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For members

CULTURE

The quirky habits you can’t help picking up when living in Spain

If you've moved to Spain, chances are you have picked up some Spanish habits. How many of these do you do?

The quirky habits you can't help picking up when living in Spain
Photo: perszing1982/Depositphotos
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Kissing people, even strangers


Photo: Simon Blackley/Flickr 

Although the pandemic has put this form of greeting on hold for the most part, Spain’s cheek kissing is an alien and often horrific concept for some foreigners, who would much prefer a firm handshake or, even better, a head nod.

After living in Spain, however, you’ll become accustomed to greeting total strangers in a much more intimate way than you ever imagined.

Fussing over random kids

Stay in Spain for any considerable length of time and before you know it, you´ll be swooning over random babies in cafes, restaurants and on the street. In Spain, children are treated like royalty and it’s not uncommon to see total strangers stop on the street to fuss over babies, pinching their cheeks and smothering them with kisses.  It might be a good idea to tone it down when you go home though, or you might get a few funny looks.

Eating late 


Photo: Swaminathan/Flickr 

Ok, everyone knows this one, but it is true. After living in Spain, the eating times in the UK, USA and practically everywhere else on the planet seem far too early. Spaniards typically eat lunch between two and four and don’t even think about dinner until around 9pm. So going home to your mother’s 6pm dinner might be a little bit hard if you’re used to the Spanish style.

Swearing


Archive photo: Shutterstock

Forget swearing like a trooper, the real phrase should be swearing like a Spaniard. Everyone in Spain, from sweet little kids to frail old ladies, peppers their everyday conversation with enough swearwords to make a sailor blush. So beware, the longer you live in Spain, the more normal you’ll think it is to drop rude words into everyday conversation.

Barely tipping


Photo: Francisco Gonzalez/Flickr

Spaniards aren’t famed for tipping much, not because they’re mean but because there’s no fixed tipping culture here. They might leave a few small coins but more often than not, it depends on whether they received a very good service from the restaurant or bar. After a while, you may also find yourself assessing whether the waiter deserves a tip before reaching deep inside your pocket. 

Treating everyone else on your birthday


Photo: Cat/Flickr 

While Spaniards may not tip, they are particularly generous when celebrating their birthdays, but unlike in other countries where you can expect your friends to buy you drinks all night, here it is the job of the birthday boy or girl to treat all their friends. So, the day you take your own cake into work, pay for everyone’s meal or treat your friends to your own birthday drinks, you know you’ve gone native.

Cancelling if it’s raining


Photo: Fernando García/Flickr 

Northern Europeans are used to living the majority of their lives under a haze of light drizzle, but it rains so seldom in some parts of Spain that a few drops is more than enough of a reason for Spaniards to cancel their plans to leave the house. 

Being direct


Photo: a2gemma/Flickr 

Spaniards have a knack for telling it like it is and they are certainly not ones to mince their words. Being told you’ve put on weight or are looking a bit rough is all par for the course when working and living with Spaniards. Just be careful not to take your new direct attitude home with you if they’re not used to that kind of behaviour, or you might alienate a few longstanding friends when you tell them just how much they’ve aged.

Following seasonal rules


Photo: Rodin/Flickr 

Spaniards are sticklers for following strict seasonal rules. Despite the fact that it’s still swelteringly hot in much of the country in September and even well into October, all the outdoor swimming pools close their doors at the end of summer. Winter rules also apply: even if the beginning of December is quite balmy, Spaniards will make sure they are wrapped up, and Spanish grannies wear their huge fur coats until the official end of winter in late March.

Eating standing up


Photo: Cristina Valencia/Flickr 

While the concept of eating at your desk is alien to most Spaniards, who like to enjoy a proper sit down lunch, they do love to eat tapas standing up and, if possible, crammed like sardines into a tiny bar (another cultural habit the pandemic has put on hold). You can tell the good tapas bars by how packed they are, condensation on the windows and people spilling out of the door onto the streets. After living in Spain you’ll have sharpened your elbows enough to push through the crowds to the bar as well as any Spaniard. And you’ll be comfortable tossing your olive stones, prawn heads and paper napkins onto the floor.

Mastering the use of a fan

Photo: AFP

If you are using a fan – not in a vain attempt at seduction, Victorian-era style, or because you are learning how to be a flamenco dancer – but because you´ve finally realized that it really does provide a puff of a draft to cool you down on a stifling hot afternoon, then congratulations: You have successfuly adapted from a ´guiri’ into a true local.

