Settling in Spain
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Settling in Spain

Spain has the ability to look a bit like the UK with sun. Its buildings are not dissimilar and  it´s people if you forget the sun tan look pretty similar but there the similarities end.  You cannot assume that the law will be the same or the customs or the shop opening hours or almost anything else.


Shops generally open from 10am- 2pm and from 5pm - 10pm.  These hours change from summer to winter.  Banks open early around 8.30am and close at 1.30pm or 2pm.  They do not open again until the next day and they only open Monday to Friday.  All commercial premises excluding bars, cafes and restaurants close on Sunday.

We have queues in a Spanish shops but you stand anywhere you like, not in an orderly row as we are used to in the UK.  The only way to find your place in the queue is to ask who was last in before you.  Do not assume as there are only 3 people in the shop that is the queue as a place can be reserved by walking in and saying who is last and I am after you.  You are then free to go and do something else and return for your allotted turn. Your space is not only reserved by your physical presence.  Tutting and looking disgruntled in a queue is generally frowned on as once you get to the front and it is your turn your will be given as much time as is necessary to assist you.  It is customary for people to go away from their work for breakfast at around 10/10.30 so do not be surprised if one of the assistants suddenly disappears out the door.  A great deal of business is done over breakfast and it is a meal of the day which cannot be missed.  Not having had any breakfast is met with shock and horror and instructions to go and eat immediately.  The Spanish say we work to live not live to work and perhaps they are right.


Bars, cafés and restaurants form the spine of Spain and without them we would be lost. Meal times differ to the UK and breakfast is normally around 10am or 10.30am with lunch between 2pm and 4.30pm and dinner never before 9pm and in summer up to 12 midnight or 12.30am.  Breakfast is frequently taken in a bar or café and lunch is often taken with friends or family.  It is custom that if you arrive around eating time then you are fed so always have some extras in the fridge just in case someone arrives.  A jamon is generally present in most Spanish kitchens (it is similar to the Italian Parma Ham) and is very handy for feeding extra people who appear.  The bread shop forms a mainstay in every village, town and city as bread is eaten with everything and you must provide ample quantities on your table or you will be talked about.  It also doubles as a plate when more people arrive than you have china for and dishes are served in the middle of the table for people to share.  No matter how many arrive you share whatever there is and you sit wherever you can. 

At a very busy gathering the guests and older members of the family sit at the table the rest use a shelf or mantelpiece to support their glass and plate and children are fed on the hoof.  Their mothers jam bread into their mouths as they pass the table and sitting down with the family is not a requirement until you are at least 14 year of age.   The Spanish are incredibly skilled at eating with a fork, plate and glass and sometimes a cigarette all in their hands at once.  It is common for families to go out for dinner and it can be either a selection of tapas or a sit down meal.  Often a combination of both as people will stand and have a drink and tapas at the bar then go in to the formal dining room for their main course and dessert.  Tapas consists of small plates of food and there are as many legends as to where it originated as there are tapas dishes.   The name comes from the covers they used to put on their glasses to stop the small wine flies have a fly nip.  On the other hand General Franco is responsible for the menu of the day which is still offered in almost every eatery.  It is a set menu of salad, soup or starter, main course, pudding and a drink for a set price.  Sometimes it includes a coffee but not always.  He started the menu of the day to ensure that all workers had a decent meal at an affordable price and it has stuck to this day.  If you are foreign you may have to ask for the menu of the day as they will assume you will not want that as it is always local country style food.  That said it is wholesome and tasty so do try it.


Train and bus times also change according to the season and according to work days and non work days.  Then we have to add in the national, regional and local holidays plus fiestas  and the feria.  Always check the times on the timetable for the correct month and day otherwise you could be in for a nasty surprise as you stand there waiting in vein.  Some train and bus companies sell tickets on line and good savings can be made on the prices by buying in advance off the internet.  Buses and trains outside the large cities are again sociable places and if you find yourself on a long journey with no food and drink then you will not go hungry.  Some other passenger will force you to have some of theirs and to refuse would be considered an insult.

Generally the buses have stopping points at large motorway services where people get off to stretch their legs and have some food and drink if they want, so there is always an alternative .  The motorway services can be a treasure trove  with all sorts of things on sale from ornaments to jamons and local specialties like mollete (a special type of bread roll) or almond cakes.  What they offer depends on where you are traveling.  Motorway services can also be very interesting places and the North East of the country can be particularly interesting ........ I was once greeted on entering the ladies toilet by a group of Arab ladies from Morocco bathing their babies in the wash and basins.  They told me that their husbands were street vendors and they were going to Benidorm for the summer season.  Their husbands sold leather goods and hubble bubble pipes to the tourists.  Their transport was equally as interesting as it consisted of a whole caravan of brightly decorated VW campervans with all their goods and shackles piled high on the roofs including beds and pieces of furniture.  As we passed on leaving the petrol station they all honked and waved.


