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