For members

LIFE IN SPAIN

Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Many foreigners in Spain complain that the streets are full of dog faeces, but is that actually true and what, if anything, is being done to address it?

Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Spain is a nation of dog lovers.

According to the country’s National Institute of Statistics (INE), 40 percent of Spanish households have a dog.

In fact, believe it or not, the Spanish have more dogs than they do children.

While there are a little over 6 million children under the age of 14 in Spain, there are over 7 million registered dogs in the country. 

But one bugbear of many foreigners in Spain is that there’s often a lot of dog mess in the streets, squares and parks.

The latest estimates suggest it’s as much as 675,000 tonnes of doodoo that has to be cleaned up every year in Spain.

Many dog owners in Spain carry around a bottle of water mixed with detergent or vinegar to clean up their dog’s urine and small plastic bags to pick up number twos.

And yet, many owners seem to either turn a blind eye to their pooches’ poo or somehow miss that their pets have just pooed, judging by the frequency with which dog sh*t smears Spanish pavements. 

So how true is it that Spain has a dog poo problem? Is there actually more dog mess in Spain than in other countries, and if not, why does it seem that way?

One contextual factor worth considering when understanding the quantity of caca in Spain’s calles is how Spaniards themselves actually live.

When one remembers that Spaniards mostly live in apartments without their own gardens, it becomes less surprising that it feels as though there’s a lot of dog mess in the streets. Whereas around 87 percent of households in Britain have a garden, the number in Spain is below 30 percent.

Simply put, a nation of dog lovers without gardens could mean more mess in the streets. 

Whereas Britons often just let their dogs out into their garden to do their business, or when they can’t be bothered to take them for a walk even, Spaniards have to take them out into the street, unless they’re okay with their pooches soiling their homes. 

There aren’t many dog-friendly beaches in Spain, and the fact that on those that do exist, some owners don’t clean up their dogs’ mess, doesn’t strengthen the case for more ‘playas para perros‘ to be added. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / STR / AFP)

Doggy dirt left in the streets is most certainly not a Spain-specific problem either, but rather an urban one found around the world.

In recent years, there have been complaints about the sheer abundance of canine faecal matter left in public spaces in Paris, Naples, Rome, Jerusalem, Glasgow, Toronto, London, San Francisco and so on.

READ ALSO: Why do some Spanish homes have bottles of water outside their door?

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a worldwide study to shed light on which cities and countries have the biggest ‘poo-blem’, with the available investigations mainly centred on individual nations, such as this one by Protect my Paws in the US and UK

And while it may be more noticeable in Spain than in some countries, it doesn’t mean the Spanish are doing nothing about it.

In fact, Barcelona has been named the third best city in Europe for dealing with the problem, according to a study by pet brand Tails.com.

Although Barcelona’s score of 53/80 was significantly lower than many British cities (Newcastle scored 68/80 and Manchester 66/80, for example) its hefty fines of 1,500 for dog owners caught not cleaning up after their canine friends might be a reason. 

And some parts of Spain take it even more seriously than that.

In many Spanish regions doggy databases have been created to catch the culprits. Over 35 Spanish municipalities require dog owners to register their pets’ saliva or blood sample on a genetic database so they can be traced and fined, if necessary. 

In Madrid, you are twice as likely to come across someone walking a dog than with a baby’s stroller. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

This DNA trick started earlier in Spain than in many other countries; the town of Brunete outside of Madrid kicked off the trend in 2013 by mailing the ‘forgotten’ poo to neglectful owners’ addresses. Some municipalities have also hired detectives to catch wrongdoers.

So it’s not as if dog poo doesn’t bother Spaniards, with a 2021 survey by consumer watchdog OCU finding that it’s the type of dirt or litter found in the streets than bothers most people.

READ ALSO: Clean or dirty? How does your city rank on Spain’s cleanliness scale? 

It’s therefore not a part of Spanish culture not to clean up after dogs, but rather a combination of Spain’s propensity for outdoor and urban living, the sheer number of dogs, and of course the lack of civic duty on the part of a select few. Every country has them. 

On a final note, not all dog owners in Spain who don’t clean up after their pooches can be blamed for doing it deliberately, but it’s certainly true that looking at one’s phone rather than interacting with your dog, or walking with your dog off the leash (also illegal except for in designated areas) isn’t going to help you spot when your pooch has done its business.

Article by Conor Faulkner and Alex Dunham

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