5 things I hate about living in Spain

The fact that I’ve been living in Spain, and I’m going to continue, makes this a hard blog to write. I normally try to block the negatives away. Hopefully but the end of writing this I don’t have itchy feet again. This post is as seen on the i-to-i TEFL blog.
Always a guiri – a foreigner
I’ve tried to blend in. I’ve grown my hair to look more Spanish, got used to eating late and leaving the house to go out at 10pm, and I’ve got married to a Spanish lady. Despite all that, I’ve realized I’ll always be a guiri.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be Spanish. I’d just like to stop getting treated like a tourist when I go about my own city. I still get short changed in places and now and then the waiter will slip an extra beer or two on my bill. This happens less now, in fact the other night a waiter forgot to charge us for two glasses of wine.
If you’re coming over then just be aware that even though Spanish are generally friendly, you’ll never be on their level.

(Photo by fred v)

Absolute Rubbish
I might just be getting old, but recently I’ve noticed how dirty Seville is. Spanish youths have a weekend hobby called a botellón – huge piss up in the street. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, the youngsters have enough stress in the week with exams and university pressures so they need to let off some steam, we all do. What I don’t understand is why they leave so much litter.
When I run by the river on Friday and Saturday morning, breathing in the stale booze stench, I feel sorry for the three or four council workers who have to clean up the empty bags of rubbish and smashed whisky and rum bottles. The police don’t enforce their power enough. Part of me thinks they just let them get on with it to create more cleaning jobs to help with unemployment. (Photo by olgaberrios)

It’s not only the youths who are adamant on wrecking this beautiful country. Walking down my street is like playing frogger, but instead of jumping on the logs to cross the river, I have to avoid the giant dog dollops.
Some Spanish think it’s alright to let their dogs mess all over the street and leave early morning surprises for everyone. I’m a dog owner and it’s not that difficult to clean up. My theory is this. With the current economic crisis we all need a bit of luck. Spanish say that it’s good luck to tread in dog poo with your left foot. Does more potential crap to slide in mean more luck? Or are they just lazy?
Deadly summer heat waves
“Come to Seville; we have 300 days of sunshine a year.” I’m guilty of saying this myself. The problem is that about 50 of those days are too scorching to do anything. Early mornings are pleasant, but only until about 10am. From 1pm to 7pm you can’t do anything outside your house.
Seville is like a ghost town towards the end of July and most of August. I quite like Seville when it’s quieter; less botellones and games of frogger, but the heat gets to you.

When anyone asks to visit me in August I put them off.
“You will die in the heat.”
At least one week in August it gets up to 50 degrees. After lunch your digestive system uses up all your energy and can’t cope with the heat so you’re forced to have a siesta. You have cold shower and are sweating before you’ve reached for your towel. You sleep naked but the mosquitoes always seem to find the juicy bits. As the years go by, I’m getting better in the sauna. I can put up with sweaty eyes at every meal and force myself to write through the siesta time, but the mosquitoes always seem to find a way to sting.
The word ‘Crisis’
At the weekends the bars and restaurants are full, people from the outside towns come to walk about the centre and raid the shops, and the metro is full of people every day.
So where is this giant crisis that everyone is talking about?
The thing with a recession is that unless you are out of work you don’t really feel the implications. Unemployment in Spain is at 23.5% (January 2012). That’s about 10 million people without a job. When I arrived in Spain in 2005 the general mood was optimistic and everyone was happy, now it’s somber and everyone is biting their nails about what will happen in the next few years. (Photo by RachelH)
You can’t go a couple of days without listening about the ‘crisis.’ I’ve banned talks about the economy with my adult students and have stopped watching the news. I know this is a worldwide recession, but it seems to me that in Spain no one is doing anything about it. The government has just changed, but all they are doing is making cut backs. Everyone moans about the future, but it’s like they’ve just accepted that the boat is about to sink.
Luckily the world of TEFL is still booming. We have more students than ever and have opened new centres recently. The crisis exists in Spain, but if you’re careful you can avoid it. Some restaurants have dropped their prices too.
So there you go, I survived. Yes I do hate things about Spain, but I’m willing to put up with those nasty aspects and just get on with my life teaching, writing, and living abroad with my wife and dog. If you’re thinking of coming to Spain then don’t let these comments sway you, find out for yourself. Maybe you have some more pet hates to add? Please share.

