Seville is a delightful place to live or visit. It’s small enough to negotiate on foot, big enough to have lively street life at all hours of the day and night, rich in history, gorgeous to look at (most of it, anyway) and filled with people who wouldn’t live anywhere else. But some local attitudes and customs can a bit disconcerting at first, so I’ve compiled a few pointers to help you feel at home more quickly.
1. Don’t trust the maps. Seville’s public-spirited cartographers are determined to provide you with a more nuanced understanding of the city’s layout than you’ll ever find on Google. This means leaving out places most people will never visit (such as the tiny pedestrian alley I live on) and drawing extra attention to especially useful routes. For instance, to make sure you don’t overlook an important short cut, local maps may widen it to the size of a major thoroughfare, when in fact it’s an alley so narrow you can’t go down it with your umbrella up. I constantly see befuddled tourists huddling on street corners, clutching maps and muttering, “But it says right here...!”
2. Choose crowded, noisy tapas bars. Locals know where to find good food and drinks at great prices, and they don’t mind standing jammed together, shrieking over dozens of voices, to get them. In fact, they prefer it; the buzz of convivial conversation is considered an essential background to a good night out, and if a little singing breaks out, so much the better. I’ve learned to bypass spacious, tranquil locales (which are often corporate-owned eateries with dull, overpriced food) and shoehorn my way into a mad frenzy where they’re six deep at the bar.
3. Brace yourself for highly personal questions. My Spanish friends are always asking things like, “What a great apartment; how much do you pay for it?” Or “Who do you think is prettier, me or my daughter?” Or “Have you gained weight?” Attempts at evasion are considered bad manners; honesty is the best policy. I often get teased for being too diplomatic.
4. Get used to different service standards. Here in Seville, most locals put the same kind of energy into their social lives as Americans invest in their careers. It’s normal for clerks to finish long, leisurely chats with one another before taking your money at the register, and for workmen to stop for coffee with a friend even if they’re already an hour late to fix your water heater. On the other hand, bartenders know it’s their job to facilitate your social life by setting drinks in front of you and your friends at lightning speed. Tapas take a bit longer, but usually arrive far more rapidly than restaurant fare. And you’ll never, ever receive a bill until you ask for it.
5. Adapt to local hours.
Yes, I’m serious! Many newcomers try to stick to schedules from the old country, but that’s just impractical here. You’re not going to have much of a social life if you insist on eating lunch in empty restaurants at noon and going to bed at 9:00 in the evening, just when everyone is going out for their first beer. The secret: snack morning and afternoon like the locals do, and always take a siesta. Otherwise you’ll be running out of steam just when the flamenco gets hot.
Sevillanos truly love their city, and most can’t imagine living anywhere else. While many are too traditional to feel really comfortable around foreigners, lots of locals find us pretty entertaining and are ready to share a few beers in a noisy crowded bar, asking personal questions and keeping us out until the small hours of the night. It’s not unusual for me to find myself walking home arm in arm with friends, and (if I am to be totally honest with you) serenading the barrio with a medley of old show tunes, Beatles hits and Bésame Mucho. Having a late night out with congenial companions is the best way I know to feel truly at home in Seville.
Karen McCann / Expatica
Karen McCann moved to Seville in 2004 and writes about her expat experiences in her new book, Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad. "I loved this book,” wrote Lonely Planet. “I must have laughed aloud at least once in every chapter . . . The advice in the book is terrific." Wanderlust has taken her to more than thirty countries, including many developing or post-war nations where she and her husband volunteer as consultants to struggling microenterprises. Today, she spends her time writing, blogging, painting, exploring Seville, and traveling the world.
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