In this post I will be talking about some of the cultural differences I have encountered whilst living in Spain in comparison to my home country of the United Kingdom. Whilst the two countries have their obvious differences, for me, at least, it is almost impossible to say which country is better (if weather wasn’t a factor…). It seems that Spain is more relaxed but if you want to build a strong career the UK could have a few more options.
Breakfast in Spain typically consists of a coffee, usually milky. Spaniards aren’t massive on breakfast but plenty of cafes serve sweet pastries, cakes or tostadas accompanied with oil, tomato and jamón. It’s not unusual to find cereals in the supermarkets in Spain, albeit a smaller selection. If you’re opting for breakfast in a café or bar in the UK you’ll normally have the option of greasy spoon caff serving (questionable) sausage, egg and bacon either in barms, baps, or combined with other staples to an English Breakfast. That being said, it’s becoming more popular to find artisan breakfasts which boast items such as smashed avocado, poached eggs and rye bread. Furthermore, most places have growing vegan/ gluten free options available.
Lunch in the UK stereotypically consists of a sandwich or ‘meal deal’ (or a cheeky Greg’s pastie) for a lot of the working population who tend to eat around 12.30-1.30. Some may opt to eat out but will normally go for something quick, as lunch breaks (if they exist at all) are not usually longer than one hour. Lunch in Spain is the main dish of the day, normally served around 2-3pm, if choosing tapas could include tortilla, patatas bravas or garlic shrimps. Homemade food could include vegetable, bean or seafood soup, fish, seafood or meat and salad or veg. Bread. Lots of bread.
Dinner in the UK will be on the table (or sofa) around 6/7pm, although I remember eating at 5pm everyday without fail! Spain again, is a lot later, normally between 9pm and midnight.
Consumer tastes are very different in the UK and Spain. Good luck if you want to be vegetarian, let alone vegan in Spain! They have limited options in most bars and cafes (excluding the trendier areas) whereas lots of venues in the UK are jumping on the increasing trend- even Whetherspoons has a vegan menu! Milk in the UK is normally fresh, and skimmed, semi skimmed and full fat are equally preferred. Spaniards tend to go for full fat UHT milk- everywhere. Having asked in several cafes which types of milk they have, you get a strange look. On one hand, the UK has many café chains that all tend to offer (at least) soya milk as an alternative to cow’s milk, whereas most Spanish cafes are smaller, independent venues that haven’t been given national consumer trends to adhere to.
Siestas, Fiestas and Sunday Hours
Imagine having a two-hour break on your workday- and most places are closed (excluding large chains such as supermarkets/ clothing shops) except bars, cafes and restaurants. It’s no wonder life in Spain is a little more relaxed. After two years of living in Spain, I have to say I just don’t agree with the efficiency of siestas.
There are 8 bank holidays in the UK each year. A lot of the time this doesn’t affect shops, restaurants or bars. I have even seen a bank open on a bank holiday. Guess we like to work in the UK… In Spain, however they have 12 public holidays or ‘fiestas’, as they are known and almost everything closes, with the exception of s0me bars/ restaurants. Imagine it being Christmas eve and not being able to do your shopping, buy milk or even wine!
Sunday hours in the UK can be annoying, especially as more than half the UK population doesn’t have a religion- it does kind of seem pointless. Spanish Sunday trading hours (I’m referring to Andalusia, as that’s where I live) are minimal- you will find more open on a bank holiday Monday in the UK than an average Sunday! Supermarkets such as Mercadona are closed as well as international clothing chains such as Zara. As you guessed, bars, restaurants and cafes will normally be open.
There is a huge difference in the availability, variety and ownership of shops. The UK is saturated in chains, franchises and global companies whereas Spain has a higher percentage of independent shops and restaurants. In the UK you can walk into a supermarket and purchase:
-Newspaper (Spain- small independent paper shops or pop up stands scattered around)
-Cigarettes (Spain- tobacconist shop, cigarette machines found in bars or pop up stands)
-Paracetamol or prescription drugs (Spain- pharmacy- yes, even for ibuprofen)
-Pencils, paper or stationary (Spain- stationary shop or Chinese Bazaar)
-Lottery ticket (Spain- tobacconist or independent street sellers)
-Flowers (Spain- florist)
So basically, when you can go to one shop in the UK, you may need to go to 6 separate shops in Spain (most of which will have a siesta between 2/5pm, ALL of which will be closed on Sundays).
Greetings & Social Norms
When meeting someone for the first time, a simple handshake or awkward smile suffices in the UK. Spain is a little closer, usually a kiss on both cheeks for women and a handshake between blokes. When seeing friends in the UK it’s not uncommon to just smile, maybe a hug if you haven’t seen them in a while, on the other hand the double kiss works in Spain, even if you pass someone on the street. For me, I prefer the Spanish way. Not because I am a fan of physical contact but due to the fact there is a national norm there is no awkwardness.
The British crowd (as chavvy and rowdy as we can be) are well known for being overly and unnecessarily polite. “Sorry, excuse me, could you, may I.” This is reflected in the commercial setting; the Brits love to queue, whereas Spaniards have to use ticket machines to encourage a fair system. In the UK (which could be argued as the slightly more capitalistic of the two) there is a massive emphasis for top notch customer service, perhaps it’s over the top and unnecessary, but a little small talk about the weather does no harm. In hospitality it’s normal to tip in the UK whereas in Spain it is a lot less common; an expected reflection of the customer service.
Money & Working
Due to the UK tax placed on cigarettes and alcohol, it’s more expensive; 20 cigarettes in the UK set you back around 10 euros whereas in Spain you can pick up the same for less than half the price. Spain is cheaper, but this is reflected in the wages with the average wage in Spain standing at 1291.22 euros and the UK’s is 43% higher at 2004.80 euros. The UK has a local purchasing power of almost 20% higher than that of Spain, but don’t let this fool you to thinking that the UK is a more favourable or more stable place to live. 2016 homelessness rate stands at a mere 0.086% in Spain and considerably higher in the UK at 0.38%.
Spain wins on weather; being able to sit outside at any time of the day is underrated and something I will miss a lot when I move back to the UK. But the UK does win a few points for the fact that most accommodation is built for the cold weather; central heating, underfloor heating, well insulated and nice thick walls. From the accommodation I’ve experienced Spain has cold floors, thin windows and maybe one or 2 portable heaters to heat the home up. They have a little trick of putting a radiator under the table, placing a table cover over the table and our knees to try and keep warm.