They are said to be loud and to love their siestas. But beyond these and many other stereotypes, what are Spaniards really like? And how are they different from other citizens of the world? We spoke with a dozen foreigners living in Spain, and this is what they had to say about the Spanish character.
An inferiority complex on certain topics
Ewan, a 31-year-old from Scotland, has been working as a Madrid tourist guide for the last six years. He believes that Spaniards are sociable people who often express themselves without prejudice on many issues, yet have a hang-up about certain moments of their history, such as the Spanish Inquisition. “The fact that they are so defensive about certain topics like the Inquisition or colonization shows that Spaniards have something of an inferiority complex,” he says.
Spaniards assimilate political corruption as something that is not important enough to stop voting for the leaders who swindled the nation
“Sometimes I feel that they are obsessed with the notion that other countries are always talking about how bad the Spanish empire was, and that’s not the case. Yet they have no problems with other subjects like corruption. Spaniards assimilate political corruption as something that is not important enough to stop voting for the leaders who swindled the nation. This is a very Spanish thing, you don’t see it elsewhere,” he says.
“They are great hosts. I’ve always felt very welcome in Spain. At a party with Spaniards where you hardly know a soul, it is easy to meet someone, exchange phone numbers and decide to meet again for beers,” adds Ewan, saying that this would not be a normal scenario in Scotland. “Spaniards are very informal, and I like that quite a lot. Another major difference I’ve found between Spanish and British people is that the former speak very freely about race. In Britain that is frowned upon and considered racist. The thing is, Spaniards speak more openly about things that a Brit might be thinking but would never dare say out loud.”
Loyal to their family
Alexandra Engel, a 29-year-old elementary school teacher, was born in Washington and moved to Spain five years ago. “I have to confess that Spaniards run rings around us Americans when it comes to the art of enjoying life,” she says. “In Spain, people don’t live just to work and make money. Ever since I moved to Spain I’ve learned to value what’s really important: enjoying the company of family and friends.”
Another thing that struck Alexandra was the central role that family plays in the lives of many Spaniards. “In the US it is not so common for entire families to come together for things like birthdays. In Spain I’ve discovered very strong family ties. The concept of family is deeply rooted here, and I find that great. Family members typically support one another without question, just out of the mere fact of being a member of the clan, whether it’s a cousin twice removed or a nephew.”
Not very good dancers (especially the men)
Carol is a 31-year-old from Sao Paulo, Brazil who has been living in Spain for 17 years. She finds there are many things in common between Latinos and Spaniards: “Spanish people are quick to hug and kiss you, they are quickly on familiar terms with you. I was surprised to see that when I moved here, and it made me feel like I was at home.”
Family members typically support one another without question
Alexandra Engel, United States
But there are differences as well, and they have to do with the Spanish inferiority complex. “In general, Spanish men are very shy about dancing. When you go to a club you see that none of them are dancing. In South America everyone dances, men and women alike. In Spain, if a woman approaches a man while she is dancing, as though to ask him to dance with her, it makes him feel uncomfortable. I find this funny, because dancing is such a natural thing to me, and I don’t see why they should feel ashamed to do it.”
The perfect European and Latin combination
Kara, 26, was born in Brussels and moved to Spain 20 years ago. She is studying law but earns an income from Instagram, where she has become an influencer. Asked what makes Spaniards unique, she does not hesitate: “It is, without a doubt, the art of living. The welcoming culture and people. The mix of European values (very methodical, very organized) with Latino traits (bright dispositions, extended lunches, the love of staying up late...). Spaniards take the best from both worlds.”
Obsessed with their bad English
Belén, 30, is a journalist from Argentina who worked in Madrid for three years before moving back home. While she was here, she noticed that Spaniards have very low self-esteem when it comes to speaking a foreign language. “I was really shocked to see that, among Spaniards, it is frowned upon to pronounce English properly. Several Spanish friends have confessed this to me. I’ve been told that when a Spaniard makes the effort to pronounce an English word properly, the others make fun of him or her. This tremendous complex means that Spaniards make an effort not to speak a language properly out of fear of being judged.”
