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‘Nobody listens here!’ Ten common complaints foreigners make to their Spanish partners

Cross-cultural relationships are as interesting as they are complex. Here are some of the ten most common moans foreigners have when talking to their Spanish partners.

'Nobody listens here!' Ten common complaints foreigners make to their Spanish partners
"You Spaniards smoke too much", is one of the grumbles many foreigners make to their Spanish partners. Photo: Zach Rowlandson/Unsplash

Spaniards are a passionate bunch. They wear their hearts on their sleeves, speak their minds when necessary and live life to the fullest.

But when it comes to life in Spain, their foreign partners may soon pick up on cultural differences and Spanish habits they don’t really understand.

From their penchant for swearing to how fatty the food is, The Local lists some of the most common complaints foreigners have about Spanish partners and Spain as a whole.

Let the grumbling begin! 

“You Spaniards are always swearing.” One of the things foreigners notice about Spain is the swearing. Everyone from grandmothers to toddlers seems to be at it. Don’t take offence though – swearing is just not as big a deal in Spain as elsewhere. 

“Everything takes so long here.” Whether it’s organising a new SIM card for a phone, opening a bank account or just buying a light bulb, everything in Spain seem to take longer than almost anywhere else in the known universe, foreigners will often claim.

“Do we really have to spend Sunday with your family again?” Many foreigners in Spain have left their home country to get away from their family, but in Spain blood ties are generally strong and family get-togethers are common. Getting stuck with a whole load of aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws – no matter how nice they are – isn’t necessarily what foreigners had in mind for their Spanish adventure.

“The food here is so fatty/greasy/salty.” Many people arrive in Spain envisaging olives, salads and mounds of fruit. Instead they get lots of fried meat and, well, fried meat. “Yes, Spanish food can be amazing, but the occasional vegetable wouldn’t kill anyone, would it?” some foreign partners often grumble.

“Nobody listens in this country!” Spaniards may have fine-tuned the art of all talking over the top of each other, but for foreigners used to a more give-and-take approach to conversation, the free-form Spanish version can be mind-bending.

“Your compatriots are such drama queens.” A lot of Spaniards like a bit of excitement in their lives, and don’t mind hanging out their emotional laundry. This is tough for more reserved foreigners where feelings are stuffed deep down into their souls. 

“Is anyone ever on time in this country?” While some Spaniards take great pains to never arrive late, others have a more fluid relation to time. Many ‘guiris’ find this less than endearing – at least until they give in and start being late themselves. 

“Why can’t I just go out and blow off some steam?” Sometimes northern Europeans just need to go out and drink too much and make fools of themselves. Unfortunately, this sort of unhinged behaviour isn’t as common among Spaniards, which may mean they take this personally and imagine their foreign partner is up to all sorts of mischief. 

“Can’t we do something different for a change?” Spaniards are master (slow) drinkers, eaters and talkers, and really know how to make a drawn out lunch enjoyable. But sometimes it seems that socialising is all they do. This can be tough if you really feel like trying out something new.

“People here smoke too much.” Spain’s bars and restaurants may not be the smoke-filled dens they used to be but around a quarter of Spaniards smoke every day. That figure is around one in ten in the UK and the US, for example. So it’s no surprise that for many foreigners based in Spain, Spaniards smoke like chimneys. 

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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?