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What’s it like to live in Spain?

There is a good reason that so many people emigrate to Spain in so many ways, it’s a wonderful place to live.

Work-life balance

Culturally, the Spanish are more likely to prize family life over work, and consequently, many Spaniards and foreigners working in Spain have achieved a far greater work-life balance. That said, times are changing. The economic downturn in the last decade has resulted in lower wages for many in Spain and, whilst the cost of living is lower than in many other EU countries, the ratios do not necessarily balance. Spaniards are now therefore working longer hours than they have previously and there is greater pressure on families for both parents to be working in order to cover the costs of living.  The country’s historical stronghold on work-life balance is loosening in this new economic climate.

With the gradual erosion of the tradition of siesta, resulting in many larger companies in cities now moving away from the three-hour break in the afternoon, eating al desko, as has been the wont in many other European countries and the U.S., is becoming more of a reality for Spanish workers. Gone, for many, is the sense that there is time to relax built into the working day and Spanish office workers are now likely to have as unremittingly a frantic working day as their European counterparts. The flip side to this is that many of the younger generation are expressing that they are able to enjoy their evenings more with the adoption of these more global working hours.

The concept of time

Time remains an interesting concept when considering the reality of what life is like in Spain.  Most people are aware of the cultural stereotype, the mañana attitude which is seen as not only relaxed but often infuriating for those coming from overseas. And indeed, expats arriving from other countries where punctuality is such a rigid expectation (and so linked to a sense of politeness) will have to readjust their thinking when relocating to Spain. Put it this way, if you ask for the bill in a Spanish restaurant, don’t expect it to be placed on your table immediately. Although a cultural shock, once foreigners adjust to the more relaxed way of viewing time both within business and personal domains, they soon come to appreciate how pent up they often had been previously.

Learn the language

Expats are generally welcomed and treated with hospitality in Spanish communities and places of work. There is a caveat though. Spaniards are not only unimpressed, but can take offence, if people make no attempt whatsoever to learn any Spanish. Fluency is far from expected but the misconception that English is an accepted alternative language in Spain needs to be dispelled. Certainly, a significant number of Spaniards are adept at speaking English; many speak none at all. Learning the basics will give anyone moving to Spain an advantage.

Culture and lifestyle

Moving to Spain is appealing for many from other Western societies since the cultural shock is far from seismic. Nevertheless, there are a few differences in culture, behaviour and lifestyle that people can  encounter when moving to Spain that you should be aware of:

  • 94% of the Spanish population is Roman Catholic, with 20% attending church regularly.  Religion in Spain permeates every layer of society.
  • Unlike in English, politeness does not hinge upon saying please (por favor) and thank you (gracias).  Brief informative instructions and requests are not intended to be or considered rude.
  • Children stay up late with their parents and families in Spain, being just as much a part of any social gathering as the adults.  Expect to see children and infants in bars and restaurants late at night across the country.
  • Women, although now experiencing far more equality in the world of work in Spain, do still have to deal with the remnants of ‘machismo’, so much a traditional feature of Spanish society.  Women should not be surprised by comments and looks from Spanish men.
  • Castellano is the dominant language spoken in Spain. However, Catalan, Valenciano and Gallego are also all languages in their own right. Do not refer to them as dialects of Spanish, as this is offensive to the people who speak them.
  • Spain has 17 different political regions (autonomous communities), each with a high degree of autonomy. Laws and culture thus vary significantly between these regions.

What the stats won’t tell you

Financial consultants Mercer, rank Barcelona at 43 and Madrid at 49 for quality of living in cities across the globe (2018.) But statistics such as these don’t tell the whole story. Does the Mercer ranking consider the fact that Madrid boasts the largest number of trees per person of any European city? It’s these little idiosyncrasies of living in Spain which make it one of the top destinations for expats.

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