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Why does the birthday person pay for everyone’s food and drinks in Spain?

One of the traditions that foreigners in Spain don’t get is why the birthday boy or girl is expected to pay for friends' meals and drinks when they go out to celebrate. What's the protocol for this habit?

birthday traditions spain pay
Even if you have to foot the bill, remember that your friends have come to celebrate your birthday, and don't forget all the free eats you'll get in future. Photo: Profivideos/Pixabay

So it’s your cumpleaños (birthday in Spanish) and you want to celebrate it a lo grande (in style) with your friends in Spain.

On most occasions this involves going out for a meal and drinks, as house parties aren’t as common in Spain as in other countries, let alone surprise birthday parties organised by friends.

You book a table at a great restaurant and invite six or so of your best mates. The tapas roll and so do the drinks, but when the waiter brings out the bill, your friends aren’t as quick to take out their wallets, if at all. 

You may be slightly bemused by this if you’re new to Spain, but you’ll soon learn this lesson. 

Whereas in countries such as the UK or the US it’s the guests who split the bill to pay for their meal and the food and drink of the person whose birthday it is, in Spain it’s the cumpleañero/a (birthday boy/girl) who is expected to invitar a todos (pay for everyone). 

READ ALSO: Eleven ways your socialising habits change when you live in Spain

We’ve done extensive research in the hope of being able to find out how this tradition came about. 

Could it be traced back to Ancient Rome as in the case of ear pulling (another Spanish birthday tradition that many kids and teens endure from their older siblings and relatives)?

Unfortunately, there is no record of why the birthday person pays in Spain. 

But fear not, there are benefits to this sometimes costly tradition. 

If you’ve invited your friends for a birthday meal and/or drinks, they will or should know to bring you a birthday present. 

It could be that they either all chip in to get you one big present (most commonly) or that they get you gifts individually.

These are all unwritten rules of course, but it would be a bit much for them to expect that you pay for them to enjoy a nice meal out when it’s your birthday and that you get absolutely nothing in return from them. 

READ ALSO: The many ways Spaniards refer to your face if you’re being cheeky

The other silver lining to draw is that you could well expect to get a free meal or drinks from everyone that you invite when it’s their birthday and time to pay up. All those free eats will surely cover the cost of what you splashed out on your cumple (birthday).

But if the prospect of splurging and not getting much in return worries you – perhaps you’re unfamiliar with how your friends ‘do’ birthdays – consider one of these options.

 birthday pay food spain

It’s best to embrace the Spanish birthday payment tradition, even though some foreigners find it unfair.

Instead of a birthday meal, invite your friends to birthday drinks. This should keep the expense lower, especially at a run-of-the-mill bar. If it’s at a nightclub, rounds are paid for at the bar immediately rather than the bill stacking up for a final payment, so after one or two rounds, one of your friends should offer to pay, especially if they turned up giftless.

If you still want to have a meal out with los amigos (friends) but are worried about how much it’ll cost you, consider picking a well-priced bar or restaurant with a terrace where you go to the waiter and order tapas for everyone rather than à la carte individual portions, obviously still allowing them to pick their own drinks. 

There are also quite a few restaurants with birthday deals which may allow you to cut costs or get some freebies. 

But overall it’s best to embrace this Spanish tradition which initially seems unfair to many foreigners. 

You’ll come across as generous, fully integrated into Spanish society and don’t worry, because over time the expense evens out.

And if you don’t get the same treatment you offered on your birthday when it’s your friends’ turn to organise and pay for their celebrations, then plan your next birthday party in Spain differently.

Park bench, a six-pack of Mercadona beers and a muffin for a birthday cake, perhaps?


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REVEALED: The most and least polite cities in Spain

Do you live in the politest city in Spain? Or perhaps in the rudest? A new survey has revealed where in Spain residents are most considerate towards others and where they are the most ill-mannered.

REVEALED: The most and least polite cities in Spain

Spaniards are known for being straight-talking and not overly polite, saying please and sorry (or por favor and perdón) far less in daily conversation than British people, for example.

That’s not to say that they’re rude by definition, they just have a different interpretation of what’s expected and warranted in certain social situations. In fact, Spaniards are far more likely to strike up a conservation with you in a queue than northern Europeans, and if someone is in trouble, they’re likely to jump in to help.

READ ALSO: Nine unwritten rules that explain how Spain works

However, when it comes to being considerate towards others and having good manners, not all Spaniards make the mark, and the inhabitants of some cities fare far worse than others.

According to a study by language learning site Preply, the politest cities in Spain are Vigo and A Coruña, both in Galicia in the rainy northwest of the country.

The stereotypical image of Galicians is that they can be closed-minded, superstitious, and untrusting, but also affectionate, helpful, strong and honest, and it could be that they’re more polite on average as well. 

Residents of Vigo and A Coruña were followed by the eastern coastal city of Valencia on the politeness podium.

READ ALSO – The good, the bad and the ugly: What are the regional stereotypes across Spain? 

For the study, 1,500 residents of the 19 most populated areas of Spain were interviewed and given various scenarios to find out how polite or inconsiderate they considered their neighbours to be.

Talking loudly on the phone, watching videos with the sound on and speaking in a loud voice were all given categories that could be ticked as being rude on public transport, while not slowing down for pedestrians or not letting other cars in were considered examples of rudeness when driving.

The most ill-mannered behaviours according to the study involve shouting in public, pushing into a queue or being rude to workers.

Once the answers were collated, each city was given a score from 1 to 10, with 1 being the politest and 10 being the rudest.

Vigo, situated in Galicia’s Rías Baixas was found to be the most polite with a score of 5.17, closely followed by A Coruña with a score of 5.18.  

Valencia came in third place with a score of 5.28, followed by Murcia-Orihuela with 5.30.

Other polite cities were Oviedo (5.31), Las Palmas (5.39), Zaragoza (5.45), Sevilla (5.45) and Cádiz (5.50). 

Madrid came in the middle of the list with a score of 5.53, while on the rude side of the list were Valladolid (5.58), Málaga (5.61), Barcelona (5.64), Palma de Mallorca (5.69) and Bilbao (5.73). 

On the far end of the scale, Santa Cruz de Tenerife was found to be the city with the least considerate inhabitants with a score of 6.06, followed by Granada with 5.95, Alicante-Elche with 5.81 and San Sebastián with 5.77.

New technology could be partly to blame for bad manners, as according to respondents the most frequent rude behaviour in Spain is being too absorbed in your phone in public (with a score of 6.31), followed by not greeting strangers (6.26) and watching videos on your phone in public (6.21).

Other behaviours that people considered to not be very civic were making noise in public (6.15) and not giving tips (6.05).

On that note, when it comes to leaving tips, the residents of the city of Valladolid were found to be the most generous.

In general, only 26.55 percent of respondents said they  usually leave a tip, while 28.08 percent only do so if they received excellent service. More than 19 percent of respondents confessed to never leaving any tip.

In Valladolid, the most generous city, people said they give an average of 10.18 percent of the bill, while in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the stingiest, they admitted to only giving 6.10 percent of the bill.

If there are any conclusions to be drawn overall about the study’s findings is that there aren’t huge differences between the most and least well-mannered cities in Spain.

Good manners and fear of offending others may not be intrinsic of the Spanish character as in other countries, but that doesn’t stop Spain from being a country with a strong emphasis on community.

READ MORE: The many ways Spaniards refer to your face when you’re being cheeky