Hello readers and writers,
I’ve decided that this post will be a little different, I wanted to share some of the things that I have noticed and seen to be quite curious about living in Spain. I have had the privilege of moving around a wonderful lot, but haven’t really taken the time to write about some of the good and not so good differences I find myself adjusting to. I hope this list helps anyone with possibly moving to Spain, and or just to satisfy the curiosity of what life in Spain is really like. I strive to be as honest as possible when it comes to what I experience in every place I live or travel to, so enjoy the good, the bad, and the odd of living in the Mediterranean coast of Spain.
Life Is Very Slow Here
I think this is the most important difference I have noticed. In all aspects, life is much slower here than in other European countries, and also just in the world in general. I often forget it’s 2017 in Spain. I live in a particularly interesting city (Valencia) and although it isn’t as large and bustling as Madrid or Barcelona, it is somewhere in the middle between the two. It’s still a city, but it feels more like a big small town. In general however, Spain is much slower. Slower bank lines, slower post service, slower traffic, slow walkers who stand in the middle like no one else exists, you know? Just kind of slower. If you want to increase the spiritual fruit of patience in your life this may be the place to come do it, or to get an ulcer whatever works better for you.
Spain Loves Vacation Time
If there’s anything I could say about Spain and most especially Valencia, it is that there are a lot, and I mean a lot of holidays. To make it more clear the one month I can think of where you honestly have no holidays and feel awful for most of it is September, September is called the “Monday” of the year here in Spain and it is honestly very true. Just to give you a round-up of the holidays here: December is a month of great festivities. Sure, you have Christmas and all that, but you also have special Saints which are celebrated by the Catholic church and so almost every week of December leading up to Christmas Eve has a “dia feriado” or festive day. In Spain they celebrate Three Kings Day as well and it is much bigger than Christmas alone, and so until around January 8th we are also celebrating that. The rest of January can be a bit bland but trust me you’re going to need the blandness to get you through the middle of February going on into March. February starts off slow, but nearing around the 20th or so, here in Valencia you start seeing the signs of Fallas, a giant holiday only celebrated in this quirky Mediterranean city. Once March arrives Fallas is in full gear and students get a week sometimes a week and a half off of school. Tons of shops are closed, you hear explosives 24 hours a day 7 days a week and honestly it is utter chaos, but I happen to love it. You’d think that by the end of Fallas (March 19th) you’d see things settle down a bit? They do, but only until Easter. I remember returning to university after Fallas for what felt like only 3 days, only to get another 2 weeks off for Spring Break. Spring Break extends even further because of all of the Saints celebrated on different days, honestly March and April feel non-existent in terms of work and studies. May rolls around and you’ve got tons of fairs and music festivals popping up in different parts of the city, students are normally studying because June is exam month, but overall it is a pretty calm month in terms of Holidays. However, after the exam period June initiates the starts of not only hundreds of events and festivals around the cities in Spain, but also the start of everyone disappearing and going on vacation. By July, most people are gone and summer is in full swing. By August however, Valencia and most of Spain I’ve heard, turns into a species of post-apocalyptic desolation zone. There’s literally no one here, I can honestly say that I have taken to dancing in the middle of the street because well… I can! There’s no one. No cars, no people, there are just a few bits of struggling tourists left behind but nothing significant.
SIESTA IS A REAL THING
In case you were wondering, yup, people take a siesta here. I’m not sure if they all sleep, I’m not even sure what it is that they do. But at 3pm everyday without fail, shops and restaurants close their kitchen and services for siesta time and most won’t reopen until 7 or 8pm. It’s extremely inconvenient for getting things done, and if you’re like me 3-5pm is when I’m most hungry and want to eat something serious. However, I’m left waiting to dine at 8pm or even 10pm which is extremely late for me, and extremely normal to all Spaniards. Not only do I find it inconvenient for me, but also for people who work normal jobs. Since most grocery stores close at 8:30 or 9pm, and the second half of the work day finishes at around 8pm, I always wonder how on earth people ever get anything done? I always tell myself I need to stop getting hungry around siesta time because nothing is ever open, I’ve also tried actually taking a siesta at that time… I ended up sleeping until 8pm and I wonder how on earth these Spanish people wake up and go back to work again.