Gossiping, the national sport
Sonia, 38, a native of Belgrade, has been living in Spain for the last 20 years. A digital communication professional, she has lived in the Canary Islands, Málaga and Barcelona. “Spaniards are very optimistic, they know how to seize the moment and enjoy life. But there is a very negative side to them: they are the kings of gossip. When I arrived here from Serbia, I didn’t know the meaning of cotillear, but I do now. In Spain, judging others and talking behind their backs is a national sport. I have to say that Spaniards like to stick their noses in other people’s business.”
“Pulling a Spanish one”
Pål Ødegård, 43, was born in Trondheim, the third-most-populated city in Norway. A sports journalist, he has been living in Valencia since 2010 with his wife, who is from Chile. “In Norway we have a saying: to ‘pull a Spanish one.’ We use it when someone ignores the rules or cheats in some small way. In my country, we are real sticklers for rules, and that clashes with the roguish nature of Spaniards.
In Spain, judging others and talking behind their backs is a national sport
“Another thing that definitely defines Spaniards is their emotional ties to the land where they were born, especially those who were born in regions with their own language, like Valencia, Galicia, Catalonia or Basque Country. They really miss their homeland when they are abroad, and they have a very strong sense of belonging. I think that Spaniards are heavily influenced by the city where they were born.”
Allegra, a 38-year-old Italian, spent 10 years in Madrid before moving to Mexico three years ago. That decade spent in Spain served to transform her into a Spaniard. “When I first arrived there, I was shocked to see that Spaniards are not in the habit of saying thank you or please, at least not as much as we do in Italy,” she notes. “After living in Madrid for 10 years, I turned into a Madrileña myself. Without realizing, I stopped saying please, and when I was with my family they would scold me for it. On the other hand, Spaniards are a lot of fun. Now that I am in Mexico I really miss the Spanish sense of humor. Everything is more boring here.”
Good at laughing at themselves
Angela, 34, is a German school teacher who lives in Madrid. She knows exactly what makes Spaniards unique: their sense of humor. “I am amazed at their ability to joke around even in the most critical situations. Deaths, sickness, theft, fights...nothing is untouchable when it comes to humor and laughing about unfortunate events. It’s a great life lesson. When I was living in Germany, it was unthinkable to crack jokes about certain topics. But now that I’m in Spain I get a lot less dramatic about adversity. I’ve learned to laugh at everything, especially at myself, and to take things easy. Spaniards have taught me that nothing is so bad that you can’t make jokes about it.”
Youths are rebellious and libertine
Edmundo, a 49-year-old from Ecuador, has been living in Madrid for the last 21 years. He works as a truck driver and presides over the Social, Cultural and Artistic Ecuadorian Association of Madrid. “In Ecuador there is a lot of respect for parents at home and for teachers at school. This is in contrast with the rather libertine and rebellious character of younger Spaniards,” he says. “I see it every day at the school where both my children go. The students talk back to the teachers, showing no respect for hierarchy. It’s the same with the way my children’s friends relate to their own families. They yell at their parents. This is shocking, because it doesn’t happen in my country.”
Afraid of change
Ian Powell was born in Liverpool 58 years ago. For the last 11 years he has been working in Spain as an English teacher. He recently obtained dual citizenship, and voted for Britain to remain in the European Union. Ian thinks that if you take the good parts about the Spanish and the good parts about the British, you get a very complete citizen. “Spaniards make an effort to be happy. And that is very important. People always find a way to be happy. The British, however, are always pissed off,” he notes. But the Spanish are also afraid of change. “It is frustrating to see how long it takes the Spanish to make a decision. They are really afraid of change. It happens in a lot of fields, but it is especially visible in politics. People do not change the way they vote even if the party they support is the most corrupt party in the world. That is bad for the country. The British people get angry at politicians, throw them out and change their vote, no great tragedy.”
English version by Susana Urra.