Insider tips: 24 things no one tells you before relocating to Spain

9th June 2017, Tom May

Although Spain is a popular place to move to there are still several important things to know about starting a new life in Spain. Insider tips are a valuable commodity when moving to a new country so make sure to bear in mind advice from our expat experts. 

Guiri life

1. Avoid being a Guiri

If you really want to integrate yourself into the Spanish culture you need to learn what a guiri is. Wikipedia defines a guiri (pronounced: [ˈɡiɾi]) as: “a colloquial Spanish name used in Spain applied to foreign tourists, particularly from prosperous countries in northern Europe or the Anglo-Saxon sphere”.

In layman’s terms a guiri is that holiday maker that wears socks, sandals and overly floral tops; is glowing red from sunburn over almost their whole body (excluding tan lines where their sunglasses have been) and is falling over drunk at 6 in the afternoon. In other words, the classic image of a brit abroad.

Although this might be part of the good fun of going on holiday, you’ll quickly want to distance yourself from these tourists when living abroad.

2. Be prepared to make awkward small talk

You know that stranger that you see every day in the lift in England? The one that means you have to awkwardly put your hands and your pockets and stare at the floor pretending that the other person doesn’t exist? Spain is quite the opposite. People enjoy making small talk with you whenever possible. Basic Spanish is a great way to get chatting to neighbours and find out whatever it is you’ve been meaning to find out about your new neighbourhood.

3. Adjust to the Spanish timetable

As you probably know, time is relative in Spain. People are known for being late and there is often a period of grace for 10 minutes known as diez minutos de cortesía. Additionally the infamous afternoon siesta does still exist and is an important part of the day. It mainly takes place between 2 and 5 in most shops around city centres. As a plus shops do stay open until much later in the day, to around 9pm.

Seafood paella

4. Eating 5 meals a day is actually healthy

Although it is well known that Spanish have great big lunches and late dinners there is a lot more than meets the eye with these eating habits. Spaniards actually eat 5 times a day! Starting with breakfast at a usual time before work or school they follow this on with almuerzo at around 11.30am which is normally a savoury snack or sandwich accompanied by a coffee or even a small glass of wine or beer if you’re feeling cheeky. Lunch is later than we’re used to in Britain usually between 2 and 3. Furthermore it is the largest meal of the day, which is why a lie down is often needed after.

Merienda follows lunch with a sweet snack to satisfy your cravings in the mid afternoon (6pm or so). And of course dinner is the last meal of the day, again this is quite late, which tends to be from 10pm midweek and can be even later on the weekends. This is important to know as nothing screams guiri like going to a restaurant at 6 in the afternoon!

Although it may sound like a lot of food the mediterranean diet is one of the best and healthiest in the world so its definitely a case of don’t knock it ’til you try it.

5. Working until 8pm doesn’t count as overtime

The working timetable or horario is strongly integrated with eating habits. Workers tend to start at around 8.30 or 9 and work up until lunch where many workers return home for a big family meal before a short siesta. Public sector workers and bankers often finish their day at 3pm whereas office workers won’t get home until around 10pm or so.

Restaurants also close during unpopular eating times. They open around 1pm and usually close again from 4-8pm before opening for the evening and serving food until late!

6. Food you wouldn’t expect…

It is well known that Spanish food is delicious but the diversity of the food isn’t widely discussed. The seafood that brits, quite rightly, associate with Spain is much more popular in coastal regions but theres also a wide variety of dishes such as cheese from Castilla de la Mancha and hearty stews from Madrid. Make sure you try the cuisine that is local to your area and don’t expect that it will be the same as in your local tapas restaurant back home.

Washing lines in Spain

7. Clothes lines and odd socks

When the world outside is warm and there is only a small chance that its going to rain it is little surprise that people choose to air dry their clothes. Most flats have washing lines hanging jutting out of windows on the inside of the building. Clothes usually dry pretty quickly to from the heat. Just remember to use pegs – especially for socks. The floor at the bottom of residential buildings is almost like a jumble sale for odd socks!

8. Giving over receiving on your birthday?!

In Spain its the norm for you to be the one out of pocket on your birthday. Although family and friends are likely to give you presents you should also return the favour by getting the drinks in, or taking sweets into school or work.

9. Festivals can be a week long and go on 24 hours a day

There are a lot more public holidays and huge cultural festivals in Spain than back home. They tend to take place midweek as well meaning that you’re likely to get time off from work. Often entire cities swell as people come from far and wide to see the festivities. For example the las Fallas festival in Valencia takes place over 5 days and the population of the city trebles. Furthermore there are fireworks all week and even fireworks displays that take place at 1am!

Spanish holidays

10. Christmas is much more understated

Although Spain is a catholic country and it does celebrate Christmas they do it in a different way. The Christmas lights, copious amounts of advertising and carol singing that is common in England doesn’t exist in the same way in Spain. Furthermore you need to prepare yourself for not feeling anywhere near as ‘christmassy’ as you would back home.