Valencians can sound really angry
Spain is a highly choleric nation, people here are passionate, maybe too passionate. I have heard people get into arguments about the quality of Serrano ham and football leagues. I have heard older ladies speak to each other in such a way that made me believe that police intervention might be necessary only to see them hugging and kissing each other on the cheek with profuse friendship; it is very intense. All over Spain you will find this sort of behaviour, but I believe Valencia to be the most intense city in all of Spain. People here are loud, they are boisterous, and they love to look at you and give you their opinion. No one cares about waiting in long lines at the bank here, why? Because the bank teller is very passionately giving some sort of juicy gossip to each of the clients which she obviously has known for years. Of course, when you’re new to all of this, you stand in line wondering why on earth they are yelling at each other and especially why they’re taking so much time away from doing their job to talk. But see, they love to talk here, they love it… a lot! I’ve actually put this to the test too. If you happen to see a gathering of Spanish women or men discussing a topic ardently and you so happen to know at least 40% of what they’re talking about or criticizing, you can make instant friends by going over and saying something like: “tio… es que te digo, es alucinante lo que esta pasando en Gandia!” and they will immediately include you in the conversation, possibly buy you a drink and share their paella with you. The saying: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is huge here in Valencia, huge.
They have odd and arbitrary rules that make no sense
There are little petty rules at restaurants, shops, parking places, stores, and everywhere that make absolutely no sense. I may have noticed this more as a Westerner who can pretty much get food whenever, buy whatever whenever and have no one say anything to me about anything ever. But here in Spain it doesn’t work like that. For instance, there are many restaurants who don’t permit you to exchange something into their fixed menu list for that day, even if you say you can’t eat something on that menu. If you want extra of something and they don’t want to give it to you because it is simply something they have never done before they’ll act very distraught and even irritated at you asking. If something doesn’t make sense and you actually tell them it doesn’t, they’ll look at you very confused and then say: “es que es asi…” simply meaning: “that’s how it is.” It’s not something I can generalize but at the same time, yeah, it actually is. You’ll find everywhere you go in Spain there are just some odd things like that.
There are really only two big sale seasons
This was a very interesting one to bump into. Apparently in Spain there are two “Black Friday” type sale seasons (by the way there is also a “black friday” but it sucks and they haven’t gotten the full concept yet). These seasons are January-February and July through August, they have what they call “rebajas” it basically means reductions. But these reductions are serious, and I mean serious. I have bought skirts and shirts for 3 euros, shoes for 5 and all sorts of other things I didn’t need for an obscenely low price. It’s difficult actually, because every week as the months progress they reduce things even more. So basically you’re left unsure as if to shop during the primera rebajas (1st) or the tercera rebajas, which basically mean that only the little ‘baglings’ of things will be left that you may not necessarily like as much. I say if you like it, and it’s cheap, buy it as fast as you can because the next few weeks items fly off the shelves. It’s actually quite fun and a great way to stock up on seasonal items. What does suck is that there are normally no reductions on anything at any other time in the year and so you do end up paying pretty high prices for things you know will be ridiculously cheap later on, it always leaves you with the torture of: “to wait for rebajas or not to wait for rebajas, that is the question?”
Weird Flats and Building Codes
Did I mention Spain was a little slower? That may be the reason behind why there is no fire extinguisher in my building for instance. No sort of fire escape plan, no sort of anything escape plan, no air conditioning system built-in or even the possibility of building one in, and all sort of other “necessary” things that seem to be kind of not needed by the building codes in Spain. Spain is weird, and by weird I mean people seem to have a general sense of “everything will somehow work out” which leaves me thinking…”or maybe we will all die because we are not prepared!” but no one cares about that. Preparation isn’t a huge thing here apparently. If you rent a flat, be prepared to lower your expectations about a lot of things, also be prepared to not act snobbish when they don’t have any of those fancy trimmings you may have thought indispensable in your modern society, that doesn’t fly here. Landlords tend to be really chill and actually friendly for the most part, but if you have a complaint that doesn’t seem like an immediate emergency, it’s best to take a deep breath and add a bit of British upper lip to the slight leak in your bathroom sink, or the one light switch that isn’t working.
The lack of understanding over not understanding
I’d say this is the biggest one for me, and also the one that makes me the most frustrated. Overall there is this united sentiment of everyone here knows why everything is done the way that it is done, and why, and if you don’t then there’s clearly something wrong with you. I remember my first week moving here, I had grown up speaking Spanish my whole life but it wasn’t at the best level at first. I would go to restaurants and find things that I had never even heard about before, often times those things weren’t even in Spanish, they were in Valencian (yes, there is another language in this city). I would ask the servers what certain things meant and they would say things like: “what do you mean what is this? It’s clearly blah blah blah, everyone knows that!” I’d sit there trying so hard to explain that I was not from here technically, but they still seemed confused that I didn’t know. Often times I feel bad for tourists and even students that don’t speak Spanish, because Spaniards are not very understanding with them and seem more frustrated than anything else. There have been many moments that I have intervened to help a fellow Native English speaker out with simple things like where the metro is, to not wanting milk in their coffee. I do wish this was something I could change about the attitudes here.
