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13 things foreigners do that make Spaniards feel really awkward

Spaniards are generally warm and friendly but there are some things that visitors do that provoke raised eyebrows, shoulder shrugging and sometimes bewilderment, if not outright offence.

13 things foreigners do that make Spaniards feel really awkward
Walking around barefoot in public is a big no-no in Spain. Photo:

So here’s The Local’s guide to help foreigners in Spain avoid provoking sidewards glances and awkward silences.

Shaking hands

Photo: Karelnoppe/Depositphotos

Spanish people always kiss each other on the cheeks to greet each other. It is always 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.

Wearing the wrong sort of clothing out of season

Photo: Dusanpetkovic1/Depositphotos

There are strict unwritten rules determining what to wear in Spain. The winter wardrobe is not packed away until the clocks go back at the end of March regardless of an early Spring warm spell. Short trousers are rarely seen as appropriate unless in the height of summer or at the beach and women of a certain age can be spotted sporting their fur coats in cities in central and northern Spain until at least Easter.

Eating food inappropriately (either early, at your desk, or on the move)

Photo: Daxiao_productions/Depositphotos

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. 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.

Walking around barefoot

Photo: Seb_ra/Depositphotos

You will never see Spanish people walking barefoot. Not at the beach, not walking on the grass in the park, having kicked off their shoes on their lunch break, not even in their own homes.  Children, even tiny babies, always wear shoes. Flip flops will be flung off at the shore line.  Attempting to bare your soles will likely provoke a stern telling off  and a lesson on health and safety.


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.

Drinking too much

Photo: gstockstudio/Depositphotos

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. 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.

Being too polite

The occasional ‘por favor’ will be forgiven, but Spaniards don’t quite know how to react to those (usually British) visitors who insist on apologizing willy-nilly for everything from accidentally bumping elbows to arriving five minutes late.

Being on time

Photo: olly18/Depositphotos

Which brings us to the next point. It may be considered rude in some countries to keep someone waiting but Spaniards will be utterly perplexed if you apologize for anything less than a 20 minute delay to a social meetup. And they certainly won’t understand why you are annoyed when they casually stroll up 20 minutes late.

Not paying for everyone’s drinks on your birthday

Photo: Pressmaster/Depositphotos

This can be very awkward indeed. Remember that in Spain, the birthday boy (or girl) invites everyone else to a drink. Forget to pick up the bill at the end of the celebration and they will think they have offended you.

Asking “aren’t you too old to be living with your mum and dad?”

Expressing surprise when someone in their 30s (or even 40s)  tell you they still live with their mother is a very sure way of creating an awkward situation. Close family ties, mama’s cooking and a tradition of attending the local university instead of moving away mean that many Spaniards remain ‘in the nest’ much longer than their counterparts elsewhere. Add to that years of economic recession and the EU’s second highest unemployment rate which has left a generation struggling to pay a mortgage and it’s hardly surprising they haven’t cut the apron strings.

“Which side of the Spanish Civil War did your family fight on?”

Archive photo: AFP

Spain’s bloody Civil War (1936-1939) between the nationalists of Francisco Franco and the left-wing republicans remains a very sensitive issue in Spain.

After Franco died in 1975, Spain tried to close the book on a dark time with a ‘pact of forgetting’ and a 1977 Amnesty Law which blocked legal punishment of any Franco-era crime. People are still reluctant to pick at these not-so-old wounds. Take this topic on at your own risk.

 Mentioning siestas

Photo: Justyna Rawińska / Flickr

 Bringing up the stereotype of lazy siesta-sleeping Spaniards won’t go down well. In fact, statistics tell a different story though: according to the OECD, people in Spain actually spend more hours at work a year than the Germans (1,665 versus 1,388). There are moves to shorten the standard working day in Spain in the belief that it woud be more productive if people spent less time on the job.

Talking about Gibraltar

Photo: AFP

One last piece of advice. If you want to avoid potential pitfalls then don’t mention Gibraltar. And certainly don’t compare the British outcrop at the southwestern foot of Spain to Melilla or Ceuta, Spain’s enclaves in North Africa. Most Spaniards don’t really give a hoot about sovereignty over The Rock but it can provoke a tense stand off and shouts of “Gibraltar Español”.

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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.


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.


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.


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.