Ten things I’ve learned from living in Spain

Por Tom

1. You can be late, and on time, at the same time. “See you at ten” means that at about quarter past ten I’ll be there. These are the ‘ten grace minutes’ which means that if one arrives at a quarter past, in reality it’s only five minutes late, and that’s perfectly acceptable. Aside from that, arriving too early causes consternation, so it’s much better to stick to the rules, arrive two minutes late and brag about how punctual you are, whilst calmly starting your chosen activity at ten past.


2 The Spanish are hobbits. I don’t mean that they’re small and have hairy feet, but that they treat foot with a reverence I have only seen amongst the folk of The Shire. Breakfast, for example, isn’t that small snack that you stuff into your face in the rush to not arrive late to work; just enough to give you the strength to leave the house without collapsing, no no, that doesn’t count. Later, some time between ten and eleven, you get your teeth into the real breakfast. Whether you’re a student at school, or an office worker – there are two breakfasts. Meals are law, and your day, as busy as you may be, revolves around lunch. It is unthinkable that you wouldn’t stop and have a break for a good meal, something the in the UK now doesn’t really exist. We’ve lost the simple pleasure of eating a typical dish, delicious and well-done. The idea of eating a plate that’s full of just artichoke, or garlic mushrooms; that doesn’t come with something else, or isn’t part of a larger meal confuses us. The idea of eating a plate of a high quality ingredient has been lost. Food in Spain is sacred.


3. Everybody loves their village. Whichever village it is. They all have a special something that sets them apart from the other villages. Although they may recognise that their village is a bit shit, no good bars, no cultural things going on, slow internet, but it’s The Village – don’t mess with it.


4. There are many dichotomies that divide the people in two parts. None larger than Mercadona. Mercadona is a sect. Spaniards are divided into those that are Mercadona, and those that aren’t. People are also divided between the groups of Colacao and Nesquik, tortilla with and without onion…always two sides to the story!


5. Speaking of sects, there are, and were, many people that went to school run by nuns, and they pay for the privilege. In the UK that would be the worst kind of punishment.

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6. Swearing is universal and encouraged, the more the better. ‘Nuts’ occupy a special place in Spanish culture. It is so omnipresent that the word has morphed into adjectives, adverbs, and verbs, all based on the noun “cojones.” You can also insult people without actually insulting them. There are insults and insults, and it depends completely on the tone. When you walk into a bar to be greeted by “Hey, arsehole, where have you been, you never drop in any more, shit!” but in a very affectionate way, no problem. However, someone calling you a clown and meaning it, could provoke pistols at dawn.


7. Following the pattern, shit is king in Spain. People are scatalogical by default. You can shit in or on everything; milk, ten, God, basically whatever you want, it’s marvellous.


8. You only speak in English to show off. Hanging out with a group of people from all over the place, it’s inevitable that you end up speaking in English and Spanish at the same time. People have remarked to me and friends a bunch of times “why are you guys speaking in English?! Stop showing off.” To which the answer has to be “because….I am English?” Although the reality is that a lot of people speak English really well, the general opinion is that in Spain, English is spoken badly by all.


9. Spanish people don’t sleep. Although, when I arrived in Spain people told me that everyone else in Europe thought Spaniards were lazy (I actually had no idea, but it was useful to know!). The siesta gives you the impression that people spend half the say dozing, blinds down, mouth open, on sofas next to half empty glasses of sangria. This, however, is not the case. People don’t sleep – they go to bed late and get up early. Maybe the general speed of activity during the day isn’t that of frenetic New York where “now” is “ten minutes ago,” but you’ll never find anyone hibernating, unless they are on holiday, in which case the siesta is obligatory.


10. Friends and family reign supreme. When you go out with your friends, until the wee hours of the morning (the wee hours in the morning in Spain are something like nine the next morning), when you wake up, you must immediately phone you friends, that you were out with, to talk about the things that happened the night before. Families are also very close-knitApart from the tuppers,, the idea of seeing your family every weekend to have a decent family meal (cooked by your mum or your gran if you’re lucky) kids are always most important. Seeing parents sporting Dora the Explorer backpacks as they walk their kids to school always makes me wonder, if it was me, and that was my kid, and I had to carry his or her backpack to and from school every day, would I have made them choose a different one. In the UK that doesn’t happen, kids have their stuff in their bag, and they carry it, they also carry their PE stuff too, loaded up with bags until they look like pack donkeys.


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