Maleducados"

      I agree with most of what you said. I have been living in Spain for 8 years and have met very few "polite" Spaniards. I think the term "maleducados" fits. Very proud and insular.

  • Manuel, 23 July 2012 Reply

    No estoy de acuerdo

    Todo esto es una basura de artículo.

    There are many types of spaniards. This is a typical vision of a arrogant british.

    Manuel.

    • andreas 27 Aug 2012, 11:17

      pais de retrasados

      The main problem with the spaniards is still their unbelievable arrogance and complete lack of manners towards any person they don't know. The last 10 years I've visited the country on a bi-monthly basis, and it's just shocking to see that despite the billions of european funds poured into their systems, the inhabitants remain as backwards as ever... Whereas they believe themselves to be at the top of Europe.
      PS a typical phenomenon I see also in the reactions here... the spaniards have to react in spanish of course

    • Meg 05 Sep 2012, 05:21

      Too unfair to generalize

      I also disagree. People everywhere are much more understanding when you speak their language. It's only human. It's also understandable that tourists would be offended. We forget how the same situation might be in our own culture. I'm sure plenty of non-English speaking Japanese tourists also think the British are rude. Of course, I've heard that in Britain people can be very outgoing and friendly even if their dog died and their mother is on her way. In Spain you also meet friendly people but it's more often the case if you find the person in a good mood that day. They value expressing their true feelings because they see it as honest. Besides, from that perspective, everyone else should understand that not everyone has a good day and shouldn't hold it against Spain. These feelings are probably heightened around tourists when the economy is like it is.

    • Jessica 30 Sep 2012, 09:34

      So right

      The article is right, Spanish people are rude and do not consider the language barrier that the tourists have, very inefficient and absolutely no organisation, i should know as i am an Erasmus student here and nothing is ever going right. So yes i agree totally with thsi article

    • Pablo 08 Oct 2012, 08:48

      Who's rude?

      If you think spaniards are rude, don't come, as easy as that. But if you ever come, don't leave your manners at your country, because the most part of tourists, when they arrive at Spain, they lose their manners, for example, when you do what you know in a corner or in the middle of the street because you have get so so so drunk you can't stand on your feet. If you're so polite, why do you do that?
      Don't deny it, any spaniard who watch tv ONCE a MONTH, especially at summer, will know this.

      Asi que quereis enseñarnos algo, predicad con el ejemplo.

      So, WHO'S RUDE?

    • Martin 15 Nov 2012, 03:08

      It´s all in good fun Spaniards.

      Spain is a great country, as a Britton who´s basically grown up here I can confirm, I agree with almost everything said in the `To Conclude´ section. Lifestyle wise it is better that Britain and many other countries, even though Spain are now having their economic problems and all.

      But I also agree with many parts of the article, and I found some bits hilarious. I used to hate Spain not that many years ago because of some of the things ,mentioned here, but I have overcome these things and now like it quite a lot. However there is one thing about Spain that is just annoying to the core: It´s the way that they are the best, their sportsmen, are the best, their food is the best, their culture is the best, etc, and they will boast about these fake ideals with real pride (not all Spaniards, but many) and if you happen to be a foreigner they will still say it to your face too which is both untrue and rude. I am amazed at how many sportsmen (champions even) who are not Spanish are actually crap (or so they say) in the eyes of Spaniards when their athletes are the best. Also when talking about food they will say "You won´t eat anywhere like in Spain" which is complete patriotic bullshit IMO. There are plenty of places that have to be as good as Spain in many aspects (food of all of them, something so universal ...) or else half the planet would live in the peninsula.

      All of this wouldn´t be so bad if the Spanish people (who may have previously rubished your country) took anything anyone says about their great country with HUGE OFFENCE (as you can see here)

      So calm down, no os ofendais por una pagina web que dice cosas parecidas de unos 30 paises, these descriptions are mostly hyperboles, I myself have read the US and UK ones already and laughed a lot there too.

      Peace
      Paz