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What do Spaniards miss most on holiday abroad?
By thinkSPAIN Team Sun, Aug 18, 2019
THOSE of you stuck in rainy Britain or Ireland with only the memory of your sun-drenched summer trip to Spain to brighten up your day might be taken aback by this bizarre fact: Spanish people go on holiday, too. Why, you might ask? With the beautiful weather the country enjoys – guaranteed hot summer for three or four months of the year, a pleasant and balmy spring and autumn and a winter that is generally short and just mild enough to be bearable in the south, the islands and on the Mediterranean (and ski resorts to cheer up those living in the coldest parts) – the idyllic beaches, proliferation of swimming pools, and amazing countryside and historical heritage, why would anyone born and bred in Spain even think about leaving it for two weeks at high season?
It seems hard to imagine miserable faces on the return plane when those going back to the daily grind and the humdrum of home are actually heading for Spain. But here’s the rub: Spaniards like to experience new cultures, languages and sights just as much as anyone else on the planet.
Only, sometimes, however much they’re enjoying their break from the drudgery of sunshine and palm-fringed beaches (yes, we know your heart bleeds for them), what they miss on a trip away can make Spanish travellers appreciate what they left behind.
A handful of Spanish holidaymakers answered a survey by national daily newspaper 20 Minutos about what they find weirdest whenever they leave their country – these were the top seven, albeit not in any particular order.
Knowing what Spaniards can’t (or prefer not to) live without also gives you a hint as to what you can expect when you visit Spain on holiday (before you also return home as one of those miserable plane-faces).
What, no blinds?!
Try explaining to a Spaniard on holiday in northern Europe that, even though it gets dark later and the sun comes up earlier in said parts, there are no fixed metal roller-blinds on their hotel or apartment windows. Many a Spanish traveller has reported waking up in broad daylight and getting fully dressed up and ready for breakfast before realising it’s still only 04.00 in the morning. As well as blacking out the room to aid natural sleep (even the thickest and darkest curtains just don’t cut the mustard, they say) fixed blinds serve another crucial purpose in Spain in summer: keeping the heat of the sun out of the building during the daytime.
What’s wrong with ice cubes in coffee and olive oil on toast?
It’s hot, so you need a cold drink, but you could just murder a coffee. Bit of a dilemma in most of Europe. But not in Spain – natives and expats are very used to ordering a hot, caffeinated beverage, even made mostly from steamed milk, and then pouring it into a glass full of ice cubes. It’s called a café del tiempo and you might even find the odd bar that makes the ice cubes out of black coffee.
Also, long-term residents are now completely used to ordering a dry-toasted quarter-baguette, or tostada, and liberally pouring olive oil over it, adding salt for extra flavour; it’s said to be quite a healthy option, with less ‘bad’ cholesterol than butter, and it’s tasty, filling and very cheap.
But try ordering either of the above anywhere else in Europe, especially the UK and Ireland, and see what sort of reaction you get.
Whoops, I forgot to leave a tip again…
Although not exactly frowned upon, tipping in Spain is not a great custom, and huge tips may be welcome but are not normally encouraged as the general view among the public is that it could give employers an excuse to pay less, it fuels the underground ‘cash economy’, which Spain is becoming very anti these days, and it could be seen as insulting to the staff, who get a salary anyway and are not necessarily paid any worse or better than many other professions. Of course, staff are very unlikely to act insulted if you over-tip them – quite the opposite; who wouldn’t? But in contrast to many other, specifically Anglo-Saxon countries where a tip of up to 10% of the bill is actually expected, in Spain it’s customary to leave a euro or two, or just the shrapnel out of your change, and nobody will chase you down the street swearing if you don’t leave a tip at all. Restaurants are more concerned that you enjoy your meal enough to want to come back, and bring your friends and family with you. However, it does get Spanish travellers into a spot of bother when they forget…especially for services not linked to eating, such as taxi drivers, where it is not traditional in Spain to pay anything more than the price you’re asked for.
Everywhere’s closed, and the day has only just begun…
If you live in a town where everything shuts at about 18.00 or 19.00, where you can’t go shopping much beyond early evening and most cafés are closed leaving only restaurants or pubs, you might find a perplexed Spanish tourist in your midst. Even in winter, 18.00 is considered ‘the afternoon’, and you still have a good two or three hours to poke around the shops. Although many offices start at 08.00 in Spain, shops and cafés typically don’t start trading until at least 09.30 or 10.00, so life generally happens at a later hour on Spanish soil. Supermarkets are open until 21.00 or 22.00 and some even continue trading until midnight in high summer. Restaurants can still be full after midnight, and it’s perfectly feasible to get a table at 23.00 (although can be nearly impossible before 20.00).