29 thoughts on “5 things I hate about living in Spain

  1. I have on my travels, would prefer to live up there to be honest but the wife's family are down here! I loved Santander, Gijon, Santiago, La Coruna. Better weather and living conditions. See your point…Where are you?

  2. Hi Barry,

    I lived in Seville for 7 years.. and hated it. But I've also lived in Catalunya, Canarias, and am now in Extremadura. And nowhere is like Seville. I love where I live… particularly as the noise level of Seville (which, as you know is totally off the scale of human tolerance) has been replaced by bird song, donkey-braying and the occasional jazz, folk or WOMAD concert wafting its vibes down from the square above. And I live in a provincial capital, not a sleepy hamlet.
    I remember reading an article by, I think, Ian Gibson some years ago where he compared Spain with Germany, as being two diametrically opposite countries sharing the label of 'Europe'. I remember him summing up his conclusions by using the words 'social' and 'civic' ('urbano' – I read this article in Spanish…). According to Gibson, Spain has a highly developed sense of social life – which in Seville would mean allegiance to caseta owning clans, cofradías, Betis/SFC, a particular Cristo, a particular Virgen etc etc as well as the botellón/terraza side of things; on the other hand it has very little civic awareness (litter, 'frogger obstacles', parking on zebra crossings/outside someone's front door/diagonally, graffitti, using the horn but not the indicators when driving, ear rape on buses etc etc). Germany is the opposite (he said). Neat and tidy towns, respectful driving etc but little sense of community in the social sense. That article was written maybe twenty years ago, and much of Spain has changed (a little) with a swing towards a middle point on the social-civic continuum, but Seville seems to be clutching at that historical identity and refusing to budge. Me, I chose to move with the times – and a removal van – and have not regretted it for one second.

    Here's some stuff wot I wrote while living in Seville, if you're interested:

    Fiona (I use my Mum's name on the blog)

  3. Hi Fiona,

    Sorry for the late reply, got caught up in a Paso practise, only joking. Thanks for your comment, I understand totally what you've said. Seville is intense, and it's like living in a bubble sometimes. The more I'm here the more I see that. I actually like Semana Santa and the banter between Sevilla and Betis, although you can't compare it to the football banter back in England. I'm here for the long run though, wife's family and all that, one cna hope that Seville will change with the times one day, but I doubt it. I'll have a look at your articles. Thanks.

  4. Hi, Barry,
    Its very interesting to hear your thoughts.I only know Spain as living near the Coast for some years. Though I have visited many areas and Cities here.
    As many Madrileños and Valencianos come here to their holiday homes in August I guess they are escaping the City heat as in Seville.
    We have a nice breeze here in the Summer and it doesnt get too hot, or too cold in the winter (though last February was one of the coldest I have known with minus degrees for many nights.)
    The countryside here is gorgeous,and still very green all summer, and we have beautiful beaches and coves.
    We locals enjoy the rhythm of life-
    with tourists-a wonderful 'energy' about the area, but much more noise, traffic and queues in every shop, bars etc,
    and when they are gone we have peace and quiet and its all to ourselves…
    This area is truly international and locals and 'foreigners' mix very well and all join in the local Fiestas.
    I feel fortunate indeed to live in such a fabulous place, and although I love to travel the world,I love coming home to my adopted country of Spain.

  5. Hi Susan,

    Thanks for writing. Where abouts are you? Sound lovely. I think I'd prefer to live somewhere near a beach and the countryside but home is Seville for the moment. Have heard good things about Valencia, one of our friends live there and they love it. Good to hear from you. Keep in touch.


