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STATISTICS

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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PROPERTY

Why are Spanish homes so dark?

Despite being known for its year-long sunny weather, Spain is the EU country with the fewest homes with natural light, often intentionally. Why is it that when it comes to spending time at home, Spaniards seem to love being in the dark?

Why are Spanish homes so dark?

Spain – the land of sunshine. The country gets between 2,500 and 3,000 hours of sun per year on average, almost double the 1,600 hours the UK gets, for example.

You’d probably assume that finding a bright apartment in such a sunny country would be a piece of cake, but unless you’re renting or buying a modern home, it might be trickier than you realise.

More than one in ten Spaniards live in dwellings they feel are “too dark” – the highest percentage among all EU countries, according to figures from Eurostat.

As far as dark homes go, Spain is head and shoulders above the EU average of 5.9 percent, and higher than other nations with a high rate of gloomy homes such as France (9.5 percent), Malta (9.4 percent) and Hungary (7.7 percent).

At the other end of the brightly lit spectrum, it’s no surprise to see that countries with cloudier skies and darker winters such as Norway, Slovakia, Estonia, Czechia and the Netherlands have homes that let in plenty of natural light, and yet Spain’s sun-kissed Mediterranean neighbours Italy and Cyprus do make the most of the readily available light.

Dark homes are almost twice as common in Spain as the EU average. Graph: Eurostat.

So why are Spanish homes so dark?

Is it a case of hiding away from the sun, and keeping cool during the summer months? Or is it something else? 

Apartment blocks

The vast majority of Spaniards live in apartments as opposed to houses, often in tightly-packed cities with narrow streets.

In fact, in Spain 64.6 percent of the population lives in flats or apartments, second in the EU after Latvia (65.9 percent.)

By contrast the EU wide average is 46.1 percent.

By nature of apartment living, Spanish homes tend to get less sunlight.

Depending on whether they have an exterior or interior flat, they might not actually have a single window in the flat that faces the street.

If the apartment is on a lower floor, the chances of it receiving natural light are even lower. Internal patios can help to solve this to some extent, but only during the mid day and early afternoon hours. 

why are spanish homes so dark

A dark, narrow street in the centre of Palma de Mallorca. Photo: seth0s/Pixabay

Hot summers

During Spain’s scorching summer months, there’s no greater relief than stepping into a darkened apartment building lobby and feeling the temperature drop. 

In southern Spain, and in coastal regions, Spanish buildings were traditionally built to protect against the heat and hide away from the long sunny hours. White walled exteriors and dark interiors help to keep homes cool.

It’s often the case that bedrooms are put in the darkest, coolest part of the apartment, sometimes with just a box-window to allow for a breeze but no sunlight.

Spaniards’ obsession with blinds and shutters

Spain is pretty much the only country in Europe whose inhabitants still use blinds (persianas), even during the colder winter months.

In this case, rather than it just being down to keeping homes cool during the sweltering summer months, their usage is intrinsic to Spain’s Moorish past and the fact that they provide a degree of privacy from nosy neighbours. By contrast, northern Europeans with Calvinist roots such as the Dutch keep the curtains open to let in natural light and because historically speaking, keeping the inside of homes visible from the street represents not having anything to hide. But in Spain, the intimacy of one’s home is sacrosanct, especially when the neighbour in the apartment building opposite is less then ten metres away.

Keeping the blinds or shutters down also has the advantage of making it easier to have an afternoon nap (the siesta, of course) or to sleep in late after a long night out on the town. 

In any case, it seems hard to believe for some foreigners that many Spaniards are happy to live in the dark whilst spending time at home, regardless of whether they’re sleeping or not. 

A byproduct of this? Dark, gloomy homes.

why are spanish homes so dark

Spaniards aren’t fans of airing their dirty laundry, at least metaphorically speaking. Blinds have historically provided the privacy they’ve wanted from their homes. Photo: Quino Al/Unsplash

The long, dark corridors

Spanish apartments have plenty of quirks that seem odd to outsiders, from the light switches being outside of the room, the aforementioned shutters, the bottles of butane and last but not least, the never-ending corridors. 

Most Spanish homes built in the 19th and 20th century include these long pasillos running from the entrance to the end of the flat. They were meant to provide a separation between the main living spaces and the service rooms (kitchen, bathroom etc), easy access to all and better airing and light capabilities. But when the doors to the rooms are closed as often happens, these corridors become the opposite of what was intended: dark and airless.

Navigating these windowless corridors at night is akin to waking around blindfolded.

dark corridor spain

Light at the end of the tunnel? Dark corridors are a common feature of Spanish homes. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Are Spaniards rethinking their dark homes?

Times are changing, and modern designs are experimenting with more spacious, light-filled, open-plan apartments, especially as the Covid-19 lockdown forced many Spaniards to reconsider their abodes. 

It’s also increasingly common to see property ads stressing that the property is diáfano, which means that natural light enters the home from all sides.

However, the vast majority of Spanish homes are still gloomy for the most part, often intentionally.

A combination of traditional building styles, the crowded nature of apartment block living, the use of shutters, the desire to keep homes private, and the long windowless corridors mean Spanish flats can seem dark if you’re new to the country, and with good reason.

Ultimately, it is worth remembering that Spanish society is one that largely lives its life outdoors. Living in smaller apartments, Spaniards generally spend less time at home and more time out and about in the street.

Native to a hot and sunny country as they are, Spaniards’ homes are a place of rest, relaxation and, crucially, sleep.

Spanish people have enough sunlight and heat in their lives; they like to live, therefore, in homes designed to keep cool and dark.

READ ALSO: Why are Spanish homes so cold?

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