People are very interested and friendly
It’s not all bad, I’d say Spain is one of the countries most in touch with true friendship and family. People care here, they care too much sometimes, but they care. I recently visited an emergency room with my boyfriend (everyone’s okay) but I remember expecting it to be a lot like in America where no one looks at you, everyone avoids eye contact and someone can die right next to you and you kind of just don’t get involved. However, it was a world of a difference. A woman whose son had broken his chin smiled at us and asked us if we wanted to have a seat, she then started a conversation with us, later on she even asked my boyfriend how he was and if everything had turned out well. The doctors were super chill and laughed, asked questions, talked about life and stuff. I find that everyone is a bit more human here in Spain. Whether it is negative or positive everyone is a lot more real. People aren’t pretending as much, or trying to be something here, they just are.
Food is a big deal, a Huge deal
Food is kind of a big deal here. It’s an art, Valencia does not play with their food time, and neither does Spain in general. There are about 6 meals eaten here a day, and if you think they’re all small portions you are mistaken. I ask myself everyday why people here are generally so thin, because they eat more than you’ll ever see anyone eat, ever. My little students would explain to me that in the morning you have your breakfast which normally consists of something small like a piece of toast with some jam or olive oil and of course your Valencia orange juice. Adults normally have coffee in the morning as well. After breakfast comes “almuerzo” which is basically snack time, and during this time you’d eat maybe a small sandwich, some fruit, maybe a yogurt or something. Next comes the big meal which is their version of lunch and what we would probably consider dinner and lunch together but they call “comida”, this is their biggest meal of the day and can consist of anything from roasts, to paella, to giant potato casserole type dishes and rice, lots of rice. You’d think after this they’d be good until dinner, but after that blood sugar drop during the infamous siesta, you wake up looking for a sugary snack, that’s where “merienda” comes in. Around 5pm you can get yourself a chocolate milkshake, a crepe, a little croissant, something sweet and fattening to bring you back to life and hold you over for dinner. Yes dinner. Dinner (cena) is the other big meal and it normally has restaurants opening at around 8pm, people have dinner as late as 10pm here, and they normally go on well into midnight. Food is life here. Life is food.
Art is very prestigious
One of the things that makes me love Spain the most is how serious they take the arts. Art and being an artist, studying art history, anything related to art and humanities is something recognized as a very noble and prestigious career. Especially here in Valencia, the streets are often named after painters, poets and sculptors. Coming from a society where only the math and medical fields seem to make the cut for admiration, I truly appreciate how much importance is given to artists here. There are also amazing designers in Spain, it’s definitely one of the best countries for art and design despite what many may think.
There’s more regional pride than national pride
Each region in Spain is definitely more proud of their region than you could ever consider them to be patriotic of their country. They say it has a lot to do with the years of dictatorship that Spain went through, but for one reason or another Spaniards don’t really fly the Spanish flag, they fly their regional flag. Valencia has a flag which they fly on almost every balcony and school, the Catalans in Barcelona have their pride and many of them even desire being an independent country. In general, each province of Spain is very proud of their little portion and often times I feel they even forget they are a part of Spain. This is super confusing to someone from outside of Spain, because when Spaniards visit other countries they often seem more patriotic and call themselves “Spaniards” but here in Spain they are either “Catalanes” or “Valencianos” or “Gallegos” or whatever region they are from. It’s like once they’re back in Spain they’re not from Spain, they’re from their province. I find it quite interesting as this gives a unique diversity to the country that you’ll find in few places around the world.
Spain is an incredibly beautiful country
I don’t know how many people know this but Spain is truly stunning. There are very few areas in Spain that aren’t just full of rugged gorgeous coastlines, lush forests, mountains and beautiful beaches. Many Spaniards have no interest in traveling outside of the country, and although I find this a bit odd, I do understand. It’s mainly because there is so much to do and so much to see within Spain that you can literally have whatever type of vacation you want without ever leaving the country. Also, traveling around the country is fairly cheap and easy and so it is well worth it to explore as much as you want of Spain.
Well, that’s it for now. That’s what life has been like in Spain up until now, I hope this is useful for someone out there who may be traveling to or moving here even. Viva España!