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LIFE IN SPAIN

Ten things you should never say to a Spaniard

Welcome to Spain: the land of lazy, corrupt macho men. Or maybe not. Here's a list of ten things you probably shouldn't say to a Spaniard unless you want some serious egg on your face.

Ten things you should never say to a Spaniard
Spaniards are an amiable bunch but there are certain comments you shouldn't make unless you want a negative reaction. Photo: rickey123/Pixabay

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 financial crisis a decade ago 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.

Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

“Everything here’s really cheap!” 

With electricity prices and inflation rates reaching historic levels in Spain in 2021, 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 €1,000 ($1,180) per month, Spaniards are not impressed by the fact that many daily costs are rising.

“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.

Photo: DOMINIQUE FAGET / AFP

“Spanish men are all such machos!” 

While you’ll still see plenty of facial hair around in Spain, it’s just as likely to belong to a laid-back hipster as a traditional Spanish macho man. Indeed, in recent decades Spain has attempted to address its problem of domestic violence, and in promoting acceptance of homosexuality, making it one of the world’s more socially liberal societies. 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. 

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).

Photo: Gabriel Buoys/AFP

“Why are you all so corrupt?” 

While it’s true that bribes became as commonplace as breakfast bocadillos among Spanish politicians in recent years, accusing ordinary, tax-paying Spaniards of dishonesty is unlikely to make you any friends. All that money in Swiss bank accounts was taken from the public coffers, remember. 

“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.

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 (but not Latin America) 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. 

“So where are all the sombreros?” 

Sorry people, 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. 

Photo: Ernesto Eslava/Pixabay

Member comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

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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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