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9 Surprising Things About Spain

The People Of Spain Are Rude.

Spaniards don’t like to work.

Service sucks in Spain.

Have you heard these before? Before coming to Spain, we heard them from multiple people. We also have read them in many online travel reviews. Needless to say, we had certain expectations and even a little apprehension before coming here but, fortunately, we found the reality in Spain to be quite different from these stereotypes.

Here are 9 things we found surprising about Spain:

1. People are very friendly.

We have been warned before we came here (and I don’t mean by one person but by several people), “Spaniards don’t like Americans, so don’t be surprised if they are rude to you” – I have to admit, I was a little bit worried.

We also read that Spain is a closed society that isn’t accepting of foreigners in general but that has not been our experience at all. We have no trouble making friends here and not just in school either. So, this is a little puzzling to me and, although it put us a bit on guard, it certainly was a nice surprise to find the people here to be very nice.

In general, we found Spaniards to be extremely friendly, maybe even more so than Puerto Ricans, and that’s saying a lot because we love the people of Puerto Rico for their openness, friendliness and smiles. We found Spaniards to be very similar. Always greeting us with warm smiles, friendly greetings, stopping to talk, and here is my favorite: goodbye kisses – ha ha, same as in Puerto Rico.


Spain people

2. It’s cheap.

I don’t know why and maybe this is just me, but in my head, I have always thought that Europe is expensive. So, I expected the same of Spain. Big country in EU, very popular tourist destination, using Euros – it makes sense that it would be expensive – right?

Well, I was very wrong. Spain, by comparison to USA and Puerto Rico, is VERY cheap. Tim already wrote about the cost of food in Barcelona (because it surprised us so much) but, in general, almost everything is cheap here. Groceries and eating in Granada are dirt cheap.

Rents here are even less than in Puerto Rico – can you imagine?!  And not by just a little. They are much less. Average monthly rental for a nice apartment costs about ¼ of what we were paying in US and about ½ of what we are currently paying in PR – nutz!

3. Latin efficiency is amazing.

I could not believe how efficient everything is here – no, I’m not kidding. The tourist attractions here are run like well-oiled machines. Everything is scheduled at specific times and if you miss your time than you miss your chance – too bad. There are millions of people going through some of these tourist areas (like Alhambra), and there are no long wait lines – Period. Everything is super organized. It is literally opposite of what our experience has been in Latin America.

So, this was a nice surprise, as well, because we expected something similar to Puerto Rico, see my post about lines in PR, but it is not so.

Hot Spain

4. The weather can be extreme.

I guess because it’s in the southern Europe, I thought that Spain’s climate is much like Florida, hot/warm and humid all year round. NOPE! Spain experiences big temperature swings, from freezing temps, and even sub-freezing in certain parts, to HOT and very arid.

I am not sure how I would do here year-round but I do love it in the summer, even though it’s going to be 107 F next week!

5. Too many people smoke.

I mentioned this in a previous post, and it’s something I dislike. Way too many people smoke here. I do not like walking down the street inhaling smoke and I do not like sitting in lovely outside patios, inhaling secondary smoke. And, I do not like people hanging out right outside of businesses, restaurants, and stores puffing away – sorry folks, I’m not a smoker and I don’t like having to be exposed to it – but here in Spain, it is unavoidable.

6. It’s so clean!

Seriously;  Spain is unbelievably clean. We see street cleaners, workers with brooms, and garbage pickups every day. Leaves are swept and even the tree pollen in the plazas is hosed off daily – I love it!

One of my frustrations in Puerto Rico is the amount of garbage everywhere – especially on the beaches. You will not find that here because the Spaniards are super attentive to the cleanliness of their cities.

7. Spain recycles everything.

This goes along with the point above. I love, love, love that Spain recycles EVERYTHING and EVERYWHERE and I don’t just mean the big cities. We recently visited the tiny, white villages of Alpujarra and we saw recycling receptacles there too – Amazing!

Even large companies like Coca Cola recycle in Spain. In fact, cokes are still served in glass bottles and each bottle gets recycled up to 16 times! Now, why can’t we do that in US anymore?

Olive tree

8. My allergies are bad!

I am surprised to find my allergies to be worse here, much worse, than in Puerto Rico. Those darn olive trees that are in bloom in the spring are killing me! Asking around, it appears that the natives are in the same boat and many of the students in our school complain about this as well. Allergies can be murder on everyone but I am surprised that mine are so much worse here than in the tropical Puerto Rico.

9. You don’t need to tip.

Coming from the USA, we have been conditioned to tip 15%-20% for everything: restaurants, taxis, hotels, hair salons, etc.. But here in Spain, tipping is not common and not expected. In fact, I had a couple of conversations with the locals about this topic and was pretty much told that it is sometimes insulting to offer a tip – WOW!

The reason is simple. Waiters in Spain are paid a salary, i.e. they do not work for tips. They also take pride in their work and therefore they are good, efficient, courteous and, in some cases, down right entertaining (like seriously funny). This is their job; so, a tip could be a little insulting. It’s almost like going up to teacher after class and offering a tip. It is weird to the locals.

There you have it, these are the most surprising things we found about Spain. What about you? Have you found anything in Spain that surprised you?


About Joanna

is a Polish American living in Arizona with her husband Tim. She is a founding partner of JTR Tech and she is proud to be a professional geek. She had dreamt of living abroad for many years. So, she and Tim created AbroadDreams.com to document the process of making their dream of moving abroad come true. They spent 2 years in Puerto Rico and several months in Spain and Poland. Now they are exploring the American Southwest.

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One comment

  1. They don’t tip in Thailand either, however I’ve been seeing a few tip boxes lately here.

    Are you thinking of stopping here in Thailand on your Asian tour on way back to PR?

    Our offer of staying here at our home is still on the table?…
    Jer : )