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CHRISTMAS

Ten resolutions to make the most of life in Spain in 2018

Stuck in a Spain-sized rut? Need to add some sparkle to your life in 2018? The Local offers you ten easy-to-achieve resolutions that will make the coming year in Spain one to remember.

Ten resolutions to make the most of life in Spain in 2018
Photo: Quintanilla/Depositphotos

1. Improve your Spanish (or Catalan or Basque etc)


Photo: The LEAF project/Flickr

If you’ve decided your Spanish is already good enough, or that the language is just too hard, now is the time to get out of your comfort zone. Buy a book, get an intercambio (language exchange partner), takes classes, or just watch more Spanish television: whatever you do, stop putting it off and take the next step .

If you're looking to learn some offbeat vocabulary a class might not teach you, perhaps start with our list of 'false friends' you need to watch out for when speaking Spanish.

And if you want to work on sounding a bit more local when you speak, try these outrageous, rude expressions.

2. Take up the sport of padel: 

 
You've probably spotted them around Spain — strange half-sized tennis courts with wire mesh fences. Welcome to the wonderful world of padel. Part-tennis, part-squash, this is a great, fun game. Why not join a club, improve your fitness and meet some Spaniards at the same time?

3. Cook up a storm: 


Photo: Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP

Make 2018 a culinary watershed by learning how to make a new Spanish dish every month of the year. Set yourself the target of making a sublime salmorejo, a terrific tortilla and perfect pincho. Then invite your friends over and amaze them with your cooking prowess.

You may not be able to compete with some of the world's top chefs who reside in Spain, but at least there is plenty of inspiration. And while it's still chilly, cold weather tapas could be a good place to start on your culinary education.

4. Volunteer: 


Photo: Josep Lago/AFP

One of the few positives to come out of Spain's economic crisis is a renewed passion among Spaniards for volunteering, or giving back something to the community. You could try working at a local soup kitchen or a food bank. Or you might want to volunteer with Age Concern España which helps older English-speaking people living in Spain.

And there are also many opportunities to get involved in helping newly arrived refugees in the country through donations, volunteering and more. Madrid for Refugees holds regular fundraising events. 

5. Walk (or cycle) the Camino de Santiago:


Photo: Miguel Riopa/AFP

Say Camino de Santiago and most people think of the 800km 'French Way' from southern France to the city of Santiago de Compostela. But you can start the route from pretty much everywhere in Spain, with major routes linking Seville, Madrid and Barcelona with the pilgrimage city. You can decide to do just part of the trail too. So whether your motives are religious, spiritual, or just sightseeing, this is a great way to experience Spain.

Just follow the signs and don't get lost like this British couple

6. Learn to do something typically Spanish:

Photo: Arnaud Guillaume/AFP

Make 2018 your year for learning something unique to Spain. This could be anything from getting to grips with the fine art of slicing jamón to learning how to pour cider the way they do in Asturias. Or maybe you want to try flamenco dance or guitar. Take a course and get a whole new perspective on Spain.

7. Head to a crazy Spanish festival:


Photo: Rafa Rivas/Flickr

You’ve seen all the pictures and you've heard the stories, but you’ve never quite managed to get there. So why not take the plunge in 2018? With everything on offer from getting splattered with tomatoes at the Tomatina festival to watching people swing from the necks of dead ducks in in the Basque fishing town of Lekeito, there is a wacky Spanish fiesta for everyone.

READ MORE: 12 epic festivals to attend in Spain in 2018

8. Read Don Quixote:


Photo: Davidd/Flickr

Yes, Cervantes' classic novel about the The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha is hundreds of pages long. Yes, it’s a serious piece of literature. And yes, most Spaniards have never actually read it.
 
But this story of this genius/fool on a personal crusade to bring back chivalry is also seriously fun. One hundred of the world’s top authors have also called it the best book of all time.
 
So whether you read it in English or Spanish, just read it.

9. Get off the beaten track:


Photo: the secret valley/Wikimedia Commons

Think you've been everywhere in Spain? Think again. Why not use 2018 to start exploring some of Spain's lesser known regions. Take a trip to the wetlands of the Ebro Delta or visit the stunning castle of Gormaz in lonely Soria province. Or you could check out some of the places awarded as the Most Beautiful Towns in Spain in a ranking this year.

We also recommend stopping by small, undiscovered villages, or perhaps some quaint seaside ports. And don't forget about Spain's 44 different Unesco World Heritage sites.

10. Meet the love of your life?


Photo: MandyGodbehear/Depositphotos

Or at least, have some fun along the way. 

Navigatating the dating scene can be a minefield especially if you are looking for love in a culture different to your own. But don't let that put you off. Follow the Local's dating guru Sally Fazakerley's tips to dating online in Spain.

MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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