For members


Groundhog Day: Ten things that never change about Spain

To mark Groundhog Day in the US and Canada, a folklore tradition which in popular culture has come to represent a lack of change over time (thanks to the classic US movie of the same name), we take a look at ten things that never seem to change in Spain.

Bill Murray starred in Groundhog Day.
A graffiti of Bill Murray in Barcelona. What would the star of Groundhog Day make of these things that never change about life in Spain? Photo: Josep LAGO / AFP

Of course, many things in Spain have changed over the last few decades. Spaniards are no longer as religious, traditional gender roles aren’t as prevalent, they have become very open-minded regarding certain issues such as LGBTQ rights, and there has been a big jump in wealth and development since the days of Franco’s dictatorship. 

But, there is still a lot that remains the same. Here are just a few things that never change in Spain.  

It still takes a long time to get anything official done

Unfortunately, while many processes have moved online in recent years and certain things have become easier to do, it still takes a long time to get anything official done in Spain and there is still a lot of red tape.

For example, getting a ‘cita previa’ for anything from residency cards to driving licenses and padrón certificates can take months. In cities such as Barcelona it has become so difficult to get a prior appointment for processes such as these, that companies are now selling appointments instead. But it’s not just official documents that take a long time, it’s likely in Spain that you’ll also have to wait months for other things such as planning permission for your property or years to get your foreign qualifications verified.

READ ALSO: Do I need planning permission in Spain and how do I apply for it?

Job insecurity

High unemployment and job insecurity have always been a big issue in Spain and continue to be so. In 1980, the unemployment rate was 12.4 percent, in 1990 it was 11.8 percent.  The latest Spanish government stats for 2021 show that Spain continues to be the EU country with the highest youth unemployment rate at 37.1 percent – ahead of Greece and Italy.

Statistics from November 2021 also show that Spain has the highest unemployment rate overall out of other European countries at 14.1 percent. This, along with a lot of short-term and temporary job contracts leads to a level of job insecurity in Spain.  

Close-knit families

Family ties have long been extremely important to Spaniards. Many Spanish people choose to live relatively close to their families, meaning that they spend a lot of time together. It’s not uncommon for extended Spanish families to get together for meals at weekends, go on holidays together, or even for grandparents to provide childcare while the parents are working.

One reason that Spanish families are so close could be the fact that Spaniards often still live with their parents well into their 30s. According to Eurostat data, Spain is the sixth country in Europe with more young people between 25 and 34 years old still living with their parents. The average age of emancipation in Spain is 29.5, compared to 26.2 years on average in the rest of Europe.

Spaniards generally don’t speak great English

While there are obvious exceptions, it is generally considered that Spaniards don’t speak very good English, compared with their European counterparts. A report in 2020 by the foreign language company Education First, for example, which judged proficiency in English, placed Spaniards at the bottom of the table compared to the rest of the EU. 

Unlike other countries, the number of Spaniards who can speak English has hardly changed in the last 10 years. Spaniards aged between 25 and 34 have been left far behind their peers in Portugal, Greece and Italy, which had similarly low rates of English speakers 10 years ago.

This means that while you may be able to get away with not knowing much Spanish if you do things that tourists do such as ordering in a restaurant, when it comes to more complicated things such as visiting the doctor or dealing with officials, your language skills had better be up to scratch.

READ ALSO: Ten things Spaniards hate about the English language

August is still holiday time

August traditionally has been the month when everything closes down in Spain and everyone goes on holiday, and this is still true today. Don’t even think about trying to get anything official done in August or get any work done on your house, because it will be impossible. Even in major cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, many businesses and offices will close completely throughout August.

There’s no point fighting against it, just embrace the August spirit and join the Spanish at the beach. Let’s face it, in most of Spain, it’s really too hot to do anything else.

Separatist sentiments persist

While separatist movements in Spain have both waned and gained in popularity over the last few decades, it’s true that these sentiments remain in particular regions of Spain. This is most notable in Catalonia and the Basque Country. While the Basque separatist group ETA finally dissolved in 2018 and the latest survey from 2021 shows that support for independence falls to historical lows at 21 percent, there are still many Basques who have separatist sentiments.

In Catalonia on the other hand, the latest survey from last year shows that just under half (48.7 percent) don’t want independence, meaning that there is still a strong movement for it.

The economy is still largely service-based

Spain’s economy is largely based on services such as tourism, hospitality and retail, and is still way behind other EU countries such as France and Germany when it comes to diversifying.

The tourism industry really kicked off in the 1960s and by the turn of the century the 40 million international visitors the country received annually meant it was already more important to the Spanish economy than the waining manufacturing industry. In 1975, industrial production represented 30 percent of Spain’s GDP, nowadays it’s 16 percent. 

Official statistics show that during the last 10 years, over 60 percent of Spain’s GDP came from services, while around 20 percent was from industry and only around 2-3 percent from agriculture.

Crazy traditions live on

Spain still loves its crazy festivals and traditions which began decades or centuries ago, no matter how silly, absurd or dangerous they might be. In Catalonia, pitchfork-wielding devils still spray fire through the streets, in La Rioja they soak each other with wine, in Burgos people jump over babies and in Valencia, they set fire to large paper mâché sculptures. Yes, festivals are just as popular as ever in Spain and traditions remain strong, with the younger generations always getting involved.

Unfortunately, one of these crazy traditions is bullfighting, which sadly remains popular across much of the country. While the sport was abolished in Catalonia in 2012, it is still a strong tradition in places such as Andalusia and Navarra. According to official government figures, however, the annual rate of attendance at bullfights declines more and more every year, especially among young Spaniards. In 2018 the number of bullfighting events held in the country fell to a historic low of 1,521.

