Society & Culture - Southern Spanish Surprises

Spain is full of surprises!
Spain is full of surprises!

Whether you’re living in Spain or you’re planning to move here, this is one list you won’t want to miss. Following are ten sides of life in Andalucia that never fail to surprise those of us who come other places...



1. Those Luscious Legs

They appear in the most unexpected places, waving in front of your face in the supermarket aisles, hanging from the ceilings of local restaurants and even laid out right under your nose as you sit at the bar having a coffee. No, these are not the sexy legs of local Spanish women – God forbid! These are the treasured legs of cured ham that represent Spain’s best loved delicacy.


You may grow to love the flavour of these cured wonders – jamón serrano, jamón ibérico, jamón de pata negra – but you’ll probably never quite get used to those chunky legs and neat little hooves surprising you in the most unusual places.


2. Driving us Crazy

No matter how shocked you feel at first, you will learn to manoeuvre the traffic in Spain. This, however, will not completely shield you from the “shock factor” – which is always waiting to jump out at you around the next curve when someone hoping to make the Spanish Formula 1 team faces you head on in a risky pass.


Those who’ve spent years here know only too well that the image of the laidback Spaniard goes out the window when you put him behind the wheel – well, generally speaking.

A new point-based driving license and tougher consequences do seem to be influencing behaviour on the road – but when you have websites where non-drivers sell their license points to the reckless who have lost theirs, you can’t really be sure there are no more surprises in this department.

However, Andalusians can not take all the blame for any tricky situations outsiders encounter on the roads. In such areas as the Costa del Sol, where so many foreigners are behind the wheel (some who are accustomed to driving on the other side of the road, we might add) there are definitely further factors to consider.


3. The Cleaning Brigade

You can see them every morning, men and women, official and unofficial. Many are housewives, mops in hand, who seem bent on sterilising the pavements outside their homes and buildings. Others are employed by the local town hall to pick up the mess from last night’s “botellón”– the regular drinking sprees staged by the young. And that’s the other side of all the super scrubbed hygiene in this country – the mess makers are about as serious as the scrubber uppers.


Public uproar doesn’t stop young party goers from literally filling the streets and public plazas with plastic cups and bottles, leftover liquor and tons of other rubbish, especially on weekend nights. Foreigners are often appalled to see how locals toss used paper napkins on the bar floor, flicking cigarette ashes about as they enjoy a glass of beer and a tapa.

Yes, it will probably always raise an eyebrow, but as outsiders we must understand that southern Spaniards are meticulously clean people – inside the comfort of their own homes. What they can’t understand is how those of us in countries like England and the United States can live with anything so unhygienic as wall to wall carpeting that can’t be taken out to the balcony for a good beating now and then.



So often those of us from other countries come here with leftovers from the "children should be seen but not heard" era. Never fear. That concept never made a mark on Spain, especially southern Spain.


Andalusians have a warm spot in their hearts for children, and the acceptance of childish antics and noise levels often surprises foreigners, especially in public places.

But the open, loving attitude towards children is a boon for parents who come here - young families in tow - and find they are welcome at bars, restaurants and other public venues. They can relax and enjoy their tapas and drinks while the little ones move freely about. And perhaps the most surprising aspect of this tolerance on the part of our Spanish friends and neighbours is that often children behave surprisingly well when they are allowed the chance to be kids!

The Spanish Time Zone.
The Spanish Time Zone.


So many people move here to get away from the rat race back home you'd think it would be easy to get used to the way our Spanish friends arrange our schedule in this part of the world. But no matter how many decades a newcomer ends up staying, there is still the odd moment when the urge to shop strikes at mid day - even though everyone knows nothing will be open downtown. And there's that odd feeling on Sunday when nothing - absolutely nothing (except the bar downstairs and the bakery across the street) - is open.


While the large superstore owners complain about the restrictions on their opening hours, this special Mediterranean schedule is really a blessing to the stressed at heart who have spent years climbing corporate ladders and racing down fast lanes. There's only one option here - stop and take a breather and have a long lunch before the next round when everything opens up again at around 5:00 or so.


6. All Dressed up with Everywhere to Go

Don’t forget to shine your shoes! It doesn’t matter where you’re going. Here, image is everything and that means spotless, freshly pressed and shoes shined so brightly they could double as mirrors. True, the younger generations often enjoy cool casual wear, but even they tend to succumb as they reach their mid-twenties. And all ages are freshly showered, shined and decked out in the best designer labels for a night out. And in a country with potentially more bars per capita than any other in the world, there is no shortage of places to go.Personal image is one area that requires such substantial investments of time and money that many foreigners find it hard to ever adapt to Spanish standards. It is easy, however, to grow to appreciate how nicely turned out everyone is as they take their evening stroll through town.



7. All for one and one for all

And speaking of that evening stroll, don’t think for a minute you’ll find a lone Spaniard out for a walk. This is the land of family fun and even couples are often pitied if they spend too much time alone. In fact, it’s not uncommon for numerous couples to meet for a night out or even spend their holidays together. Non-natives to this area of the world often struggle with the group mentality – especially in the supermarket aisles where whole tribes (ranging from tiny tots to great grandmother) can be seen looking for a jug of olive oil together on a Saturday evening, for example. Should you be lucky enough to be included in one of these enormous groups when they go out to eat, prepare to sink deeply into the group mentality as often everyone is expected to order the same dish – whatever the house speciality is.




And on the subject of food, the foreigner who is accustomed to eating three solid meals a day may find it hard to stomach the midnight meals… going on next door. The extremely late night schedule leads to breakfast the next morning, which for the Andaluz starts as just a quick coffee, but turns into a lengthy stop at the local bar at around 10:30…

9. And – the joys of public service

…10:30, that is. Just about the time public workers are rolling into their offices at Town Halls, police stations and other areas where their services are desperately needed. But oops! It’s time for breakfast! No, not all public workers operate on this schedule, but the few who do make a lasting impression on outsiders. And those outsiders who make the effort to learn Spanish will be even more surprised when they learn that about half of those they meet are somehow employed by the government while the other half are preparing to take an “oposición” – or public test that will qualify them for a government job.


10. Speaking up

 No list of Spanish surprises would be complete without a little whisper in your ear regarding noise. Spain is known a country with generally high noise levels. However, the surprise for foreigners is often not just the noise, but how liberating it is to be able to make a little noise - for once! Let's be honest, while no one - not even our fellow Andalusians wish to put up with noise pollution it is nice to get out and have a little fun now and then, and there is nothing like a Spanish family get together or an all out fiesta or a feria to let your hair down and enjoy. True, the volume will go up, but then, with such a passionate, heartfelt culture to share - why would our dear southern friends and neighbours even consider keeping quiet?