100 observations about Spain

Posted by Sophie Russell-Ross in Blog, Life in Spain 13 Oct 2015

This post is inspired by the list of observations about small-town England, published on Facebook by American Scott Waters, which has recently taken the internet by storm. I just happened to stumble upon it yesterday, which was in fact Día de la Hispanidad, and decided to list my 100 observations about small-town Spain. Here they are:

100 observations of Spain

  • Almost everyone is incredibly generous.
  • The Spanish love children. They are welcome nearly everywhere, anytime.
  • The sun shines a lot and is fierce.
  • It rains more than you’d imagine. More than anyone likes to admit. There is a certain amount of denial about the rain.
  • Forest fires are sadly an annual occurrence.
  • The general attitude towards animals is very different to that of the British.
  • But they LOVE children.
  • There are lots of mountains. And beautiful beaches – landscapes to take your breath away.
  • And reservoirs; over 900.
  • There are lots of holidays. Yesterday for example was Dia de la Hispanidad, National Spanish Day, celebrating a certain version of events that took place in 1492 involving Christopher Columbus.
  • With the holidays come lots of fireworks and noise. Until late. Very late. And very noisy.
  • Someone can seem to be shouting at you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re angry.
  • “Please” and “thank you” are not so important here. And that’s ok.
  • The bureaucracy is an insatiable monster.
  • Corruption is endemic.
  • Nobody drinks Sangria. By that of course I mean: I have never seen or heard of anyone drinking Sangria.
  • Tinto de verano is a great summer drink.
  • Orange squash doesn’t exist (unless it is found on the dusty miscellaneous international shelf of a local independent shop).
  • People live in real communities.
  • Communities centre around the local bar.
  • Even the smallest village has at least three bars. Well, maybe.
  • People don’t drink to get drunk.
  • It is perfectly acceptable for kids to be in the bar too, or even nipping behind it to beg food from the kitchen.
  • It can be hard to ‘get your round in’. You have to be quick to get in there before your Spanish mates, or even the old bloke sitting on the other side of the bar.
  • When Spanish families hit the beach, they basically bring everything but the kitchen sink. It’s very impressive and utterly fascinating if you like people-watching.
  • In the summer the shutters are shut during the day to keep out the sun/heat rather than throwing all the windows open to let in the ‘air’. Learn this one quickly and get a better night’s sleep.
  • Driving in Spain for the first time is a true baptism of fire.
  • There seems to be an unspoken, unofficial, nationwide competition for the most crazy-arsed, audacious car parking in Spain. It’s lots of fun to observe, but only when it’s not actually blocking your exit or entry.
  • Parking spaces are generally very tight.
  • Spanish motorways are well signed and basically empty by British standards.
  • Spanish motorways do not always measure up quite so well when it comes to cats’ eyes and clear reflective lane markings. Night driving is a gas.
  • Hitch-hiking is not a big deal.
  • It is impossible to enter a room/bar through a fly curtain with your dignity/hair-do intact.
  • Wasps and jellyfish.
  • Snakes and spiders.
  • On the other hand cicadas and crickets, breaking waves and flamenco are the wonderful soundtrack of summer.
  • “Joder” is the F-word. “Coño” is the C-word. Neither of them are such a big deal as they are in English.
  • You don’t pull someone’s leg, you take their hair.
  • You don’t open a can of worms,  you open a box of thunder.
  • Kids stay up very late. Even later in the summer.
  • It’s safe to let kids run amok in the pueblo until after dark.
  • Everything starts and finishes later in Spain.
  • The Spanish ‘siesta’ is more like a 20 minute power nap on the sofa than a full-on, back-to-bed all-afternoon affair.
  • Contrary to what many people seem to think,  the Spanish siesta can mean that Spaniards have long, hard working days… just split into two shifts.
  • Spaniards tend to dress for the season, not necessarily for the actual weather. Usually, but not always, this makes sense.
  • The main Christmas celebration is The Kings Reyes on 6 January. Celebrations on the 25th of December have only just taken on in recent years, a trend driven almost entirely by consumerism.
  • You don’t find many second hand/charity shops in Spain. The ones that you do find are often run by Brits.
  • The food is generally pork.
  • Vegetarians be prepared to find jamón in your habas (ham with your beans) it’s just small bits of pork, not really meat at all.
  • You’d better like jamón.
  • Cerveza (beer) is a perfectly acceptable accompaniment to breakfast. Or just breakfast itself.
  • Brandy is also an acceptable breakfast beverage.

