Quirky things about the Spaniards (Part 1)

It goes without saying that every country has a unique culture that is influenced by many factors, like its history, location and climate. As an expat, it can be very entertaining, and at times confusing, weaving your way through it as you try to make sense of everything new. You can do your research before moving, but nothing really prepares you fully until you set your foot in the new country- and of course, Spain is no different. These cultural differences have fascinated me so much that I decided to write about them. So, here are some things that I find quite quirky about the Spanish people.

OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: These are my own views and I’m in no way mocking the Spanish culture. Anyone who knows me well enough can bear witness that I’m obsessed with anything that is Spanish- I have my Instagram as evidence (follow me: @navigating.without.borders).
OK, here we go: 

They modify certain English words and chuck them in their sentences when speaking in Spanish.
Esmoquin hot. (Gerard Piqué, Spanish footballer) . Image courtesy: Pinterest

Sometimes it’s the meaning that’s modified, something it’s the spelling, but it comes across as rather funny to an English speaker. For eg:

  1. Footing (which actually means jogging)
  2. Tuit (tweet)
  3. Mosto Greip (which is a non-alcoholic grape drink)
  4. Esmoquin (pronounced as ‘esmokin’- a variation of ‘smoking’, which means a tuxedo..)
  5. Vater (pronounced as ‘water’, which means a bloody toilet!). I teach English to young 7- year olds here and imagine their faces when I told them in class one day ‘I like to drink water.’ HA!)
There is a certain aversion to following rules at times, like
  1. Not being too strict about picking up their dogs’ poo
  2. Trying to cut the queue
  3. Not waiting for the pedestrian sign before crossing the street

It does make you stick your head up whilst you’re out and about, rather than being glued to your phone to watch your 100th tik-tok video of the day.

This sign explains: Good luck is having a clean neighbourhood. Never took it seriously until I landed in some dog shit myself. ¡¡ME CAGO EN LA LECHE!! **swearing in Spanish**
Their profound desire to interact with humanity is what drives them from day to day:
It’s a skill guys, trust me.
  1. People ask you for directions instead of checking their google maps, although I think it’s because google maps doesn’t work very accurately at times in Spain.
  2. This one always warms my heart. People always ask you if you need help. The only exception: salespersons in retail and government officials! Those people really don’t want to have a conversation with you, which is a pain since those are exactly the people whose help you always end up requiring!
  3. You know what’s cooler than leaving text msgs on Whatsapp? Leaving voice messages! They do it as they need to express a lot and the addition of emotions is VERY important to a Spaniard.
  4. You will be subjected to conversations in a lift. There will come those glorious moments when no one will speak to you as cage yourself with strangers, but it is perfectly normal to greet each other, maybe even make small talk and not be awkward about it.
Every Spanish person has their ‘pueblo’ or village…

…which isn’t necessarily where they are from, but it’s basically where their family originated from. It’s also the place where some of them return to, every summer vacation, as some sort of an obligatory ritual.

Pueblo life
Spaniards have interesting naming traditions, such as:
  1. Nearly everyone having a nickname, and these nicknames are set in stone depending on their formal names. A José will always be known as Pepe to his friends and family, a Francisco is always a Paco, an Ignacio can never be anything BUT a Nacho where as good ol’ Dolores will be called Lola.
  2. The boys have the same names as their fathers’, who have the same names as their grandfathers’, who have the same name as their great- grand…you get the gist. I don’t know the history behind this lack of creativity, but it is something very common- and if you ask them if they add ‘Junior’/’Senior’ to differentiate, they roll their eyes saying ‘Of course, not! That’d just be lame.’ Ok then.
  3. People always have two last names. They use their father’s as well as the mother’s last name. Go gender equality!
‘Buenos días’ (good day/ good morning) is said right up until 2-3pm i.e. their lunchtime.
They smoke a lot.

And they might just blow it in your face accidentally and not apologise about it. I’ve always found it difficult to tolerate smoke, but now I’ve learnt to live with it. It just comes with the territory of siestas and fiestas.

And that’s it (for now lol)! There are plenty of other quirky and interesting things that I’ve noticed, and I’ll write about them soon. Are you a Spaniard or maybe an expat living in Spain? Which of these do you agree and disagree with? Do you have some quirky things from your culture that you would like to share? Let me know!

Cover photo: Viewpoint from Parque de la Alameda, Santiago de Compostela (Galicia).