  6. Thanks for the compliment. Glad to see someone likes the blog, makes writing worthwhile. Great website too by the way. Cheers.

  7. I love the comment that we'll never be on their level………be thankfull, I aim a lot higher!!

  8. Hi, really like your blog. I've lived in Seville for the last ten years. My husband is from here, plus I have a job as a public school teacher (funcionaria) so I'm in it for the long haul. The hardest thing for me is having my family and childhood friends so far away. I'm from Portland, Oregon USA. I can really relate to what you say about being the perpetual foreigner. I'm about six feet tall and blonde so I get lots of comments about my height here. It is hard for people to see past the stereotypes and appreciate you as an individual here. Getting past the social acquaintance stage to a close friendship is also hard with sevillanos. The scorching summers are tough too!

  9. Seville is crap. It's not foreigners who say it. It's the Andalusians that are not from Seville who say it. Botellón is a problem all over Spain. It is not a part of the culture. It is a most terrible problem, unsolved and never acknowledged as a problem. Chauvinism in Seville is simply impossible to put up with. Youngsters in Seville are the worst in the world, nothing at all inside their heads, useless people, but of course, they don't like it when you say it. But the fact that they don't like it doesn't mean that it is not true. There are other places in Spain and in Andalusia. Don't focus on Seville, at least until its people fix the city and learn to be less proud. One shouldn't be proud when he or she doesn't have a good reason to be proud. By the way: I am Andalusian, I have lived for seven years in Seville in the past, and I have to say that the people in Seville still have many, many, many things to fix. I don't like Semana Santa, I don't like Betis, I don't like Sevilla, I don't like el Rocío, I don't like Sevillian fanatism, I don't like Seville's lack of cultured people, I don't like Sevillian lack of interest in real culture, real science and real arts. Betis and Sevilla, Semana Santa and bullfighting are not culture or art. They are fanatism. And tapas are only food. Sevillian people should pay more attention when they go to school, and they should enroll university (they have a very good one there; if they don't want it, then the authorities should move those great resources to another place in Andalusia). By the way, I am Spanish and I hate playing frogger as well. Another unsolved, unacknowledged problem. Don't stop talking about it until the Spanish authorities are forced to blush and do something. Let me tell you about another awful problem in Seville and in a lot of cities in Spain: the junkies' extortion. They spent half a day in the streets acting as if they were helping you to park your car and as if they were taking care of your car afterwards, all this in exchange for one or two euros. But the truth is they kick and break any part of your car if you don't give them money so they can buy drugs. As you cannot watch over your car 24 hours a day, you finally give up and give them money so they don't break your car. What do Spanish authorities do about this? Nothing at all. The last 20 years have been like this in Spain. So you have to put up with the situation: the most awful, useless people of this society extorting you 24 hours a day. In Seville this problem is really alarming.
    Next time we will talk about the problems in UK and the USA.

  10. Wow…

    Be nice to have a name to respond to but hey…obviously you have some strong views about Seville and it's great to have some input on this blog. I agree with the junkies problem, but as I don't drive it doesn't affect me. I actually like most aspects of Semana Santa and think it's a great festival and admire the pasion of the local people. There are a lot of things that could change in Seville to make it a better place and the authorities could do a lot more, but whether anything happens we'll see…

    Thanks for writing 'anonymous'

  11. I don't like it neither,.. nor people from outside that come here and pay to see it because "it is typical". I'm spanish, and I can garantee you that my generation (30-35) is totally different and mainly don't like it. In 50-40 years, bullfighting will be only for tourist.

  12. Wow too.. XD

    First of all thank Barry for this blog, as Sevillian I found out really really interesting. Secondly, please, excuse my english, If I had money I would take more classes, hehe.

    I don't specifically like feria of Semana Santa.. and I agree with you all, we have a lot of problems, but beyond our torrid sun in summer, our churchs, monuments, the lack-of-culture-people (less than you think) or tapas.. there is something more hard to explain, felling, friendly-proximity. I couldn't really explain now as it is 2:00 am in the night but I promise will do this week.