The personal relationship still far outweighs what is written in the rule book.  When dealing with authorities try to strike up a relationship with the employees. I am entitled and I have my rights do not work here.  Please can you help me and I seem to have a problem could you help me to solve it, work far better.  Always take all your papers with you including your NIE and the originals of whatever you need to talk about plus a spare copy to leave with them.  Copies alone are not always acceptable and even if they are going to accept a copy they want to see the original as well.  Take a translator with you and preferably someone who knows the system and you will half the time you spend in the office.  Cadizcasa do this type of representation work professionally and our clients always say what a relief it was not to have to struggle through on their own.  Most offices have a ticket system where you take a ticket with a number and then wait for your turn. You will find that even when you are in the chair people will come up and ask questions and interrupt.   This is normal and must be treated with no sign of disgruntlement.   Early morning is normally the best time as the bulk of people will arrive around 10am and also late morning around 1pm is good as the queues will have been dealt with.

Try if you can to call the person by their name, most have a name tag and remember that first names are used for everything here unless the person is very important so introduce yourself by your first name.  Even the Notary will introduce himself by his first name.  If you have to speak to the police and make a statement for any reason they will ask your parents names.  It would be normal for us to give the fathers surname and the mothers maiden name but here you say Joan and Fred.  You may well be sent on a few wild goose chases as the systems are changing in a lot of official offices and what applied last week may have changed this week but you just have to follow instructions and you will eventually get there.


You will find the Spanish a very friendly race and if you can make them laugh then you will be their friend for life.  The Spanish think that life is to be laughed at and it is quite acceptable when somebody falls off their chair due to drink or a badly constructed chair to laugh after you have checked that they are not hurt.  People who have nearly been run over laugh about it and lost drivers who have just committed a road traffic offence laugh about it when stopped by the police.  Life is considered to be something of a penance which will only get you down if you let it so better to laugh than cry.

Consideration for your fellow man is high on the agenda and you are expected to watch out for your family, friends and neighbours in that order.  Beggars are tolerated and given food and drink to take away when they ask for it in a bar or café.  They will approach you in the street but when you say no they will not swear at you or cause you any problem.  You will see gypsy teenagers controlling the parking at large events or in busy areas and the euro you give them can be well spent as they will remember your car and run about finding a space to wave you into the next time you are in that area. The sick and the elderly are cared for and if necessary a rota is posted for all the family to share the work and responsibility. 

If you are unfortunate enough to end up in hospital you will never be alone as a rota is made up and family and friends are expected to take their place to ensure someone is constantly by your side with people sleeping through the night in the big chairs often supplied  by each bed to make sure that if you wake they are there to get you a drink or just so you are not alone.   One lady who was involved in a car crash while on holiday in Spain awoke to find her little dog lying beside her on the hospital bed as the police had brought it from the crashed car to the hospital and the nurses felt she would be calmer if it was with her and she knew it was being cared for.  The nursing staff walked and fed the dog for the week she was in hospital.


The mañana attitude is frequently talked about but it is arguable whether it actually exists or if this is merely a misunderstanding by foreigners.  With the modern world life in Spain  has speeded up but non the less you must always have time for people and to rush by without passing the time of day is a mortal sin.  When doing business you must always pass the niceties of the day first and enquire after family and children only then can you move on to the more indelicate subject of business. 

The Spanish do not like to say no so if pushed them they will agree to whatever you say rather than say no.  This frequently leads to misunderstanding.  People order a piece of furniture and say we need it for Friday as our daughter is coming.  This will lead to disaster as they will say possibly we can deliver on Friday.  In this situation possibly means NO.  The best way is to ask when it can be delivered.  If they say Monday. You will have it on Monday unless there is a good reason but never push them to do something in your time span because you will only be disappointed.  When a day is given for something to happen but no time specified do not wait in.  Providing they have a number they will call to say when they will be there.  If you are told morning or afternoon on the day that is a different matter and if you go out you may well miss the delivery.


Many people think that the Spanish are a highly religious nation. Well, there are a lot of catholics but then there are a lot of Muslims here also and religious tolerance generally has always been evident in Spain.  Your religion does not matter to them and they will not ask you your leaning.  Not because it is considered rude but because they do not see the point in it.  You are judged on what sort of person you are not what religion or political party you follow. 

Religious festivals are traditional but they are more about the family being together and everyone having fun that they are about the purely religious aspect. Young couples almost without exception get married within the church but if you have ever been to a Spanish wedding you will know that that is where the religious element ends on the Cathedral steps.


The Spanish are very open, alarmingly so when you are new to the country.  They will discuss what their salary is and tell you all about their wife´s gynecological problems in a quite matter of fact tone.  Earnings, bank accounts and mortgages are a matter for public record as are health problems and marital strife.  It is all out in the open and there are no secrets. 

Nudity is dealt with in a matter of fact fashion also and girls are never told to cover up or to put on a longer skirt because they are young and will grow out of it in their own good time.  This can cause some foreign males to think that Spanish girls are of easy virtue but that would be completely wrong and most girls prefer a night out with their girl friends than a night out with a boy.  Boys and girls mix from the day they are born and there are few mysteries to be unveiled when they become teenagers. 

Most Spanish people marry young and have children within a few years.  Although more people are living together now and a lot of parents prefer this option so they make the right choice before getting married.  Girls have their boyfriends to stay and they sleep in their bedroom.  Anything else would be considered silly as everyone knows what they are up to anyway and providing they do not flaunt it in the public areas of the house nobody cares.  The Spanish motto is live and let live.  You never criticize or condemn anyone for what they like, say or do unless it hurts other people.

In general,  to fit in -  hang loose, accept Spain for what it is and enjoy it because if you live to be 100 you will not change it.