Additionally, Christmas is spread over a few days, they celebrate the main day on the 24th and celebrate up until the day of the kings on the 6th of January.

11. No carpets and dirty feet

Make sure you invest in a pair of slippers when you arrive in Spain. Carpets are few and far between which means that the hard floors get dusty quite quickly. Although you may want to bring your cosy winter slippers which can bee a good idea for the winter time, for the summer time you might want to buy the Spanish style zapatillas de estar por casa so your feet don’t get too hot. Alternatively flip flops work well but make sure that you have a separate pair for the beach as sandy flip flops won’t make your floor any easier to clean!

12. Winters are even colder inside

In the warmer areas in Spain properties aren’t insulated well. Although this is a godsend in the summer as it allows the warm air to escape, it creates the opposite problem in the winter. Quite often during the day it is warmer outside than inside!

13. An even more diverse north-south divide

The UK isn’t the only country with a north-south divide, in fact in Spain it is more severe. The northerners are known for being more serious and hard working whereas southerners are more relaxed and laid back.

Park Guell

14. Proud regions and individual languages

Different regions of Spain have different languages. Spaniards often describe each of the 17 communities as an individual country.

Several of these regions have their own languages and are very proud of their heritage so make sure to brush up on the region where you will be living. Catalunya famously want independence and have their own language but other regions which have their own languages include Valencia, the Basque Country, Galicia and the Balearic Isles.

15. One stop shopping

The Spanish love a one stop shop. The most famous example is El Corte Ingles which sells everything from designer clothes to electronics; from fresh food to insurance, from holidays to wedding planning. El Corte Ingles is known for its quality products and great customer service, however this is reflected in the price. For a budget one stop shop you should go to your local Todo a Cien colloquially known as ‘Chinos‘. Here you can expect to find pretty much whatever you need at a low price

16. Pisos over casas

Cities in Spain are often very built up areas with a high population density. One of the reasons for this is that metropolitan Spaniards live in tall apartment blocks in flats known as pisos. It is only common to live in casas when you leave the city centre or along the seafront.

Buildings in Valencia

17. Prepare to change your view on personal space

Sorry to break it to you but that girl who touched your arm in the the terraza the other night doesn’t fancy you. Personal space is different in Spain and people are naturally much more open to breaking the physical barrier.

The same goes the other way, its likely that you will brushed against or moved to one side in the street, this isn’t meant passive aggressively, it simply means that you’re in the way of where they’d like to be.

18. Waiters are hard of hearing and have no peripheral vision

If you need to get a waiters attention you need to shout. This is normal, you’re not being ignored just because you’re a guiri. An assertive “Oíga” or “Ey camarero” should do the trick.

19. Bailando until breakfast time

A night out in Spain usually comes in one of two varieties. Heading out for a couple of drinks around bars or getting dressed up and going to a club.

If you want to head out for a few drinks after dinner then the good news is that most bars don’t charge entry and stay open until 3 or even 4 in the madrugada.

With the exception of the kind of touristic guiri strips you’d find in Benidorm, Magaluf and Marbella you’ll find that Spanish people go hard all night long. Its normal to start the night with a botellon, a kind of predrinks that takes place outside, before heading to the club at 3 or 4. The Spanish party until the sun comes up at around 7 or 8am so its no wonder that they need a siesta.

20. A local contact is invaluable

Find a local contact! Spanish people truly are some of the loveliest and friendliest people you will meet. The phrase ‘mi casa es tu casa‘ comes from Spain and they will often bend over backwards to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, they won’t mind. You’ll have so many questions in your new country and although they might find your outlook novel, they will always help you the best they can.

Tapas in Spain

21. Free tapas with cerveza

If you order a beer in a bar you’re likely to be given a small plate of something. In most parts of the country this tends to by just nuts or frutos secos but in the south if you order a few beers you can make a meal out of the tapas that comes with it!

22. Get used to hearing the word mañana

Yes it is true – administration in Spain is frustrating at best and infuriating at worst. If you add in the language barrier its a wonder why most expats don’t pack their bags and go home at this point. You will be told what feels like a million times that this form isn’t correct or to go to a different office or to come back mañana mañanaBe patient, be assertive and don’t be afraid that someone might laugh at your basic Spanish because whatever Spanish you speak will help.

23. The country shuts down in August

If you need something important doing in August you might have to wait until September. A lot of businesses shut down due to people taking holidays and it being too hot to work. This is the case for a wide variety of businesses in both the public and private sector. The same goes with a lot of small businesses such as mechanics and hairdressers.

24. Spanish cities with no spaniards

Spaniards tend to move out of the city to summer houses during August. The sweltering city heat is too much to stand so the bulk of the hustle and bustle comes from tourists and services related to this. It is common for spaniards to invest in property and have at least one summer house to escape the heat of city living.

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