10 Culture Shocks Moving To Spain

Culture shock. Credit: Image by stockking on Freepik

Moving to a different country means learning the language and immersing yourself in the culture. Naturally, you expect things to be done differently but sometimes it’s the small differences that are the biggest surprise.

ONE: Multipacks That Aren’t Multipacks

In a UK or US supermarket a multipack is sold as a single unit. It doesn’t matter if you only want one tin of tomatoes, if there’s four in the pack you are buying four. In fact many multipacks carry the warning, ‘Not to be sold individually.’ 

I was surprised the first time I saw someone in Mercadona ripping open a plastic multipack of beer to take a few tins out.  In Spain, multipacks generally have the same price as buying the same number of items individually and it’s perfectly acceptable to split a pack up.

TWO: Putting Toilet Paper In Bins

woman on toilet
Toilet paper in bins. Credit: Image by gpointstudio on Freepik

Some newcomers to Spain can be completely unprepared for the concept of putting used toilet paper into a rubbish bin when going to the bathroom.

If you visit the toilets in most bars and restaurants in rural Spain, the walls will carry a polite sign not to dispose of loo paper down the toilet. 

THREE: Café Bombón

Take a perfectly good espresso coffee and then pour it over a load of condensed milk and that’s a Café Bombón. It’s so sweet it makes your pancreas shrivel in expectation.

Why is this even a ‘thing’? It’s a mystery. 

FOUR: Dubbed TV And Film

Spanish audiences prefer foreign language TV and film to be dubbed rather than shown in the original language with subtitles. It’s only when you hear a guttural Spanish voice issuing out of the mouth of Harrison Ford or Tom Cruise that it hits home how utterly bizarre the practice is.

The roots of dubbing go back to the Franco era. The Law of Defence of the Language in 1941  made it mandatory to dub all foreign films in order to preserve the Spanish identity. It also meant the Franco government could censor anything they didn’t like at the same time.

FIVE: When Good Morning Is Really Afternoon

good morning sign with coffee
Greetings. Credit: Image by Freepik

If you’re from the UK or US you subconsciously switch greetings based on the time.

We use “Good morning” until midday and then we switch to “Good afternoon” until 6pm when “Good evening” comes into play.  Not so in Spain.

In Spain it’s customary to use the “Buenos dias” up until you’ve eaten your lunch, so around 2pm to 3pm, at which point the “Buenas tardes” afternoon greeting kicks in. “Buenas noches” is reserved for after the sun goes down.

SIX: Going To The Beach Is A Military Operation

four sunbeds with umbrella on beach
Family beach day. Credit: Image by wirestock on Freepik

As a British couple, when we go to the beach the packing is light: beach towel, phone, sunglasses, suncream, wallet and book. If we’re really pushing the boat out we may have a cool box with a couple of tinnies in it. 

Not so the Spanish. A family outing to the beach is not unlike the Normandy beach landings, except better equipped. The focal point is the gazebo, which needs to fit at least a dozen people beneath. Failing a gazebo, erecting eight beach umbrellas in a Viking style shield wall against the sun is a good compromise. 

Then there’s the fold-out trestle tables, deck chairs, half a dozen cold boxes, dinner set and cutlery, inflatables, towels, Granny (head of table), pushchairs and dog.

SEVEN: Being Direct

In some cultures, sensitive subjects are approached delicately in order to avoid causing offence. Being asked “Does this suit me?” can be terrifying because it requires a highwire balancing act of not lying, but also not hurting the person’s feelings.

The Spanish don’t tend to waste words and can be a little direct. As an example; a friend asked for potatoes with his meal in a restaurant. His request was met with a moment of silence whilst the manager’s eyes travelled down to his stomach before he was told, “I don’t think you need potatoes.” 

EIGHT: Tipping Etiquette

Jar with coins and label for tips
Leaving tips. Credit: Photo by Sam Dan Truong on Unsplash

If you’re from the US in particular, you are used to tipping waiters and bar-staff, taxi drivers, valets and just about anyone who provides you with a service.

In Spain, tipping is not standard operating procedure. They are, of course, appreciative if you do tip them but it’s certainly not expected. If you do go for a tip then ten per cent of the bill is fairly standard.

NINE: It’s Good To Share

If you go out for dinner in the UK or US it’s often the case that everyone chooses their own starters, main courses and desserts.

In Spain it’s more about food ‘para compartir’, or ‘for sharing’. Watch a Spanish family in a restaurant and you’ll see a selection of dishes being ordered for the centre of the table and everyone tucking in to a little bit of everything. 

TEN: Self-Walking Dogs

Although the law states that dogs must be on a leash in public places, the reality in Spain is that they’re often not. In rural areas it’s common for owners to allow their dogs to wander around the street unaccompanied. Some even carry their own leashes.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Do remember to come back and check The Euro Weekly News website for all your up-to-date local and international news stories and remember, you can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

Written by

Emma Mitchell

Emma landed in journalism after nearly 30 years as an executive in the Internet industry. She lives in Bédar and her interests include raising one eyebrow, reckless thinking and talking to people randomly. If you have a great human interest story you can contact her on mitch@euroweeklynews.com


    • Alan

      16 September 2023 • 10:48

      Only parts of this are true and Spain is a big country and attitudes and customs vary in each community.
      I lived in southern Spain for ten years and for instance tipping was essential and expected.
      Dogs yes, in my area many were free to roam across busy roads.

    • Tony Dean

      16 September 2023 • 16:53

      Never seen Cafe Bombon use condensed milk. Always from a long life pack. Dubbed TV is a pain and I hate it. Not only is the talking invariably amateurish but the acting leave a lot to be desired. Probably have to switch to IPTV to get Netflix from the UK.

    • James binyon

      17 September 2023 • 09:08

      Four dubbing, worse is leaving the original voice volumnn and then talking over it. Then you can’t understand either.

    Comments are closed.