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10 Biggest Mistakes Newcomers Make in Spain

If you live in a city regarded as a popular tourist attraction, you will know that most tourists stand out like a sore thumb. Tourists often carry around large backpacks and can be seen happily snapping away at anything that moves. Tourists will gather at popular landmarks while locals stroll right past them. Visitors often dress differently. They will wander around in shorts and T-shirts while the locals are still in jackets and jeans.

Standing out as a foreigner isn’t really a problem. The only real downside is that if it is plain you are not a local of the country, you may find it harder to have a ‘genuine cultural experience’ which is very trendy these days. Modern travellers generally want to see sights away from the usual well-beaten tourist routes and immerse fully in the local culture.

One of the most useful ways to avoid being pigeon-holed as a tourist is to read up in advance on the place you are visiting and the local etiquette. Locals will respond to you better, other visitors will learn by your example, and you will get the opportunity to really see life in the shoes of other people during your stay.

We asked long term expat Max McCartney from Javea Estate Agents how to avoid this problem. Here he explains some of the biggest mistakes tourists make when visiting Spain.

  • Dining – It is no secret that Spain is well-known for its out-of-ordinary eating habits. Breakfast is usually eaten between 7 am, and 10m and will consist of coffee and a small pastry or croissant. Lunch is served after 2 pm and is the main meal of the day. Dinner is eaten much later in the evening compared to most countries, so do not show up at a cafeteria at noon and expect lunch.
  • Tú versus Usted – Trying to speak Spanish is a great idea but make sure that you watch out for your use of Tú and Usted. Both of these words mean you, but they have different connotations, as one version is polite and the other familiar.
  • Watch what you wear – Bikinis are for the beach, not the shops. Walking around a city or town in your swimwear is considered disrespectful, and in many towns punishable with a fine. Going shirtless can also land you in hot water, and most shops or bars will not allow you to enter without a T-shirt or vest.
  • Take a break from shopping – It is not unusual for shops to shut between two and five in the afternoon while the shopkeeper eats their main meal of the day and maybe catches up on some rest. This is not as widespread as it once was, but smaller shops are still likely to follow this tradition.
  • If you learn one phrase in Spanish, try “UstedhablaInglés?” which means “Do you speak English?”.
  • Sort your finances out – This may seem like a boring and time-consuming task, but it needs to be done if you are planning on spending an extended amount of time in Spain.
  • Tipping habits – Tipping is expected in most restaurants in Spain, and it is also polite to leave a small tip when in a bar. Tourists are encouraged to tip whenever possible.
  • Smoking in public – In 2007, Spain adopted a new policy on smoking in public. Venues had to provide non-smoking areas. However, the latest laws ban smoking in all enclosed public spaces completely, and even some beaches are no smoking zones.
  • Grab a bargain – Do not negotiate when in a regular shop. However, when dealing with street vendors or market stall holders, feel free to bargain away.
  • Get used to Spanish drivers – Try and stay out of the fast lane unless you intend on going over the speed limit.
  • Don’t expect to find accommodation without booking – Spain gets very busy during the summer months. If you plan on staying in a resort town, you just might find everything is full up, so book accommodation well in advance.
  • Paying through the nose – Spanish plazas, like the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, are a cultural feast for a visitor’s eyes, but the restaurants around them are often costly and only of passable quality. Avoiding these tourist traps will help your money go further, and there are plenty of fabulous eating places nearby that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

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