Ten things you should never say to a Spaniard

George Mills
George Mills - [email protected]
Ten things you should never say to a Spaniard
Spaniards are an amiable bunch, until you press their buttons. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

Welcome to Spain: the land of lazy, corrupt macho men. Or maybe not. Avoid bringing up these topics of conversation with a Spaniard unless you want some serious egg on your face.


Living in a foreign country is a minefield, and it's easy to fall back on easy stereotypes about Spain.

Whether it's comments about lazy work habits, UK outposts (think Gibraltar) or macho men, there are plenty of things it's better to leave unsaid on the south side of the Pyrenees.

So if you want to hold on to your Spanish friends then check out this list of ten things you should never say to a Spaniard. 



"Aren't you too old to be living with your mum and dad?" 

Close family ties, mamá's cooking and a tradition of attending the local university instead of moving away mean that many Spaniards remain 'in the nest' longer than their counterparts elsewhere. Persistently high youth unemployment rates since the 2008 financial crisis and rising rents have also left many Spanish 30-somethings unable to become emancipated even if they want to, so proceed with caution as it’s a touchy subject.

Spaniards are generally close to their mothers, but that doesn't necessarily mean they want to live with them forever. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP


"Everything here's really cheap!" 

With the pandemic and war in Ukraine driving up inflation rates and thus prices in recent years, the odds are good that a comment like this will upset someone within earshot. In a country where many university graduates are 'mileuristas', working for roughly €1,000 ($1,180) per month, Spaniards are not impressed by the fact that their annual living costs are on average more than €3,100 higher than before Covid-19.

Just because it seems comparatively cheaper in Spain to what it is back home doesn't mean it's 'barato' (cheap) for Spaniards. Photo: Lluis Gené/AFP


"You Spaniards are all so lazy!" 

We all know the stereotype of relaxed, siesta-sleeping Spaniards. Statistics tell a different story though: according to the OECD, in 2020 people in Spain actually spent more hours at work a year than Germans (1,577 versus 1,332). As for siestas, almost 60 percent of Spaniards never take power naps, according to a study by the BBC in 2021, so many people in Spain have grown tired of the stereotype.

Few Spaniards take siestas nowadays. Photo: DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP



"Spanish men are all such machos!" 

Whilst beards are still in around Spain, they're just as likely to adorn the face of a proud transgender person as that of a traditional Spanish macho man. Indeed, over the past two decades Spain has attempted to address its problem of domestic violence and promote acceptance of homosexuality, making it one of the world's more socially liberal societies. A 2019 study found that 75 percent of male respondents no longer identified themselves with the macho ibérico (Iberian macho) model.

It’s fair to say that many Spaniards, men and women, no longer want their society associated with chauvinism and traditional gender roles. Photo: Oscar del Pozo/AFP




"Which side of the Civil War did your family fight on?" 

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. 

Spaniards won't necessarily be willing to divulge what side their family was on during the Civil War, especially if they supported Franco. Photo: STF / AFP



"Italian Parma ham is the best in the world." 

It's especially important to never say this to a Spaniard who's wielding a ham-carving knife. Cured bellota ham from acorn-fed ibérico pigs is savoured by many Spaniards with almost religious reverence. Suggesting that hams elsewhere might rival it let alone surpass it is enough to get you chucked out of the charcutería (butcher’s).

Don't mess with Spaniards' ham, or else. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)


"Why are you all so corrupt?" 

While it's true that a decade ago bribes and mismanagement of public funds by Spanish politicians were as commonplace as breakfast bocadillos, accusing ordinary, tax-paying Spaniards of dishonesty is unlikely to make you any friends. Corruption among the political elite has dropped, although former King Juan Carlos's run-ins with the law have made headlines more recently. And while it's true that Spain's shadow economy still exists and plenty of Spaniards do cut corners, they'd rather not have foreigners labelling them as corrupt.

READ ALSO: Is Spain as corrupt as it was a decade ago?

Although prosecutors have closed their probes into emeritus King Juan Carlos I's affairs, revelations about the murky origins of his fortune have damaged the Spanish monarchy's reputation. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)



"Isn't Spain being hypocritical about Gibraltar being British when it has Ceuta and Melilla?" 

If you want to get a Spanish nationalist worked up, try comparing Gibraltar with Spain’s two North African enclaves. Some Spaniards argue, perhaps unconvincingly, that the two cities of Ceuta and Melilla were unoccupied before being Spanish, and that neither of them are colonies like Gibraltar, but rather full members of Spain with representatives in Madrid. A real can of worms this one.

READ ALSO: Why are Ceuta and Melilla Spanish?

Gibraltar is still a touchy subject for Spain, even more so since Brexit. Photo: Marcos Moreno/AFP



"What's with the lisp?" 

Ah, the famous 'th' sound of the letters 'c' and 'z' (and sometimes 's') in Spain. The tongue-biting accent of some regions of the country is often explained by an urban myth that Spaniards adopted it to please a king who spoke with a lisp. Nice story, but completely untrue. In any case, the so-called 'lisp' is only found in parts of the southern region of Andalusia such as Cádiz province and southern Seville, where the 'ce', 'ze' and 'se' are all pronounced with an English 'th' sound.  Telling a Madrileño that they have a lisp because they pronounce zapato (shoe) with a 'th' sound won't go down well as they make a distinction between 'se' and 'ce'/'ze'.

Spaniards don't have a speech impediment, they purposely choose to pronounce words with a 'th' sound. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

"So where are all the sombreros?" 

Sorry people (points finger at American audience), but Spain is not Mexico, no matter how much you might want it to be. You won't see many cactuses here, and you'll spot even fewer sombreros than you would in Mexico City. You're also in for a let-down if you come expecting to eat chili: most Spaniards can't deal with spicy food at all. 

Spaniards only wear Mexican sombreros during carnival, if they're dressed as stereotypical Mexicans that is. Photo: Ernesto Eslava/Pixabay



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Vivvi 2023/07/12 19:01
You'd have to be a fairly rude (or insensitive) person to say most of these to anybody, Spanish or not!
Anonymous 2021/09/04 01:15
Italian Parma ham is one thing and Jamón Serrano is something else. They are not competing with each other and I've never actually heard Parma Ham being mentioned in Spain. The same differences as Champagne, Cava and Prosecco really! Each one has its own home and suits its own environment! Usually when the Spain / Gibraltar discussion comes up, it mentions that the Canary Islands should belong to Africa. The majority of Brits have hardly even heard of Ceuta or Melilla. I get the feeling that this "article" has been around for quite a few years/decades now and is somewhat out of date!
Anonymous 2021/09/02 03:41
All men are 'macho'. It just means 'male'. The word for 'male chauvinistic' is 'machista'. A sombrero is just a hat. It has nothing to do with the Cisco Kid.

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