    But before going to sleep, I need to say something to you Barry; I don't know you at all, I've just read some post and info about you, but as far as I am concerned you are not a Guiri any more. You have been living here for years, your wife is Sevillian and probably you like Semana Santa more than I do for goodnesSake!. 😉


    ps.: I really like real culture; painting, reading, black and white movies and photos, concerts, opera, jazz and, of course, Rock and Roll ;-P

  13. como te vea por sevilla te voy a pisar la cabeza por criticar la tierra que te da de comer payaso pu to ingles de mierda

  14. I could have deleted that, but I thought it was funnier to publish and also to show the world what some people are really like in Sevilla…Ole tus huevos!

  15. Querido anonimo: Vaya respuesta mas culta! Amenazar con violencia – asi se ganan las discusiones! No con inteligencia, que va, sino con insultos, verdad? Tu tierra sera tan orgullosa de ti, pedazo de humanidad, tu! Oleeeeee! Ejemplar iberico.

  16. I wouldnt mind that Anonymous threat so much, it shouldnt be taken seriously, moreover he is wrong about who wrote the harshest criticism about the city and its people anyway, which is coming from a spanish person from Andalucia. There is this myth about Sevilla being priviledged with government aid and resources, and this has caused other cities and people from the region to have a very bad opinion about the capital. Im amazed at how the political decisions of a few if indeed it was the case that the budgets etc were unbalanced, can trickle down to all layers of society, for a very close minded view and perspective of real life and respect for others. I agree with a lot of what has been said here: The noise, the dog shit, the sheep-like mentality, and the prejudices of the majority. Ive been born In Sevilla and have been living abroad for extended periods. I do find the city to be suffocating at times with its lack of dynamism and slow to many changes but at the same time thats where lies its personality and its virtues, if only you can discern enough. Its easy to make sweeping statements and see things in either black or white, but life fortunetly enough is not like that. So Im still trying to learn to enjoy living here and make the most of it by my own means and ideas. What I dont like its when people fail to see the big picture and they complain about petty things and try to draw unjust conclusions. The mention of drug addicts extortioning the population as a major issue its laughable at best, and to call those people the worst there is in this society shows a moral bankrupcy of a higher order. Same with thinking that people in Sevilla are lazy because many dog owners fail to clean after their dogs. Anyway very amusing to confirm some of my ideas about my own city and not specially surprised about certain attitudes about it all.

  17. Dear Mr/Mrs Anonymous,

    I find it hard to respond to anonymous people; it's like talking to the invisible man, but anyway, thanks for your comment. Yeah I'm not that bothered about the above comment. I thought it was funny and you can get people like that all around the world.

    Firstly your English is excellent, I'm presuming you are Spanish? Yeah it easy to make sweeping statements about cities and countries I agree. I also try to find something more to Seville and as my place of home I have fond memories. There are a lot of things that I don't like, but I'm like that about my own country. I guess I'm never completely happy, but that's one of the problems of being human I guess!

    Anyway, thanks for writing, and leaving a constructive comment.


  18. Don´t be a dope. If there was no bull-fighting, the race of fighting bulls would die out. The people who know and love fighting bulls are people who know and love bull-fighting. Get to know things before you decide to love or hate them

  19. Hi Barry. Looking forward to delving into your blog a bit more when time permits. We're just an hour or so down the road from Seville with an English school ourselves and there's no absence of Audis or BMWs round these parts despite the crisis either.
    We've been through a few turbulent times during our almost decade here…but we're still here for the business opportunities (tourism to our sierra as well as our school) it affords us.
    What I don't like about Spain isn't the usual stuff (customer service, dog shit etc as I knew about that stuff before coming out and I can ignore it, thanks largely to daily meditation practise lol), rather it's my inability to meet empathetic, self-aware people who don't take themselves seriously. I was warned by a latin american mate back in the mid-2000s that Spain was the first place he couldn't make friends (having lived in eastern europe, the Caribbean as well as his home country previously) and I must admit that I just plain ignored him, thinking he must have some hang-ups about the old empire or something. Anyway, fast forward a decade or so and he asks me how my search for pals is going hehe. Luckily we're not here for friendships which is just as well. None of my Spanish buddies have any curiosity whatsoever about new stuff, nor do they ask questions, choosing to just impart their knowledge at length on every subject (despite the fact none of them read anything beyond Facebook). Anyway, cheers for your writings buddy!

