Local Culture and Lifestyle

Everyday life in Spain

You can start your morning routine the Spanish way, sipping a café con leche at a local bar and having tostada con tomate for breakfast. You should probably take a book with you, something to flick through or some form of entertainment, as table service might be a bit slow. This happens especially if you sit outside, as the presumption is that you are not in a hurry. You should probably order directly at the bar and pay straight away if you are on a time limit.  

When it comes to traffic, particularly in big cities like Madrid and Barcelona, transport is very developed and everything is well connected. On the other hand, you should never underestimate the slowness of traffic, especially if it’s raining. Everything seems to slow down in Spain when it starts raining.

The organisation of the day

The working day usually starts between 8 am and 9 am. Later on, there is a coffee break at around 11 am. Lunch break is traditionally quite long, ranging between 2 pm and 5 pm, of about two hours time. Depending on where you come from, it might seem a bit excessive, but this time is often used as an excuse to have a nap (siesta), go to the gym or even discuss business. You will find that it’s very common for small businesses to close down at lunch and open again in the afternoon. In terms of bars and restaurants, the closing time is usually late, as Spanish people tend to have dinner after 9 pm. Even bigger brands of supermarkets and shops will usually close at around 9 or 10 pm, depending on the location and time of the year. This follows a general rule, as in big cities working hours might be longer. 

Spanish people generally love to eat outside, so you will find plenty of streetside restaurants, known as terrazas pretty much everywhere. Reservations are generally not taken other than in high season, so make sure you look for a place to eat beforehand. You will find that bares, tascas or tabernas are also very popular, particularly in the centre of the country. They are Spanish bar-restaurants that serve food and tapas. They are often crowded and noisy, but there the atmosphere is very lively and sociable. You will soon master the technique of the número uno rule, elbowing your way to the front. 

Slow down

As an expat, you may find some cultural differences when it comes to the lifestyle and pace of Spanish life. If you are coming from a European, non-Mediterranean country, you may notice that people are quite sociable and a bit more laid-back when it comes to punctuality and deadlines. Expats coming from a more strictly structured country can find this approach rather difficult or stressful. For example, you might find that when requesting the bill at a restaurant, it takes a while for it to be placed on your table. Though this could be strange at first, you will soon join the relaxed Spanish pace. 

En español, please!

In terms of language, expats are usually treated with cordiality and are quickly welcomed into communities. If you have not learnt much Spanish yet, we recommend you start ASAP, as many Spanish people don't feel very comfortable speaking in English. If you have not spoken much Spanish outside the classroom, you may notice Spaniards don’t use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ as much as people from other countries. While this can come across as impolite, the Spanish lack of formality is regarded as a natural, easy way of communicating things, and being overly-formal is considered a cold, distant behaviour.


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