12 Things I’ve Learned From Living in Spain

Updated June 15, 2016

Before I moved to Spain I’d been there once on holiday, and I thought I had a bit of a clue about the Spanish lifestyle and what living abroad in Spain would be like. Was I ever wrong. I had NO idea about so many things. Luckily as I’ve been learning Spanish I’ve also managed to learn a thing or two about life in Spain.

1. Beer is just beer

When I order a beer elsewhere don’t ask me what kind I want, just give me a beer. Before I moved to Spain I didn’t really drink beer and now that I do (because tapas) all I know is I want one.

Order a cerveza, caña (small beer) or tubo (large beer) and don’t expect to be asked what kind you want, they’re not so precious about it here.

2. Sangria is not the Spanish drink of choice you think it is

I have never seen a Spanish person drink Sangria. I have seen it advertised for outrageous prices in tourist hot spots. Do yourself a favour and order a tinto de verano, also known as a summer wine. It’s red wine with lemonade or soda and sometimes a piece of fruit chucked in, it’s just as tasty and it’s half the price.

things I've learned living in Spain

3. Tapas are not the same all over Spain

In Spain there’s one kind of tapas right? Nope. Be prepared for the style of tapas to change with every city or even town you go to. Sometimes it’s just a measly offering of (still delicious) olives, and at other times almost a full blown meal worth of food. It can cost you, or be free, there can be a choice, or not. You get the idea.

In saying that, my favourite place for tapas is Almería because you get to choose your tapas and the food is usually really good quality.

4. Toast for breakfast can be incredibly satisfying

When I first realised there were no egg dishes like eggs benedict or even just scrambled eggs to order for breakfast I truly wondered how I would cope. Brunch is probably my favourite meal, but the rather simple toast I now enjoy in Spain is surprisingly satisfying. Give me my coffee and toast with tomato and I’m happy. Not sliced toast like we know it of course, but proper bread roll toast.

Often there’s almost an entire menu of choices of things to put on your toast, and you can always just ask for whatever you want if there’s not. Even plain toast drowning in olive oil does the trick!

things I learned living in Spain

5. Manners are optional

I feel like the rudest person in the world in Spain. When I order food I literally say “I want..” or “Put me..” or “I’m going to have…” there is no “Please can I have.. thank you so much” going on here. The servers must think I’m strange because every time they place something in front of me I say thank you. The multiple deliveries of things to the table makes for a lot of thank you’s…

This straight talking carries over into other things too. Your friend’s put on a little weight? Totally go ahead and mention that.

6. Bureaucracy is another form of torture

In Spain there’s a whole other level of bureaucracy and paperwork that I could never have comprehended before. Every single person has their own method of processing documents, which means no one can tell you how to actually do anything. My only advice is do absolutely every different thing everyone says and then hope for the best.

things I learned living in Spain

7. Bread is king

Bread comes with everything. Even potatoes. It is possible to have a tortilla (a Spanish omelette filled with potatoes) on a sandwich. Double carbs anyone?

8. Wine comes in red

I can count the number of times I’ve seen someone drink a white one on one hand. Maybe on one finger. Red wine in Spain is the best wine, and it’s not even criminal to add lemonade or ice to it (see above).

things I've learned living in Spain

9. Time is relative

Everything in Spain is late. Lunch is late, dinner is late, you stay out late. Eventually you too become late, to everything you go to. But it’s ok because everyone else is late too. Just try not to deviate from the standard eating schedule, or it gets awkward. Or order coffee with a meal because people will look at you like you’ve done something illegal.

The only thing to do is shrug your shoulders and say “because Spain”. It’s the answer to all of your why questions.

10. Weekend? What is that?

There is no such thing as waiting for the weekend. Drinks in the week? Yes please.

I love the feeling of Spain in the evening when everyone goes out with their family. They sit around enjoying coffee and cake before later moving on to beer and tapas. The weather is good enough to be outside a lot of the time, and people in Spain make the most of it. Also don’t be surprised if you see kids out at midnight on a school night and 3am on the weekend. Age? Just a number.

things I've learned living in Spain

11. Siestas are real

Maybe not to everyone, but when I brought up the idea of ending the siesta in one of my English classes I was met with a resounding “NO”. Don’t be surprised if you arrive somewhere during siesta time for it to look like the apocalypse has occurred. It’s just you and some tumbleweed in the streets.

The routine of morning work followed by lunch and a snooze before a little more evening work is the one of dreams. Literally.