6 things that I've learnt from the Spanish in 6 months

After moving to Spain in September 2019, here is a round-up of six Spanish values that I’ve learnt to incorporate in my life.

Keep calm and eat your jamon

Away from work, the emphasis in a Spaniard’s personal life is on slowing down and going with the flow. When hanging out with a group of people, you’ll never be given an exact time, or the venue might change last minute, or new people might join in. The dinner time might continue right up until 10pm on weekdays as families continue talking. When someone pushes into a really crowded escalator queue at a metro station, people barely lose their cool.

Observing this natural gravitation towards an easy pace, especially in personal life, and practising it myself has meant inviting a greater degree of tolerance and flexibility into my mind, which has ultimately led to a better control over my anxiety.

Every weeknight is a late night at Mercado de San Ildefonso in Malasaña, Madrid.
Focus on authenticity

Whether it is the women here wearing minimal makeup every day and embracing their natural selves, people being more expressive with their emotions or there being, in general, a strong focus on food that is less processed, I love how authenticity is such an innate part of the Spanish culture.

Observing all these Spanish habits has not only made me feel more comfortable about accepting my own self, but it has also made me look for authenticity in whatever I try to bring into my life- from people to consumables to experiences.

Quality over quantity

For the longest time, my formula for spending had been ‘the cheaper the better’. This meant being price obsessed and at times completely ignoring the quality, even if it was downright in shambles, or even a risk to my health. Whilst at times this has worked for me (*wink* K-Mart *wink*), many times I have simply wasted my money because that thing has completely fallen apart after literally being used twice. One habit of Spaniards that I have noted and implemented is to value quality over quantity, at least in terms of the items that I use very frequently. The initial upfront cost may be high, but because that item lasts for longer, the cost per use turns out to be negligible. Win-win.

Food without spices can be tasty (GASP!!)

Never though I’d say this, but yes, food without spices CAN be tasty. I have definitely learnt to harness the actual flavours of individual raw ingredients, instead letting the spice blends shine every single time. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my spices and use them very frequently, but I have also learnt to utilise different herbs, sauces and techniques, that have exponentially increased my culinary repertoire. I no longer have to feel like I need to rely on certain, very specific ingredients, in order to make a dish successful.

Freshly caught, roasted squid in Cádiz with a simple salad
Be opportunistic with travel

I used to always think that the only way to travel properly is to save $$$, wait for the perfect moment, book a long trip and cover a region in detail. And that was largely because travelling anywhere from Australia is generally quite expensive, unless your income bracket is in the top 5%. Due to this thinking, I missed out on a lot of travel deals and long weekend opportunities. To this date South East Asia, which is literally my backyard, remains largely unexplored by me.

Spain is a small country and travelling is comparatively inexpensive, which is great news. But due to working fewer hours and wanting to maximise my savings, I can only take 2-3 days off a month to travel somewhere inter-region. And whilst I love it, 2-3 days isn’t enough time to explore a region in detail. So instead, I have now learnt how to use weekends to plan a quick but efficient getaway, instead of waiting until Christmas or Easter or summer vacations, when everything is 10 times the regular price anyways. Some tricks include: undertaking long journeys overnight, focusing on smaller, lesser known destinations, and undertaking travel to a large region in two to three parts.

The point is: if you are passionate about something, try to find ways of doing it more frequently than you normally would.

Puente nuevo, Ronda
Don’t be afraid to express your emotions

Time and again I’ve been touched by the Spanish people as they have opened their hearts and homes for me over the course of these months. From inviting me to Christmas lunches and dinners, to reducing my rental expenses, to continuously asking about my welfare- their warmth has never ceased to amaze me. By far the biggest lesson I have learnt so far from them is to value relations and to take time to maintain them. Cultural differences aside, you should never be afraid to give that extra hug, send that extra emoji, smile a bit more, ask someone how they’re doing, and in general make someone feel a part of the community. If we reach out more frequently to those around us, instead of always thinking that we might be imposing ourselves on them, it will improve the quality of life of so many of the vulnerable. You never know who needs you but might be too afraid to ask. And you also never know the last time you might get to speak to them.

Madrid Carnaval 2020

These are the top six qualities that I’ve learnt from the Spanish. Are you someone who has had the opportunity to learn something from another culture? Are you an expat in Spain who has learnt some invaluable things during their time here? Let me know in the comments below, or in my IG 🙂

Cover photo: Calle Cuevas del Sol, Setenil de las Bodegas (Andalucía). https://www.instagram.com/p/B8lzlqloKAz/