To me one of the best things about visiting a foreign country is to experience their customs and see different ways of life.
Of course, the longer you spend in a country the more you learn, and it can be difficult to get to grips with all the differences if you are only on a two week holiday.
If you want to experience a more authentic Spain than sangria and Benidorm, we’ve listed below some things NOT to do in Spain. So read on for our Do’s and Don’ts when visiting Spain…
Eat paella for dinner
If you want to live like a local, one thing you should never do is eat paella for dinner!
Paella is strictly a lunchtime meal and is considered far too heavy and filling to be eaten of an evening. You will very rarely see anyone but tourists eating paella at night, and even then many restaurants will only include it on their lunchtime menu.
It’s also a meal to be shared with family and friends, so you won’t often find the option of having a paella for one.
Walk around in a bikini
It can be so tempting to wear as few clothes as possible during the summer months in Spain, but walking around in a bikini or shirtless is very much frowned upon by Spaniards.
Swimwear is strictly for the beach or pool and you will never see Spanish people walking around towns or into restaurants dressed like this.
In fact, in some places such as Barcelona and Malaga you can even be fined over €100 for walking around in a bikini. You’ll also find that many restaurants and bars will not let you in without a top and shorts.
Order a jug of Sangria
Sangria is a drink made purely for tourists and you won’t usually see Spanish with jugs of Sangria on the table.
If you want to order something similar, ask for a Tinto de Verano which is red wine and soda or lemonade. This is what you will see the Spanish drinking during the hotter months. If you really want to drink like a local, ask for a ‘calimocho’ which is red wine and Coca-Cola.
Jump the queue
It might not look like anyone is queuing when you enter the bank or town hall, but there is a Spanish system in place that you need to know about!
It can be a bit of a strange concept as a Brit who is used to queuing politely, but when you enter a busy place in Spain such as a bank and you see people dotted around waiting, you need to find out who the last person to join the nonexistent queue is.
Saying to the room “¿Quien es el ultimo?” (literally “Who is the last?”) or just “¿El ultimo?” is how to find out who is in front of you in the ‘queue’. Once the previous person has made themselves known, you can sit back and just keep your eye on them so you know when it’s your turn.
If there’s likely to be a long wait it might get a bit complicated when people leave the bank (or where ever you are) to pop into the bakery next door etc, but that doesn’t mean they have left the queue. They will be back and won’t be happy if someone has jumped ahead of them! Only in Spain!
Talk about the Civil War
Unless you are in the company of some very, very close Spanish friends, it’s wise to avoid the subject of the Spanish Civil War altogether.
This episode in Spanish history is still a very raw subject to most Spaniards, with Francisco Franco’s power only coming to an end in 1975.
It’s not something that is generally spoken of public and you risk either easily offending people, bringing up traumatic memories, or starting a very heated debate!
Criticise the Spanish football team
In Spain football is like a religion! There are few things that Spaniards are more passionate about than football.
If there’s a big match on you can guarantee that local bars will be standing room only, and you’ll hear the cheers (or boos) for miles around. Your only option is to cheer along if the national team is playing on TV in the bar, and this way you’ll get on with the locals just fine!
Expect dinner before 9pm
It’s well known that the Spanish eat late, and though it can take some getting used to it does make complete sense!
Lunch is eaten late in Spain, usually around 2pm, and is the biggest meal of the day. Spaniards can take 2 hours or more over lunch, so of course they aren’t ready for dinner until much later in the evening.
In the hotter months it can still be over 30°c at 9pm, and who wants to be in the kitchen cooking at that time? In the summer it’s very common to find families sitting outside to eat their dinner at 11pm once it has cooled down a bit.
Although it might be inconvenient to eat later than you are used to, remember that you should respect another country’s customs while you’re visiting and just enjoy the late nights!
Complain about siestas
It can be very frustrating to find everywhere closed in the middle of the day in Spain, especially when you are on holiday and want to eat, shop or explore.
However the Spanish siesta is a national tradition, and one that some communities stick to very strictly. Often closing from 2pm – 4pm, bars, restaurants, shops and tourist attractions will observe the siesta before opening again later in the day and staying open until late into the night.
Once you have spent a very hot summer in Spain you will understand why the siesta has become so important. So take advantage of having a rest yourself and enjoy a later night like the locals do.
Expect everyone to speak English
If you are in an area known for tourism then the chances are that most people you’ll encounter in bars, restaurants and hotels will speak English. However, the older generation don’t tend to speak much English so if you stop someone to ask a question or head into a more rural village, then the chances are you will need to speak in Spanish.
It’s a good idea (as well as polite) to learn at least a few phrases in Spanish, such as ordering drinks and food, asking directions, and basic greetings. You’ll also probably find that you’ll get a much friendlier and welcoming reception for making an effort to speak the language.
If you’re looking for some resources to learn Spanish, take a look at this post.
Stick to the touristy areas
Spain is an absolutely amazing country with so much to see, so don’t make the mistake on staying close to your hotel for your whole holiday. The same goes for those who move to Spain, we’ve met so many people who haven’t ventured out of their new hometown!
If you have a car, go for a drive and stop in some of the local villages you pass. You’ll nearly always find a church square with a bar where you can watch the world go by for a bit, and even many of the small villages and towns have museums to visit.
If you don’t have a car jump on the local bus, or the tram if you are to the North of Alicante, and pick somewhere new along the route to get off. Public transport is very reasonably priced in Spain so is a good way to explore the area.
Hopefully this has given you some do’s and don’ts and things not to do when in Spain. How many of these were you already aware of?