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LIFE IN SPAIN

Ten Spanish lifestyle habits you should adopt immediately

Those of us who live in Spain, know it to be true: The Spanish have it sussed when it comes to living well.

small child laughs with grandmother in spain
Spending time in the company of friends and family - of all ages - in one of the way Spaniards have of living a happier, more content life. Photo: Juanedc/Flickr

Officially they are one of the healthiest nations and have the longest life expectancy in Europe (soon to be the world) but they also know how to enjoy life and top comparison charts for work/life balance.

So here’s a list of the typical habits you should adopt from the Spanish.

1.Grow your own vegetables

It may not be much of an option for those of us who live in cities unless there is a community allotment space near you, but even the smallest corner of a terrace or window box could provide be the perfect spot for  growing your own tomatoes , chillies or at the very least a kitchen garden of herb varieties.

A vegetable garden is called a 'huerto' in Spanish. Photo: Alex Poulsen/Flickr
A vegetable garden is called a ‘huerto’ in Spanish. Photo: Alex Poulsen/Flickr

But for many households in rural Spain the family allotment, often located in a spot outside of the town itself, provides all the seasonal vegetable supplies, and often enough to share with friends too.

Spain is all about seasonal fruit and veg and with such a great climate in most of Spain – as long as you have an irrigation system in place – growing your own is a fantastic way to save money and eat well. It will also teach you to be inventive in the kitchen when you realise you have a glut of one particular vegetable crop to get through.

2. Shop at the market

For those who don’t have the time or space to grow their own, fret not. You can still enjoy the best seasonal produce Spain has to offer by shopping at your local market. 

Although it’s tempting to shop at the vast hypermarkets on the outskirts of town or pop into the local supermarket Express that have appeared on every other block across Spanish cities, follow in the footsteps of the neighbourhood ‘abuelas’ and visit the local market to buy your fresh produce.

A 'mercado' at the Costa del Sol town of Fuengirola. Photo: Caleb Stokes
A ‘mercado’ at the Costa del Sol town of Fuengirola. Photo: Caleb Stokes

Meat and fish are often locally sourced and come with valuable advice from vendors on how  best to cook them. The green grocers will often through in a freebie for regular customers and once your face is known you’ll be met with a cheery greeting.

The market isn’t just a place for shopping, it’s also a valuable opportunity to socialize and gossip, with the stall keepers and your neighbours, all while you are trying to figure out the queuing system.

It’s a great way to improve your Spanish and integrate into your local community.

3. Adopt a pueblo

Every Spanish city dweller has their pueblo – the land of their ancestors and quite possibly a ramshackle property once belonging to their grandparents that is filled with dark furniture and religious icons.

It is to this town or village where Spaniards return for local fiestas, saints days and to escape the heat and bustle of the city.

Because who doesn't want to have a Spanish 'abuela' (granmother) to spoil them? Photo: Lady Madonna/Flickr
Because who doesn’t want to have a Spanish ‘abuela’ (grandmother) to spoil them? Photo: Lady Madonna/Flickr

Spaniards are full of pride for their pueblo, which is always famous for something – the best tortilla, morcilla or leafy green vegetable – and want to invite foreign friends to visit to discover for themselves why it is the most beautiful spot in Spain if not the world.

We encourage you to embrace this concept and if possible find a village of your own that you can keep going back to again and again.

4. Enjoy long leisurely lunches

It may not be as usual as it once was to take at least a two-hour lunch during the working week but lunch is still considered the most important meal of the day in Spain and it cannot be hurried.

The practice of grabbing a sandwich and eating at your desk is still a rarity in Spanish offices and the culture of Menú del Dia is still going strong.

But it is during weekends and holidays that the Spanish art of lunching really comes into its own.

sobremesa spain family
Don’t overbook your weekends with commitments if you intend to have lunch with Spaniards. Photo: Valakirka/Flickr

It starts when you meet friends for an aperitivo – a vermut or sherry accompanied by some fresh green olives – and continues for much of the afternoon.  Three hours later it is not uncommon to be still seated at the table enjoying a sobremesa – the word describing the postprandial chat with your family members, friends or work colleagues.

READ MORE: Ten things NEVER to do when dining in Spain

5. Take a siesta

For most people – ie those that have jobs –  it doesn’t form a part of Spanish everyday routine anymore but at weekends, holidays and summer afternoons for those whose work adopts “jornada intensiva”   the siesta is an essential part of healthy living.

