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SPANISH HABITS

My Spanish habits that foreigners just don’t get

Do the Spanish have certain habits you just can't work out? Here Spanish author Alberto Letona lists a number of typical national traits or customs that leave his foreign friends bemused...or if queuing is involved, even enraged.

My Spanish habits that foreigners just don't get
Spaniards like to pace along the beach. Esparta Palma / Flickr

1. We are very noisy


Photo: SETShots / Flickr

Noise is everywhere in Spain whether in restaurants, on the buses, or at the beach. In bars the TV is often on, even if people aren’t watching. This makes conversations louder and the Spanish difficult to understand, for non-native and natives alike.

The latter are more resourceful; They will raise their voice even louder to be heard.  

.2. We go to bed late


Photo: Bark / Flickr 

Staying up late is part of daily life in Spain. At home it is not unusual to have dinner at ten and if you go to a restaurant, you’ll find it difficult to get a table before 9pm. At weekends we don’t start going out until at least 9pm and the night can be very long. Work is mañana.

3. We kit ourselves out for sport


Photo: The Pug Father/Flickr 

Dressing in the correct way to take exercise is a rule for the locals. So much so that you’d be forgiven for thinking you were at the Vuelta de España with professional cyclists when you use Spanish roads on the weekends. Don’t blow your horn at them, they would not take it graciously.

4. We like to be in a crowd (in pre-Covid times)


Photo: Allen Skyy/Flickr

The Spaniards are very gregarious. We all go out for a stroll at the same time and usually to the same places. Sometimes with friends, and other times with family, but very rarely alone.

5. We like to party…a lot


Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP

The summer fiestas of every village in Spain are a kind of social event that you cannot miss. This is the place to see and be seen. The younger ones enjoy their first drinks in life, and their parents are most likely enjoying themselves preparing traditional dishes with their friends.

6. We are a contradiction in terms


Photo: AFP

Liberal-minded but conservative in their life style is a description that fits many Spaniards. Even the most politically left wing citizens are ready to take part as a pious believer in the religious processions at Easter. 

7. We pace up and down the beach


Photo: Esparta Palma/Flickr

Pacing up and down the seashore is a favourite pastime for anyone over thirty. Sometimes the beaches get so crowded with people marching back and forth that it is difficult to imagine this activity as a pleasurable stroll. But we do it anyway. 

8. We all want to work in the public sector


Photo: tec_estromberg / flickr

Being a “funcionario” (civil servant) is a very sought after and carefully planned occupation for many. A job for life is often a source for admiration or envy among the different social classes in Spain.

9. We abandon our offices en masse at 11am


Photo: Alda Chou

Mid-morning is the time when everybody working in an office walks out to have a long coffee break in the bar with their colleagues. This is the moment to talk about the trials and tribulations of domestic life. Sometimes if the conversation is very engaging the break can go on a long time.

10. We don’t do queuing


Photo: Garry Knight/Flickr 

Jumping the queue is a national trait. Very few people respect queues in this country. If you are catching a bus, please be aware of old ladies. They are sometimes the most pushy and will try to go first, even if they know that you have been waiting longer.

Alberto Letona is the author of Hijos e Hijas de la Gran Bretaña – Sons and Daughters of Great Britain – in which he delves into the psyche of the British in an attempt to explain them to his own countrymen. 

Read more on his opinions of the British

For members

UNDERSTANDING SPAIN

Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

If you live in Spain or spend time here, you've probably noticed that the tap water tastes pretty bad in some parts of the country. Why is that? And where in Spain is the best (and worst) tap water?

Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

A common query of foreign tourists abroad is ‘can I drink the tap water here?’.

Often these kinds of instincts come from memories of over-protective parents on summer holidays, but fortunately for us it isn’t really a relevant one in Spain.

Despite what some overly cautious people might say, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health.

In Spain there are over 1,200 dams and 100,000 kilometres of distribution network that supplies tap water across the country.

And it is heavily regulated and tested, experts say. According to the director general of the Spanish Association of Water Supply and Sanitation (AEAS) Fernando Morcillo, “it [water] is the food product that passes the most controls.”

Spanish tap water is, simply put, perfectly safe to drink and heavily tested.

