No new experience leaves you unchanged, and moving to a new country is no different. You’ll discover fresh ways of seeing the world, learn about other cultures and customs, and maybe even pick up another language or two. On January 8th 2021, I’ll have been living in Barcelona for 5 years, so today I’m sharing five ways moving to Spain changes you. You might be able to relate to some of them, especially if you’re British or come from northern countries.
1. You actually look forward to grey and rainy days
Allow me to explain.
One of the main reasons many Northerners decide that moving to Spain’s for them is the weather: Spain is one of the sunniest countries in Europe. The aptly named Costa del Sol along Spain’s southern coast enjoys over 320 days of sunshine a year, and sunseekers will be pleased to know that even further north, Barcelona basks in around 2,534 hours of sunshine per year. To put that into perspective, Glaswegians get less than half of that.
And it’s not just sunny, it’s warm too. Barcelona reaches daily highs of at least 20°C for most of the year and people start to complain about it being nippy at anything below that. Meanwhile in Scotland, on those rare summer days when temperatures reach the dizzying heights of 17°C, it’s declared perfect BBQ weather, students skip lectures to frolic in the sun, and the newspapers warn of heat waves if it approached 25°C.
Because of this, it’s incredibly easy identify the guiris in Spain. Coming from Northern Europe, it’s so tempting to try and tank up a year’s worth of sun on your Spanish holiday, so if you see anyone as red as a lobster, but still steadfastly sunbathing, chances are they’re not Spanish.
This slightly unhealthy attitude to the sun soon disappears when you move to Spain, simply because it’s gloriously sunny almost all the time. You’ll probably still feel guilty about staying at home on a sunny day and “wasting” the sun. After all, you’ve been taught all your life that it’s a precious resource to be taken advantage of whenever possible. But you’ll soon become a Spanish sun squanderer. One fine sunny day you’ll just really fancy a long bath, or a day in your PJs at home. And you’ll do it, because almost every day’s a blue sky day in Spain. That’s how it starts.
Then you’ll actually start looking forward to one of Spain’s occasional grey and wet days when you can stay cosy inside, guilt-free. It’s so refreshing to experience one of the rare days of rain, and in Barcelona at least, when it rains, it pours. No mild drizzle here, it’s thunderstorms and torrential downpour or nothing.
Now, if Spaniards think Northern Europeans are crazy when it comes to sun, Spaniards are crazy when it comes to rain. Don’t ever make plans with a Spaniard if it rains! All plans will be cancelled. The streets become deserted and people will scatter like drowning rats. Cars will be abandoned at the office for fears of driving in the rain and taxis will become impossible to find. Nobody would ever leave the house again if you had that attitude in the UK.
So you have two equally wonderful choices when you have a grey and cloudy day in Spain. Stay at home nice and snug and enjoy the change in weather, or venture out and find your favourite restaurants and bars completely empty as the locals hide at home! ¡Viva la lluvia!
2. You think more than 2 Euros for a coffee is far too expensive
It’s no secret that the cost of living in Spain compared to many Northern European countries is considerably lower. Almost anything you can think of (with a few notable exceptions including internet, McDonalds meals and fizzy drinks) is cheaper in Spain – eating out, transport, childcare, clothing, rent … and the naughty things like alcohol and cigarettes are significantly cheaper too. Your average 20-pack of cigarettes costs around 5 Euros. An excellent bottle of wine? Also 5 Euros. In the UK, you’d be hard pressed to find bottles of wine that cost the equivalent of 5 Euros or under that don’t taste like student hangovers and sadness. Plus, the price-quality ratio in Spain is so good that wining and dining out is extremely affordable for everyone.
Of course, Spanish wages are also comparatively low. The average monthly salary in Spain after tax is almost 40% lower than the UK (with the exception of city wages, which are considerably closer to the UK average). In any case, your money goes a long way in Spain. Take coffee for example. My local café in Barcelona’s city centre charges €1.30 for a decent café con leche.
So now when I’m charged £3.50 for my soy latte in Britain, I’m left outraged and shaken. And don’t even get me started on alcohol prices! £7 for a glass of prosecco down the pub used to seem quite reasonable, but now that I can get an entire bottle of locally produced cava for €3 in my local supermarket, spending more than double that for one glass is daylight robbery. So, sorry British friends if I seem like Ebenezer Scrooge this Christmas, it’s just that the prices give me a cardiac arrest nowadays.
3. You stop saying “please” and “thank you”
Brits are famous for their, let’s face it, often excessive use of “please” and “thank you”.
It starts from birth. As a child, you’re taught to say these words in almost every imaginable circumstance – anytime you’re given something really. We then toss these words around carelessly, even when we don’t really mean them.
