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Eleven things to never do while dining in Spain

The Spanish are a pretty tolerant, care-free bunch most of the time. But when it comes to the dining table, there are a few taboos. Here's a light-hearted list of the gastronomic faux pas to avoid in Spain.

Eleven things to never do while dining in Spain
Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP

Don’t turn your nose up at your plate

Callos. Offal that is super typical in Madrid and Asturias. Totally tasty and worth getting locally made. Just don’t ask what is in it. Photo:  Laura Hale

Never comment on how disgusting it appears no matter how unappetising you find it. Most likely the dish you have been served is a source of regional pride. So if you really can’t bring yourself to try Callos a la Madrileña (Madrid speciality of pig tripe and stomach lining), then insist you have already eaten.

READ MORE: These are the 17 absolute worst things about living in Spain

Don’t ask for butter

Photo: Amastoris/Depositphotos

The chances are they won’t have it or at best you will be given margarine instead. Instead, if you really want a moistener for your bread opt for olive oil. It’s local, plentiful and equally delicious.

Don’t eat too early

Chances are you’ll be in the only one in the restaurant.  Photo: Ulliana/Depositphotos

The biggest no-no when it comes to dining in Spain is getting the timing wrong. Attempting to eat your evening meal anytime before 9pm is considered just plain weird in Spain. Likewise don’t attempt to sit down for lunch before 2pm.

And don’t even think about rushing your meal

Photo: Kopitin/Depositphotos

Meals are social occasions to savour and enjoy. So no eating sandwiches at your desk, and prepare for some very strange looks if you unwrap a bocadillo while on the bus or the metro, or, heaven forbid, while you are actually strolling down the street.

Don’t ever compare the dish in front of you unfavourably to one from another country

Photo: Andreyuu/Depositphotos

Remember jamón serrano is undoubtedly superior to Italian prosciutto, for every French cheese variety, there is a better one in Spain and if you find you prefer Scottish black pudding to morcilla, keep it to yourself. Don’t even mention Italian olive oil or French wine!

READ ALSO: This is what happened when a vegan ordered a meat-free meal on the Costa del Sol

No doggy bags

Photo: igoor1/Depositphotos

A request for a doggy bag will be met with a quizzical look and likely an enquiry into what kind of dog you have. The practice hasn’t really caught on yet in Spain.  

Take it as it comes

Photo: scanrail/Depositphotos

Do not dare to modify served food in any way. You might just get away with adding salt but asking for pepper or, perish the thought, ketchup will mark you out as a philistine. If it is home-cooked food, it may even be taken as an insult. Just eat up and compliment the cooking. (And the best way to do that is to ask for a second helping).

Don’t sit down to eat tapas

Photo: AFP

The bitesize snacks are almost always eaten standing at the bar with a drink in hand. And when you have gobbled it up, whether it be a slice of tortilla or a couple of boiled prawns, it is still quite acceptable in traditional establishments to wipe your mouth with a paper serviette and then throw it on the floor.

Don’t ask the waiter to put ice in your wine

Photo: Big Dodzy/Unsplash

Some foreigners like to add an ice cube to their glass of white wine on a hot summer’s day, but you’re likely to get some weird looks from staff and other customers if you ask for hielo (ice), as vino blanco (white wine) is always served chilled in Spain but never with ice.

Don’t over-tip

Photo: arenaphotouk/Depositphotos

Spanish people do tip, but not always and never very much. It may be standard in Anglophone countries to add ten percent to your bill when served at a table but Spaniards as a whole are happy to leave a few coins, and only if they consider the service to be exemplary.
And last but not least…mind your Spanish
Photo: vincek/Depositphotos
Don’t ask for polla asada (roast penis) if you want pollo asado (roast chicken).

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You can now be fined €2,000 in Spain for leaving cardboard in the street

Two stiff fines handed out to Madrid residents who left cardboard boxes next to recycling bins rather than inside them have brought to attention a new Spain-wide law against leaving waste on the street.

You can now be fined €2,000 in Spain for leaving cardboard in the street

It’s not uncommon in Spain to see large cardboard boxes sitting on the street next to the bins, instead of inside them.

Whether it’s as a result of the contenedores de basura (bins) being full and the boxes not fitting through the slits, leaving cardboard by the side of the bin is something that most of us living in Spain have probably been guilty of at some point.

The alarming news is that if you commit this misdemeanour in Spain, you can now actually be fined for it.

A law was passed by the Spanish government in April 2022, but it is only now coming to light following two cases of people being fined for doing exactly this.

Article 108 of law 07/2022 states that “the abandonment, including littering, the dumping and uncontrolled management of any type of non-hazardous waste puts people’s health at serious risk or is causing serious damage or deterioration to the environment”, and it is therefore an offence.

Article 109 of the same law states that the fine for minor infractions can be up to €2,001, for serious infractions penalties range from €2,001 to €100,000 and for very serious offences penalties go from €100,000 to €3.5 million.

In late September 2022, a man in the Barajas neighbourhood of Madrid received a fine from the Madrid City Council, for “leaving a box outside the dumpster meant for the disposal of cardboard”. The city hall decided that he should pay €2,001.

This is the second fine that has occurred recently, with another woman being fined in Madrid’s Aravaca neighbourhood for leaving a large cardboard box outside the bins, which contained baby nappies she bought on the internet.

She was identified because her name and address were on a sticker on the outside of the box, but she has claimed that it wasn’t her who left the box by the side of the bin but rather one of the building’s concierges who was responsible for taking out the neighbours’ rubbish. 

There is no evidence that towns and cities in other regions in Spain are currently handing out such large fines to their citizens, but Spanish law states they are now at liberty to do so, and municipalities can also implement their own laws and fines relating to incorrect waste disposal. 

Madrid City Council has defended its actions pointing out that it has recently drawn up its own new law for the Cleaning of Public Spaces, Waste Management and Circular Economy, and that those who are fined can reduce the amount by 40 percent if they pay in the first 15 days after receiving the fine.

The aim of this is to have a cleaner city by implementing measures that “enable the reduction of waste generation to guarantee the protection of the environment and people’s health, and to promote a greater collective awareness,” the council said in a statement.

The draft bill is set to be approved in December and includes new penalties for offences such as leaving large cardboard boxes outside their corresponding bin, with proposed fines of up to €750 for not properly recycling bottles or other glass objects.

Madrid also plans to hand out €3,000 to revellers who don’t throw away bottles and other waste from botellones (outdoor drinking gatherings).

Between now and December, when the bill will be approved, citizens can put forward their arguments stating whether they believe the sanctions are too high and if they are justified before it is voted upon by the council.  

Madrid city mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida said he was “surprised” by the high fines but explained that the final amounts will be enshrined in the new decree. He hasn’t indicated what will happen to those who have already been slapped with the higher €2,001 penalties.