READ ALSO: Drought forces water use rethink in Spain

The taste

Reassuring though it is that Spanish tap water is entirely drinkable and regularly tested, it doesn’t change the fact that there can be great variation in the taste depending where exactly in the country you are. 

So, why does the tap water taste a little strange in some parts of Spain when it should be odourless and tasteless? 

Speaking in general terms, water is collected locally in dams and swamps, and then filtered, chlorinated, and transported to wherever it is going before coming out of our taps.

The local geography of this process – that is, not only where you live but where your water is collected and where it passes through on its way – can have a big impact on how it tastes at the other end.

Water treatment also contributes to making it a ‘heavy’ tap water with hints of chlorine, and when it comes to desalinated seawater, leftover magnesium and sodium are common.

If you ask many Spaniards, they’ll tell you that the tap water is ‘bad’ or worse on the coast.

Tap water in places like Valencia, Alicante and Málaga usually has a chemical odour and taste and many locals prefer bottled water.

Why is that? After the filtering process, water on the way to the coast can pick up more sediment and chemicals. The taste of tap water has a lot to do with the terrain it is collected in and the type of earth and rock it passes through on the way to your house.

Let’s take the tap water in Catalonia, for example, which comes from one of two main sources: the river Ter and the river Llobregat.

The Ter has low levels of contamination, but the Llobregat does not. Therefore, if you drink water somewhere on the banks of Llobregat, it will have more of a noticeable chemical flavour than water from the Lobregat. 

Many people who live in Madrid swear they have the best tap water in Spain. Although not quite the best in the country, Madrileños are right that it’s better than most and it comes down to where the water passes through.

Unlike in Catalonia, Madrid’s Sierra de Guadarrama has an advantage over other areas because the stone is mostly made up of granite, which better facilitates the filtration of minerals.

tap water safe spain

Despite what some overly cautious people might say, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health. Photo: Kaboompics/Pixabay.

Where the predominant rock in the earth is more calcareous, it will generally taste worse, since limestone is soluble and produces a very ‘hard water’ that doesn’t taste as good. That’s why the tap water in areas such as Alicante, Valencia and Murcia has a worse flavour, plus the fact that they are all coastal areas.

Talking in very general terms, if you were to draw an imaginary line that ran from Andorra diagonally across Spain all the way down to Cádiz, the ‘soft’ or better tasting tap waters will be the north of the line and the ‘harder’ waters the south and east of the line.

There are some exceptions, of course, depending on local geography and filtration processes. 

The best and worst

Spain’s consumer watchdog, the Organisation of Consumers and Users (OCU), took samples of the tap water in 62 municipalities across Spain and had them analysed for their degree of mineralization and ‘hardness’, their hygienic quality, and level of possible contaminants. They then produced a report ranking the results

So, where in Spain has the best quality tap water and which has the worst?

The best

Despite what many Madrileños will tell you, Spain’s best tap water isn’t in Madrid. According to the OCU’s testing, the highest quality tap water in Spain was found in:

  • Burgos – Tap water in the northern Castile and León municipality had very few minerals, no lime no contaminants of any kind.
  • San Sebastián – Another northern area, San Sebastian in Basque Country has water with very light mineralization and is excellent in all hygiene and pollution parameters.
  • Las Palmas – Surprisingly, despite being on an island, Las Palmas de Canarias snuck into the top three.

Generally speaking, and as outlined above, the broader Levant coastal area, as well as the Spanish islands, are generally the areas where locals say the tap water isn’t quite as good.

The worst

And what about the worst?

  • Lebanza – In Lebanza, Palencia, the OCU found the presence of E. Coli, an indicator of fecal and recent contamination, and was generally found to have a very poor water quality.
  • Ciudad Real: Tap water in the Castilla-La-Mancha city had traces of trihalomethanes, a substance that comes from the combination of chlorine with the organic matter of water during water purification. 
  • Palma de Mallorca: Hardly surprising as it’s an island, but the water in Palma de Mallorca proved to very hard and very mineralized, which gives a bad taste. The most worrying thing, though, was that the OCU’s testing found that it contained 26 mg/litre of nitrates. Inside the stomach, nitrates are transformed into nitrites, which can cause serious health problems for children.
  • Barcelona, Huelva and Logroño: all cities on or close to the coast, the OCU found a high presence of aerobic microorganisms in the water in all three.
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