Let me share my reflections on Spanish culture and local habits. These are my 10 Spanish habits one might eventually pick up in Spain, or at least I did. Relatable, dear Spanish expats?
Living in Spain
Let me admit that despite my 10+ expat years in Spain, I update the blog section Life in Spain less than I probably should. Traveling non-stop across the country gives me lots of inspiration to talk about new hidden gems, but less time to share insider stories from my daily life in Spain.
So, I finally took time to reflect on how living in Spain has actually changed me and my routine. If you ever plan to live in Spain for more than a few months – you definitely should take this list seriously. I recall it actually being one of the first questions back when I had my interview for getting Spanish nationality.
Most of the Spanish habits are extremely different from the rest of EU counties. While some of them still feel strange to me, the majority are almost impossible for expats not to pick up. Living in Spain is not only about location, it is totally about lifestyle. Like my Spanish in-laws like to say “Trabajamos para vivir, no vivimos para trabajar” – we work to make a living, we do not live to work, e.g a person is not supposed to live in order to simply pay bills and die.
The famous stereotype about Spanish siesta and fiesta is actually a part of the national culture. But this national culture has quite a few other lesser-known attributes that locals know of.
10 Spanish Habits You Might Eventually Pick Up in Spain
Siesta means a nap. Although many Spanish don’t sleep in the middle of the day after lunch, there are some that actually do (especially those from the older generations). My father-in-law religiously does a 30min-long nap at lunchtime and assures it helps him to recover and be more efficient in the afternoon.
Additionally, most of the small shops and businesses in Spain close during lunchtime for siesta. So many people who are not into midday sleep can still dedicate this time to their families and hobbies. After siesta many return to work till 8-9 p.m. With years you get so used to this sacred siesta time, that you automatically arrange all your plans, calls, and daily errands before 13.30 / 14.00 p.m. or after 17.00 p.m: as if time actually stopped in between.
As Ernest Hemingway said: ” There is no nightlife in Spain. They stay up late but they get up late. That is not nightlife. That is delaying the day”.
So, dinner in Spain starts around 9.30 p.m, which has honestly never worked for me. Very much like the Spanish ”delaying of the day”, as I love waking up with the sun and beginning the day with a tasty breakfast.
Nevertheless, on the days we want to go out – late dinners are not optional. I just assume the fact that I will need to go to bed late and maybe even skip my favorite breakfast part (as I simply won’t be hungry in the morning). But the truth is that many expats in Spain (especially those who enjoy nightlife) easily pick the habit of late dinners. Many admit that they even enjoy life more this way.
Football in Spain is a second religion. Most of the Spaniards are fans of their local football club and then either Barca (FC Barcelona) or Madrid (FC Real Madrid). I used to like football before I moved in Spain, but expats who don’t (but still surround themselves with locals) can’t help picking up the football details and names.
It is also one of the safe topics the Spanish talk about instead of politics, for instance. Yet I wouldn’t call it “a safe topic”, as the last time I went to Camp Nou for el clasico (a match between Barcelona And Real Madrid) it felt so tense. Most of the fans take it way too seriously during important games.
No jokes, most of the Spaniards play lottery regularly. Especially over the Christmas holidays – La Loteria de Navidad and La Loteria del Niño. There are actually quite a few lotteries in Spain all year round – Euromillon, La Primitiva, La Bonoloto, El Gordo, Quintuple plus, La Quiniela, and others.
It is typical for a group of friends to buy at least one lottery ticket in common over the winter holidays. At our school, they also sold charity lottery tickets for Christmas. While having your meal in a restaurant you can be often approached by a lottery salesman.
While I honestly don´t like lotteries, I should admit that no one actually cares lol – quite a few times my in-laws presented us with a lottery ticket during family holiday reunions.
Paella on Sundays
While Paella is officially a typical dish of the Valencia region, you can find lots of Spanish families sharing this traditional meal across the whole country on Sundays. During my years of Spanish travels, I have surprisingly met way too many people who adopted this habit even in the Northern regions of Spain.
While almuerzo means a mid-morning snack, for many Spaniards it actually replaces breakfast. Almuerzo is not only a meal it is a Spanish social ritual. In the region of Valencia, the almuerzo culture is so huge, that I´ve put all the details in a separate post.
Watching San Fermin
One of the top festivities in Spain, San Fermin (6-14th July), involves the daring run with bulls described in the famous Hemingway novel of 1926 ”The Sun Also Rises”. The celebration takes place in the city of Pamplona, Navarra.
It is typical across the whole of Spain to watch encierro around 8 am every morning during San Fermin. That´s to say – there are many people across Spain against bullfights, especially within the big cities. But in villages, this tradition still prevails as people gather with friends, and relatives to watch San Fermin Festival. Almost every local bar in Valencia serving almuerzo will have a TV on for encierro.
Grapes on New Year´s Eve
One of the popular Spanish habits is eating 12 grapes with each of the clock bells striking midnight on December 31. Even if you´re planning to go out for New Year´s Eve – the restaurant will provide you with 12 grapes. You get so used to this grapes-eating tradition that you can´t imagine the beginning of the year without grapes.
Fiestas and Puentes
A large number of festivities in Spain provide locals with lots of opportunities to enjoy an abundant social life, as well as spend time with their families. Along with national holidays, every small town in Spain has at least a week of local celebrations per year. Friday and Saturday evenings are busy at most of the bars and restaurants. After the late dinner, nightclubs usually fill up around 3 p.m.
Puentes are the Spanish so-called long weekends. If translated from Spanish it means a bridge and refers to the day between a holiday and a weekend. Many Spaniards also take it as a day off work. So by bridging these two time periods together people get a long weekend which is a great opportunity to have a mini-vacation.
Years ago my husband used to have a 9-to-5 job and most of our first Spanish road trips and weekend getaways in Spain were possible because of this puente concept.
Meals with a glass of wine and daytime drinking
People who are not used to daytime drinking, get ready for this to change in Spain. The Spanish social character together with the worldwide famous La Rioja made a glass of wine an unmissable attribute at lunch, dinner, or even almuerzo in Spain.
Not only is Spain one of the top wine producers, but a lot of it is also being consumed within the country. Nevertheless, you´ll rarely find a drunk Spaniard in a restaurant. Meals are traditionally accompanied by a glass of wine.
The concept of wine drinking in Spain goes along with enjoying the small things in life and knowing when to stop. If you are eating with your partner ordering una copa de vino de la casa (a glass of house wine) is quite usual, or for a group of people sharing a meal a bottle of Spanish wine is often a must.
I should admit that I got to like this Spanish habit over the years. Being served well just because you’re a guest, rather than in return for your tips, feels much more genuine and welcoming.
It is true that, for instance, in the States waiters largely depend on tips due to their low salaries, and the no-tips policy is not applicable. But still, I love way more the Spanish tipping system. You usually leave 1-2 euros for tips and get a grateful nod from a waiter/owner. Simply because no one is expecting you to do even this little.
What about you? How do you feel about these Spanish habits?