This said, newcomers to Spain may find it difficult to adjust to shops and other businesses being closed for between two and four-and-a-half hours in the middle of the day, reopening at about 17.30, GP and hospital appointments having to be booked before 14.00 (although now you can do the former online, Spain’s system is far more user-friendly than in many other countries), and banks and council offices closed from lunchtime onwards. And although restaurants open late, in smaller towns, most of them will shut on the same day of the week – popularly a Monday – and cafés and even bars will close by 21.30 except in peak summer season.
But supermarkets are open at least 12 hours a day, so you get the store to yourself between around 14.00 and 17.00.
Remember, too, that Spain is shut on Sundays and public holidays, so make sure you plan in order not to run out of milk at midnight on a Saturday. (Photograph seen on a Salvation Army shop in London).
If you’re from the UK, you’d probably be horrified if a total stranger tried to kiss you on both cheeks the very second you first met – but it’s the norm in Spain, even in many business situations. Personal space is less sacred among Spaniards, not many topics of conversation are off-limits, and everyone’s on first name terms from the beginning (none of this ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’ lark, even when addressing the elderly). Also, there’s no need to be on intimate terms of friendship with someone before starting a conversation with them – there’s nothing odd about chatting nineteen to the dozen with a perfect stranger you meet at a bus stop or in a supermarket queue in Spain, or even joining in with an existing conversation between people you don’t know. When someone first walks into a crowded public building, such as the bank or the post office, they’ll probably wish everyone collectively a good day, and get a chorused reply in the same vein – even though nobody knows each other from Adam.
None of this means they’re on the pull – it’s just friendly. This said, Spanish society is now starting to stake out its comfort zone; if they feel invaded, awkward, or put on the spot, it’s considered these days to be perfectly acceptable to say so and to expect the other person to respect this. Spaniards, like all other westerners, understand that nobody needs to put up with verbal or physical contact they don’t want, whether or not this makes them feel unsafe; if cultural differences mean you’re not comfortable with what most Spaniards consider par for the course, they would expect you to say so and respect your wishes.
Speak up and stop mumbling!
Those pubs and cafés in the UK where you walk in and can hear a pin drop – they’re unsettling for Spanish tourists. Why is everyone whispering? Likewise, as a visitor to Spain, you might be startled by the fact that the bar you’re sitting in is empty save for one table occupied by a small group, and yet you can’t hear your iPod turned up to top whack. Talking loudly and all at once is something Spaniards admit is part of their national character, and travellers who spoke to 20 Minutos say they can ‘always tell they’ve got company from home’ when they hear the top-of-the-voice conversation from the back of the long queue they’ve just reached the front of.
“We’re capable of holding long-distance conversations without any technology,” the author of the report says, proudly.
So, it’s okay to chatter away without moderating your volume when you’re out, and it’s okay to hold conversations in public that you’d normally be expected to keep for the private sphere – nobody else is going to hear you. Just don’t forget to drop back to a discreet whisper when you return to the UK unless you want everyone’s attention on you in the pub.
We do have more than two football teams, you know.
Wherever they go in the world – halfway up Everest, midway through the Sahara and chatting with a Bedouin tribe, gassing with villagers in rural India – you can guarantee that if you say you’re from Spain, someone will get enthusiastic about Barça or Real Madrid.
And these two teams are arch rivals, so the reaction might depend upon which one they mention first.
But there are plenty other teams in La Liga (the Spanish Premier League), and plenty of other sports Spain is famous for its prowess in, say Spaniards on holiday. Maybe the petrol station owner in the middle of the Texas dustbowl hasn’t heard of UD Oliva, though, so travellers from Spain kind of expect it. Although they might try to steer sporty conversation over to badminton (Carolina Marín, from Huelva, is widely acknowledged to be the best female player on earth), or swimming (few women on the water can catch Mireia Belmonte, from Badalona). Or maybe Formula 1 or tennis, if Alonso and Rafa Nadal haven’t already been mentioned in practically the same breath as Barça and Real Madrid. Spaniards might, however, try to subtly turn talk of either of these to Carlos Sainz, the only Spaniard left in F1 at the moment, or Garbiñe Muguruza who, in 2017, became the first Spanish woman to win Wimbledon since 1994.
Spanish travellers are also very used to the joke about how, if there’s a Real Madrid, is there also a ‘Fake Madrid’? And to explaining that the ‘Real’ bit means ‘Royal’.
It’s all in good fun, though, and they really (oh, dear) don’t mind – however much they might miss talking about Atlético de Madrid, Valencia CF, Racing Santander and Espanyol instead of their country’s most famous two teams.
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