Good weather is almost guaranteed

While Spain does get its fair share of storms, flash flooding and even snow, most of Spain generally enjoys good weather. Winters can be cold, but are generally sunny with blue skies, and in the summer, you can almost guarantee that the weather will be good enough to go to the beach for at least a couple of months. According to Spain’s meteorological agency AEMET, the country enjoys around 3,000 hours of sunshine per year. In most of Spain, the summer months are the hottest and driest. Daytime temperatures, particularly in July and August can often reach over 30°C.

There are some exceptions, particularly in the northern regions, such as Galicia, where the average summer temperatures are around 22-23°C.

READ ALSO: Five reasons why Galicia is Spain’s version of Ireland

Food is still very important  

Food remains a very important thing in Spanish life. Family celebrations, festivals and social occasions almost always involve a good meal.

In fact, a 2019 study by Spanish TV channel Antena 3, showed that Spaniards spend an average of €800 per year on eating out and that the Spanish go out to eat a lot more than in other Western European countries, but spend a lot less than nearby European countries such as France and Germany. 

It also showed that Spaniards visit bars 161 times a year, more than the French and Germans who visit bars about 150 times, but less than the Italians who visit 258 times per year. 

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For members


Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Many foreigners in Spain complain that the streets are full of dog faeces, but is that actually true and what, if anything, is being done to address it?

Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Spain is a nation of dog lovers.

According to the country’s National Institute of Statistics (INE), 40 percent of Spanish households have a dog.

In fact, believe it or not, the Spanish have more dogs than they do children.

While there are a little over 6 million children under the age of 14 in Spain, there are over 7 million registered dogs in the country. 

But one bugbear of many foreigners in Spain is that there’s often a lot of dog mess in the streets, squares and parks.

The latest estimates suggest it’s as much as 675,000 tonnes of doodoo that has to be cleaned up every year in Spain.

Many dog owners in Spain carry around a bottle of water mixed with detergent or vinegar to clean up their dog’s urine and small plastic bags to pick up number twos.

And yet, many owners seem to either turn a blind eye to their pooches’ poo or somehow miss that their pets have just pooed, judging by the frequency with which dog sh*t smears Spanish pavements. 

So how true is it that Spain has a dog poo problem? Is there actually more dog mess in Spain than in other countries, and if not, why does it seem that way?

One contextual factor worth considering when understanding the quantity of caca in Spain’s calles is how Spaniards themselves actually live.

When one remembers that Spaniards mostly live in apartments without their own gardens, it becomes less surprising that it feels as though there’s a lot of dog mess in the streets. Whereas around 87 percent of households in Britain have a garden, the number in Spain is below 30 percent.

Simply put, a nation of dog lovers without gardens could mean more mess in the streets. 

Whereas Britons often just let their dogs out into their garden to do their business, or when they can’t be bothered to take them for a walk even, Spaniards have to take them out into the street, unless they’re okay with their pooches soiling their homes. 

There aren’t many dog-friendly beaches in Spain, and the fact that on those that do exist, some owners don’t clean up their dogs’ mess, doesn’t strengthen the case for more ‘playas para perros‘ to be added. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / STR / AFP)

Doggy dirt left in the streets is most certainly not a Spain-specific problem either, but rather an urban one found around the world.

In recent years, there have been complaints about the sheer abundance of canine faecal matter left in public spaces in Paris, Naples, Rome, Jerusalem, Glasgow, Toronto, London, San Francisco and so on.

READ ALSO: Why do some Spanish homes have bottles of water outside their door?

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a worldwide study to shed light on which cities and countries have the biggest ‘poo-blem’, with the available investigations mainly centred on individual nations, such as this one by Protect my Paws in the US and UK

And while it may be more noticeable in Spain than in some countries, it doesn’t mean the Spanish are doing nothing about it.

In fact, Barcelona has been named the third best city in Europe for dealing with the problem, according to a study by pet brand

Although Barcelona’s score of 53/80 was significantly lower than many British cities (Newcastle scored 68/80 and Manchester 66/80, for example) its hefty fines of 1,500 for dog owners caught not cleaning up after their canine friends might be a reason. 

And some parts of Spain take it even more seriously than that.

In many Spanish regions doggy databases have been created to catch the culprits. Over 35 Spanish municipalities require dog owners to register their pets’ saliva or blood sample on a genetic database so they can be traced and fined, if necessary. 

In Madrid, you are twice as likely to come across someone walking a dog than with a baby’s stroller. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

This DNA trick started earlier in Spain than in many other countries; the town of Brunete outside of Madrid kicked off the trend in 2013 by mailing the ‘forgotten’ poo to neglectful owners’ addresses. Some municipalities have also hired detectives to catch wrongdoers.

So it’s not as if dog poo doesn’t bother Spaniards, with a 2021 survey by consumer watchdog OCU finding that it’s the type of dirt or litter found in the streets than bothers most people.

READ ALSO: Clean or dirty? How does your city rank on Spain’s cleanliness scale? 

It’s therefore not a part of Spanish culture not to clean up after dogs, but rather a combination of Spain’s propensity for outdoor and urban living, the sheer number of dogs, and of course the lack of civic duty on the part of a select few. Every country has them. 

On a final note, not all dog owners in Spain who don’t clean up after their pooches can be blamed for doing it deliberately, but it’s certainly true that looking at one’s phone rather than interacting with your dog, or walking with your dog off the leash (also illegal except for in designated areas) isn’t going to help you spot when your pooch has done its business.

Article by Conor Faulkner and Alex Dunham