Public affection in Spain

SpainExpatBlog: Eight reasons I live in Spain

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Britt Bohannan shares a list of her favourite (Spanish) things: hugs to honesty, and a curse or two.

In no particular order, here are some things I am appreciating at the moment about living in Spain.


There is plenty of cursing in everyday speech here in Spain, from classrooms to courthouses. It is part of the daily vernacular of the Spanish to punctuate sentences with curse words. Natives generally speak pretty loudly in the first place, so if you are already yelling, what better way is there to indicate some emphasis than to curse? Personally, I find it amusing and even delightful. You gotta love a place that runs commercials for cold medicine that begin with a woman coughing and saying: "Joder, estoy resfriada" which translates to "Fuck, I have a cold".

2-Flexible hours, in every meaning of the phrase.

OK, I'll admit - sometimes it sucks when it's 16:45 and you are still waiting outside the shop or bank that was supposed to re-open after siesta at 16:30. You might answer ahora to the person who shows up to wait along side you outside the shop when they ask what time the place re-opens. But ahora doesn't necessarily mean now. On the other hand, when you show up late to an appointment, work, a meeting or dinner, lateness is almost always (if not actually always) overlooked. And for me, who is very rarely not late, it's an acceptable trade off. In fact, if you make plans with friends to meet at 22:00, and you show up at 22:30, you are right about on time. You may even be the first to show.

3-Speaking of siesta, living here means that between 14 and 16:30 there's no point in trying to get anything done.

This is generally lunchtime and everything but the restaurants and cafes close until 16, 16:30 or 17. The re-opening hour depends on the shop. Usually the hours are posted, but like I said, those hours tend to be flexible. This might seem to be a pain in the ass at first, but because these places are closed for a few hours during the day, it means everything stays open late. When you get off work at 18 or 20 or whenever, shops, the post office and even some banks are open until at least 21, with some open until 22 and the streets are full of people, sidewalk cafes and bars busy serving drinks and tapas (but certainly not dinner, anything before 21:30 is far too early) and the day continues until dinner, and then the night begins which is generally not for sleeping but for socializing.

4-Willingness to take risks for the sake of tradition - and a good time.

There might be some festivities here considered dangerous by some foreign standards, but people take responsibility for their actions should they decide to participate. For example, the Catalan tradition of people climbing onto each other's shoulders to heights up to 7-9 people stacked atop each other, then sending a 5 year old to scale the tower and slide down the other side (called Casteller teams). Or the Falles in Valencia, where millions of firecrackers are set off in the streets during a weekend and, after parading through the town, giant wooden statues are torched in public while people stand very, very close. Or the Catalan tradition of Correfoc, where people dressed as devils shoot fireworks into the crowds while drummers lead a local float, usually a dragon or demon, or sometimes just a donkey (the symbol of Catalunya) that also spits fire while people, children included, run through the sparks. I think the Spanish like feeling that they are alive. I can appreciate that.

Barcelona la Merce

5-Honesty in public places.

People generally don't form lines here, except maybe in the supermarket where you need a chance to stack all your stuff. Otherwise, when you enter a bank or bakery, it's standard practice to ask the people standing or sitting around "Quien es la ultima?" (Who is the last). Whoever indicates they are servidor means "I am", but this literally translates to "your faithful servant". Then you know who you are behind, and you become the servidor or servidora. Another display of the honesty system is in bars and cafes. When you order, you don't give your credit card to keep a tab open and don't pay as you are served. You order, enjoy your food and drinks, then when you decide to leave, you tell the bartender or cashier exactly what you ordered and they ring you up. The cashier won't keep track of what you consumed, he is likely busy serving up drinks or delivering food. He expects you to remind him what you had. And remarkably there is very little exploitation of this.

6-Bargaining for rent prices.

Just because an ad specifies one price, it doesn't always mean the owner or agency expect to get it. It's like car sales: you can bargain for extras or bargain down the price. If you want a different contract term, a different rent price, utilities thrown in, or to furnish an unfurnished place, you can request it. Most agencies and owners are more than willing to work with you to get the place rented.

7-Public displays of affection.

People kiss each other on both cheeks in greeting, touch each other when speaking, hug each other, slap shoulders, touch each others dogs and children without fear of offending, and kiss and hold hands in public. This goes for straight, gay and platonic couples. Although a Catholic country, there is no stigma or scorn towards gay couples and gay marriage is legal. I see gay couples walking hand in hand daily here, everywhere. No one tuts disapprovingly, and that is refreshing.

8-Cheap booze.

A good bottle of wine can be found for around EUR 3 and, in smaller pueblos that sell local wines, you can find totally acceptable, in fact quite often delicious, wines for under EUR 1. But there are thousands of places in every city to grab a beer or a glass of wine - you can go to a bar, a café, a bodega or a cevercería (there is one on every corner) and if the cost of a glass of beer or wine is over EUR 2.50, it is considered expensive. And while there are plenty of British taking advantage of the cheap drink prices, very few of the Spanish exploit this to a negative effect. Though you will see the Spanish regularly drinking a beer at lunchtime then going back to work. And it is not unusual to see the waitress adding some brandy to morning coffees, especially at cafes frequented by blue collar workers. Because, as we all know, there's nothing like a drink or two before work to help with your productivity.

Reprinted with permission of

Britt Bohannan is an American currently living in Spain, the fifth foreign country she has called home. She has spent the last four years in Barcelona working as a freelance editorial and technical writer and for local magazines and businesses and runs

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3 Comments To This Article

  • Austrity Is not the Answer posted:

    on 15th May 2012, 19:04:46 - Reply

    When you get a chance, let me know ALL the positives you are talking about, okay, I´ll give you the benefit of the will suffice!....not just Spain, all EU countries..the euro will be gone soon just like their royal an elephant!
  • Dee posted:

    on 12th May 2012, 19:51:45 - Reply

    A wonderful article, which upon reading serves to highlight all the reasons why we chose to live in Spain. Sometimes it is easy to forget all the positives when you are bombarded with the woes of the economic pressures Spain faces.
    Please write more!

    I wonder with some of the negative replies, how integrated these individuals really are?
  • Christopher Gamble posted:

    on 9th May 2012, 11:03:01 - Reply

    ome of the observations here may become quaint memories in a new Spain. If not then change won't have happened...and change is essential for productivity and growth to improve. Gregariousness I hope remains.