12. There is always a festival

I can’t count the number of times my flatmate and I have been woken up from our aforementioned siesta by the noise of a parade in the street. Or fireworks. There always seems to be some celebration or festival of some sort on, but don’t ask me what!

things I've learned living in Spain

Want to know more about Spain? Check out How I Moved to Spain to Teach English or about Spain’s best kept secret, Almería and the beaches of Cabo de Gata

Sonja x

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things I learned living in Spain

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20 Comments

  • Reply Steff June 17, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    Sounds pretty wonderful from rainy Scotland! Sunshine, siestas, and red wine…with ice! I must take my Mum there someday, she loves her chilled red wine! 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss June 17, 2016 at 5:35 pm

      Spain weather sure does beat the weather in Scotland at the moment! My Mum really loved the tinto de verano, I think she’s going to be making them herself all the time now :). Definitely take her for a visit if you get the chance!

  • Reply Kemkem June 17, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    I was nodding my head at every single thing. It has been quite the adjustment, and even after a year in Seville, my husband still hasn’t adjusted to the slow pace of mañana 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss June 20, 2016 at 9:39 am

      It certainly has been an adjustment for me too haha. I hope you’re enjoying your time in Seville though 🙂

  • Reply Tom Stevenson June 17, 2016 at 8:50 pm

    I live in Barcelona (for now!), and 100% agree with everything here. Especially the bureaucracy part, don’ get me started on that, absolute nightmare trying to get anything done!

    • Reply Migrating Miss June 20, 2016 at 9:41 am

      Thanks Tom that’s interesting to know it can be the same in a big city, I had wondered if it was just a smaller place thing. The paperwork is definitely not my favourite haha.

  • Reply Katie Featherstone June 18, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    I’ve never spent a huge amount of time in Spain, but these things remind me of Latin America too. I love the laid back attitude until it comes to paperwork!

    • Reply Migrating Miss June 20, 2016 at 9:49 am

      I’ve never been to Latin America but I’ve heard the culture can be similar! It would be interesting to compare 🙂

  • Reply Tara-Tamiko June 18, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    Totally enjoyed reading your post!! I’ve lived in Spain for 12 years and relate to it all. Sangria just isn’t a thing the Spanish drink. And omg, yes, white wine is just not a common thing, unless it’s Cava (here in Catalunya!)

    • Reply Migrating Miss June 20, 2016 at 9:50 am

      Thanks so much! Some things I was really surprised by, even though they might have seemed a little cliche I thought they would be true (like Sangria). It’s nice to see the difference when you live somewhere to just being a tourist there though!

      • Reply Daniel July 22, 2018 at 1:29 pm

        Don’t really agree with the lack of white wine. You have regional white wines in Spain which are immediately associated to their origin and are part of the culture.

        Might be found more in the north and north west of Spain, but I’m pretty sure these types of wines are all well-known throughout the country.

        • Reply Migrating Miss July 25, 2018 at 10:44 am

          You’re right that there are some regional white wines, but I was living in Andalucia and this was just my experience there :).

  • Reply Henar June 20, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    I really miss these things now that I don’t live in Spain anymore…it’s true that you don’t know what you have until you loose it (or leave it behind) 🙁 it’s good that i can still make my own tinto de verano whenever I want ^^

    • Reply Migrating Miss June 20, 2016 at 8:38 pm

      I’m away from Spain at the moment travelling for the summer, and I already miss them too! Especially tapas and the evening atmosphere. I think I may need to make myself some tinto de verano this week!

  • Reply Melissa June 23, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    Very cool article. What is the thing that you love more about living in Spain finally?

    • Reply Migrating Miss June 24, 2016 at 10:02 am

      Thanks Melissa! I love the culture here. It’s just a really chilled and nice place to live. There is a great sense of community here too!

  • Reply Kelly July 22, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    I agree with most of what you said, but the white abariño reigns king in Galicia. Cheers! 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss July 22, 2016 at 5:35 pm

      Haha so I have been hearing! I’ll have to make it up there 😀

  • Reply Anna August 23, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    I would add one more surprising thing – nobody drinks tea! Coffee, bear or wine, there are no other options:)

    • Reply Migrating Miss August 24, 2016 at 11:13 am

      Very true! I have managed to find tea in one of my favourite cafes, which is a little out of the ordinary. They do have a delicious red tea!!! But I’ve NEVER seen a teapot anywhere else!

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