This contrasts with Spain where you only rarely utter the words “please” and “thank you”. Because of this, I thought people were extremely rude when I heard customers in bakeries barking “give me a croissant”, with no please in sight.But it turns out it’s not rude at all. In Spanish it’s often a lot more about the tone of voice you use rather than your words. So if you tell someone “give me a croissant” in a light, friendly manner with a smile, it will sound perfectly polite.
What’s more, I get the impression that when paying for a service, Spaniards have the mindset that you’re a paying customer, so you give an order, you don’t make a request. Probably because of this, my non-British friends are always shocked to learn that in the UK you say “thank you” to the driver when you get off a bus. It’s assumed that because they’re getting paid to do their job, that’s thank you enough. This is also why saying “please” and “thank you” everytime you order food or you’re brought a dish is actually quite amusing for Spanish restaurant staff.
So omitting “please” and “thank you” won’t be seen as rude, as long as you intonate properly. You’ll just reserve those words for occasions when they’re more heartfelt.
4. You become more assertive and stop apologising as much
Coming from the UK, I’m used to people apologising all the time (around 8 times a day on average), even if they haven’t done anything wrong. When someone bumps into you, you’ll say sorry. If your meal’s freezing cold in a restaurant you’ll apologetically complain– “I’m really sorry, but my food is a bit cold”. If someone is sitting on your reserved seat on the train – “I’m so sorry, I think you’re in my seat”. The list could go on.
The Spanish don’t use the word “sorry” as flippantly as Brits. Instead, it seems apologising is reserved for times when you are truly remorseful for something more serious.
This came as a shock to me when I first moved here and saw people were reluctant to apologise for the most trivial of things, like serving you a bad drink or bumping into you. After all, it doesn’t cost anything to say sorry, right? However, I’ve since discovered firsthand that apologising in Spain, far from defusing a confrontational situation, is an admission of guilt and invites others to become more justified in their annoyance and anger, turning you into an easy target. Because of this, apologising, and thereby leaving yourself open to blame, seems to be avoided at all costs.
The upshot of all this is that in Spain you will learn to be more assertive. No pussyfooting around here, apologising left, right and centre for things you may or may not have done. And when you need to make a genuine complaint about something, you have to learn to demand exactly what you want and not to apologise. After all, “quien no llora, no mama”, meaning “if you don’t cry, you don’t get (breast-)fed”. Or as we say in the North of England “shy bairns get nowt”.
5. You gain a really warped sense of time
As explained in my A-Z of Spain, timings in Spain are very special. It’s common to have lunch at 3pm, finish your average office job at 7pm or later, then have dinner at 9 or 10pm, and go to sleep from midnight.
The day also seems to be divided up differently too. To give you just one example of the amusing misunderstandings it can cause, when I first arrived in Spain, I enquired about Spanish classes in various language schools. I was working in the evenings and needed a class during the day, which was a little harder to find. I was delighted when one language school’s receptionist told me that they offered a number of classes at various times por la tarde (“in the afternoon”). That was great I responded, and asked if they had any free spots at 2pm. She stared at me incredulously for a moment before stating “No, just in the afternoon, from 5pm onwards”.
You see, I always thought of the day being divided into morning, afternoon, evening and night time. But in Spain things seems to belong to just two categories, la mañana, which stretches on until lunchtime (which could be anywhere between 12 and 4pm) and la tarde, whichlasts from after lunch until your last meal that day. So when your Spanish friend says they’ll meet you por la tarde, you’d better double check exactly what they mean. 5 years later I’m used to Spain’s delayed timings and now going out for dinner at 7pm seems incredibly early. And I no longer bat an eyelid when friends suggest meeting up for a drink and dinner, “anytime after 10pm”.
It will be interesting to see if the country’s current Covid curfew and trend towards working from home will change Spain’s late-night culture.
Other Ways Moving to Spain Changes You
Of course, there are many ways moving to Spain changes you. These were just the five main changes which occured to me. I asked other migrants living in Spain for their ideas and I’ll finish up with a few of their experiences:
“You start saying hello to everyone when you walk into shops and banks in your home country, much to everyone’s bewilderment.”
“You learn the skill of conducting conversations when the ambient noise is incredibly high.”
And related to that:
“Everyone talking at once and learning to treat it like an orchestra and single out voices to listen to”.
“Standing at a bar to order drinks in your home country and then paying for them before you’ve had a sip feels incredibly uncivilised.”
“You can’t bear centrally heated homes when you visit your relatives in colder climes.”
“The importance of simple local tomatoes and lettuce that taste of sunshine – I really miss those when in the UK”.