Not everyone gets to enjoy 40 winks in Spain that often anymore. Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simões/Flickr
Not everyone gets to enjoy 40 winks in Spain that often anymore. Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simões/Flickr

Every Spaniard knows the advantage of retreating to a cool dark room during the hottest hours of a summer afternoon for a quick 40 winks.

In fact, multiple scientific studies in recent years have proven that a short sleep after lunch provides health benefits, including stress reduction, and improves alertness and memory.

But you have to learn how to do it right.

READ MORE: Top tips to taking the perfect Spanish siesta

6. Book off the whole month of August

Most of the interior of Spain grinds to a halt in August. Businesses shut down, restaurants close and the streets are devoid of traffic and people as everyone heads to the coast, their pueblos or failing that as an option, the nearest pool.

shop closed august holidays spain
Don’t expect to get too much important business done in ‘agosto’ (August) in Spain. Photo: marimbajlamesa/Flickr

Don’t be the one that tries to work through August. Everyone else will be on holiday, they won’t answer your emails or take your calls and it will be a struggle to find even a dry cleaner open to launder your office shirts.

August is the month to enjoy family and old friends, to let loose at local fiestas, and most importantly to escape the stifling heat of the city and head to cooler climes.

7. Socialise a lot and between all ages

Spaniards are extraordinarily social, even to the point that is rare to see someone eating at a restaurant table alone or, god forbid, make a solo trip to the cinema.

And there is little in the way of segregation between generations.  Weekend lunches involve all the family, from great grandparents to toddlers and cafe terraces will be filled until late into the night – at least in summer – with young children playing while their parents socialise.  

Expect to see Madrid's Retiro Park packed full of families on weekends. Photo: Hernán Peña/Flickr
Expect to see Madrid’s Retiro Park packed full of families on weekends. Photo: Hernán Peña/Flickr

During fiestas, an essential part of community life in Spain, all ages get involved in activities and no-one is considered too old or too young to have a good time.

8. Be more touchy-feely

Forget about shaking hands to greet someone.

Spanish people always kiss each other on the cheeks to greet each other. It is usually two kisses and it takes place when you are introduced to someone even if it is the first time you meet them.

If the greeting is between two men it’s a thump on the back, or a wave of the hand. Any other form of greeting in Spain will be met with befuddlement.  Attempt just one kiss and you will leave the Spaniards kissing in mid-air and if you stick out your arm for a handshake then expect it to be pulled in and met with the double kiss.

Once you befriend a Spaniard, he or she will be more than will to hug every time they see you. Photo: Joel Conesa/Flick
Once you befriend a Spaniard, he or she will be more than will to hug every time they see you. Photo: Joel Conesa/Flick

So get over your fear of intimacy and put the idea of spreading germs right out of your mind as science suggests that being a bit more touchy-feely could make you happier. Physical contact with other humans produces oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that is central to intimacy and bonding.

READ MORE: Nine Spanish culture shocks that I still can’t get my head around

9. Drink sensibly

Although Spain is full of bars and drinking alcohol is very much part of everyday culture, there isn’t the same culture of binge drinking that exists in northern European countries such as Britain, where it’s not unusual to find a seat in a pub after work on a Friday and stagger out at closing time with only a packet of salt’n’vinegar or a bag of roasted peanuts as sustenance.  

beer wine drinks outdoors spain
Having a pint of beer is not unheard of in Spain, but most people order smaller quantities of booze and drink more slowly than in other countries. Photo: Eric Prouzet/Flickr

Ordering a pint instead of the more usual ‘caña’ raises eyebrows in the expectation that the drinker is on a ‘bender’.  Tapas is considered an accompaniment to drinking and not a replacement for dinner.

The Spanish night out involves touring a number of different venues over the course of an evening, it’s all about the socializing rather than the alcohol consumption.

10. Learn not to be in a rush

On first arriving in Spain it’s easy to become frustrated with seemingly lackadaisical waiters failing to rush over with the bill at the end of a meal or customers at the market stall shooting the breeze with the butcher while you impatiently wait to be served.
It hasn’t been proven, but taking it easy is probably one of the reasons Spaniards live longer than most nationalities. Photo: manuel m. v./Flickr

There’s no point tutting when your Spanish friend arrives half an hour late to meet you for a drink, and don’t get cross when a group of Spanish old ladies block the entire pavement as they stop for a gossip in the middle of a busy street.

Life will be much easier if you just go with the flow of Spanish life, take a deep breath and relax.

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

Do you have suggestions for articles about living in Spain that you want us to write? I’d love to hear from you. 

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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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