100 observations about Spain 3

  • Coffee is good and strong.
  • Beer is super-cold and served in cañas and tubos – smallish measures to ensure it gets drunk before it gets warm.
  • Meat and veg generally don’t come together. If you order a vegetable dish or salad to go with your meat it will arrive first and be cleared before your main course arrives.
  • Speed of service is leisurely.
  • Spain is vast and varied.
  • People think nothing of driving long distances.
  • Spain is full of stunning natural and man-made beauty.
  • You don’t need to tip for everything.  A big meal with fantastic service, yes. A couple of beers brought to your table, no.
  • A barra of bread must be eaten the same day, if not sooner.
  • The houses are built for summer not for winter.
  • In old houses it can be colder inside than out during the winter.
  • Double glazing, anyone? No?
  • Front doors have heavy curtains hung up in front to keep out the flies and heat in the summer.
  • In the pueblo people don’t lock their front doors.
  • There are bars on all the windows.
  • In the run up to local elections candidates will drop by with completed voting forms that you may simply drop into the ballot box without the hassle of actually putting your ‘x’ anywhere.
  • It is not socially acceptable to leave a children’s party until the piñata has been demolished. A crazed, barbaric sugar-fest.
  • The amount of sugar consumed at kids parties is off the scale.
  • Almost everyone has a neighbour with a weed plant growing out of the window or in their garden.  OK, that’s probably not absolutely true.
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover in Spain.  As a general rule, the crappier a bar/restaurant looks from the outside, the better the food inside.
  • A few words on noise: not just tolerated, but encouraged, loved, celebrated. Embrace it.
  • Look for the narrowest street corner in any small town and that is where you will find any or all of the following: the bus stop,  a smattering of parked cars with their hazards flashing, a mother pushing a buggy because the pavement has disappeared, a dog sitting in the middle of the road, the bread van, the fish van, any delivery van in fact, and the obligatory two people, who will no-doubt be seeing each other later anyway, holding a conversation through their car windows. Oh, and a grua (tow truck).
  • There are too many narrow and uneven pavements.
  • In the local bar you don’t pay for your rounds as you go, but when you leave.
  • Bar staff in Spain are arithmetical genii when it comes to working out the bill at the end of the night. They make sense of the intertwining and overlapping rounds of which clientele have long-since lost all sense.
  • Spaniards eat 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Easier said than done.
  • Some of the pueblo streets are so narrow that you may get your car stuck. Enter with caution and at your own peril.
  • You only have to be driving 1km over the speed limit to get a fine. And they WILL fine you.
  • There are three different law enforcement groups: Policia National, Guardia Civil (once known as Franco’s Police), and Policia Local.
  • The police all carry hand guns.
  • The TV is pretty dreadful.
  • People spend their evenings socialising in the plaza or the bar, not in front of their TVs.
  • Brits in Spain are still obsessed with English telly.
  • When Sky changed their satellite and the Brits in Spain lost their TV signal, it was like someone died. Someone like Diana.
  • Castellano is the official language of Spain and is spoken among a number of other languages, including the co-official Basque, Catalan, Aranese, Galician languages and the recognised but not official Aragonese, Asturian and Leonese.
  • Andalucía has a distinct dialect known as Andalúz. The equivalent in England might be a Geordie accent.
  • The healthcare system is good, but doctors’ waiting rooms are like the Wild West.
  • Spain is not all straw donkeys and flamenco dancer snow globes.
  • Petrol stations are generally not self-service.
  • Old folk get out and walk. A lot.
  • They also sit in the local plaza to gossip, and watch the world go by while keeping an eye on the kids that are free to run amok.
  • Outdoor senior gyms can be found in almost every pueblo.
  • You never see anyone using them.
  • In the street people may say “adios” when you say “hola”. That’s ok.
  • The seafood, if you like seafood, is to die for.
  • The wine is sensational.
  • And so is the Sherry.
  • Did I mention that they love children?

100 observations about Spain 4

These observations about small-town Spain are based on my experience of living in a small pueblo in Andalucía. If you have any observations that you would like to add, please share them in the comments.


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Sophie is a freelance writer and founder of the GranadaSpain site. She spent seven years living in La Alpujarra, the Southern foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and is still a regular visitor to the area. In her previous lives she worked in event production and marketing in Hong Kong and London. She also blogs about motherhood and the funny side of life at bibsey.co.uk .

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  • Sue Sharpe

    Brilliant (& so true!!)

    • Sophie Russell-Ross

      Thanks Sue. Fun to write and I loved the original list by the American guy. He seemed all at once amused, bemused and enamoured of Britain… and that’s quite how I feel about Spain.

  • Elaine Scanlan

    I stumbled on this while wandering around the internet looking for new places to visit in Spain, and it’s so accurate. Your observations about life in a pueblo are absolutely spot on Sophie. I don’t (yet) live in Spain but I fly out from the UK as often as I can, and oddly it feels more like home than Derbyshire does. It also triggered many memories, such as taking the local bus from Malaga up to Comares and wondering why I couldn’t understand anything the gaggles of old ladies were saying to the driver. That dialect! Ruined my eavesdropping.