  20. Hey Shaun,

    Cheers for writing and glad you like my stuff. Where about's are you? Spanish friends? Pah, no chance. Unless you went to school with them and formed into the clique circles then you have about as much chance as making a long-term Sevillano friend as you have of being asked to participate in a cabalgata at Christmas. Agree what you say about Spanish people taking themselves seriously, banter is lacking, but I know a few students and my wife's family are actually pretty good with some banter, so it's not all at a loss. The whole asking questions gets quite repetitive too, seems like everyone just ploughs along here, waiting for the next Semana Santa (which am a big fan of) or the Feria.

    Anyway, look forward to some more comments. Check out my other blog anovelspain.com for more about Spain. Cheers

  21. I agree with everything you said, speaking as a Canadian who has lived here forever. But those Spaniards will go after you with quite the bite if you dare say anything bad about their "golden country." Jejeje, overall, yes- pick up your dog poo for god sakes or don´t have a dog, the guiri title gets quite tired and old, the extreme heat sucks, I´m sick of the word "crisis," and the whole public drinking thing is quite gross. Love the country too, but I have to say bye soon.

  22. Interesting that you say Seville is dirty. We had our honeymoon in Granada and Seville last year and couldn't believe how clean they were compared to everywhere in England and indeed France. People are always mopping and cleaning!

  23. I know everything about these annoying things because I live in Spain too. I come to London very often because my job is connected with a lot of traveling but still, when I am away from Spain I miss everything, and I actually grew up in London. Now I feel that Spain is my home!

  24. It doesn't matter if you live in the north of Spain. I have lived in Bilbao for several years and it's just as bad. People are just a bit more posh here. It rains more in the north of Spain than in England so if you're okay with 6 months of constant rain then it's okay but the summers are also really hot but not compared to Sevilla. I would never recommend living in Spain to anyone though for the reasons you mentioned and a million more. Sorry, some venting was needed 😛

  25. Hello Barry,

    thank you for your interesting blog. I came to Sevilla three months ago. I spent half of my life in the US, but I am originally from Germany. I got tired of the rat-race in the U.S., and after a stop-over in Germany, which turned into three years, I was ready for a country where I felt people still know how to live. I have some acquaintances here, so far, and have even made some friends, but none of them Sevillanos – yet. As far as the dog poop goes, you get that in normally quite clean Germany as well, it's just less of a problem, because people, on the whole, own less dogs. What I see here in Seville is people meeting up and talking to each other over a drink, in the evening, instead of busying themselves at home or sitting in front of the TV. I see people going for walks and chatting in the street. I didn't see much of that in Germany. I didn't see much of that in the US., either. I also see people working very hard and working a lot of hours. Sevillanos have told me that the rest of Spain thinks they are lazy, but I don't see that. As far as the city is concerned, yes, it could be cleaner, but then, no place is perfect. My experiences in bars and shops have been positive, too, maybe because I speak Spanish. People have been friendly, polite, and helpful. My students in school are a nice group, too. The only thing I encounter there, with those young adults, is a total aversion to Latin-American Spanish. They correct me a lot with: "That is Latin-American Spanish, we use proper Spanish here …." So I had to tell them that this makes about as much sense as invalidating all English except British English. As far as Spanish people taking themselves seriously goes, I just finished a trilogy of Spanish crime-novels set in Sevilla. Hilarious. The author makes tremendous fun of the city and what he perceives as it's people's sense of tradition and reluctance to change. So I am settling in and plan on being here for some time, perhaps permanently. – Saludos, Louise

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