4 things I hate about Spain – opinion of a US expat
You’re gonna hate this article.
But that’s okay. I can take it.
See, a couple of years ago, I wrote an article about all the things I love about Spain, my adopted home country.
It’s here: 32 reasons why I love Spain.
It went viral, which was great…
But what most people didn’t understand is that it was a response to those humorless folks whose kneejerk reaction to anyone saying anything is “If you hate Spain so much you should just go home!”
I’d said something in another article about how Spanish flats tended to be small, or Spanish breakfasts unconvincing, or something equally trivial and boy howdy! Did I get yelled at by a ton of Spaniards on social. So I wrote the article as a love letter to Spain as a tongue in cheek response, even though I totally meant it. I do love Spain.
But apparently, they expect all us guiris to write nothing but gushing articles about how EVERYTHING IN SPAIN IS SO FUN ALL THE TIME OMG!
And if we don’t, we receive the full brunt of their pathetic Facebook wrath.
It doesn’t seem to matter if you say dozens of positive things about their country in the same article – it’s that one negative thing that makes them lose it and scream “Yankee Go Home”.
(“Don’t consider paella to be one of humanity’s great accomplishments? Go back to your country, asshole!” Such is the level of discourse.)
As my girl Miley says, approximately, “Only God can judge ya, so forget the haters and keep on twerking!”
And so I shall…
The 4 big things I hate about Spain
Incidentally, before we begin, I’ve talked with several friends about this, and we all love Spain.
In fact, we all basically agree that Spain is 95% pure awesome… After that, there are just a few things we don’t like.
Note, for example, the fact that my love letter has 32 positives, whereas this article has 4 things I hate about Spain.
Pretty good ratio, I’d say.
Okay, you ready?
Prepare to be outraged…
Terrible salaries and terrible work schedules
Working in Spain kind of sucks.
And Spanish people complain about this one all the time. Working from 9AM to 7PM with an obligatory 2-hour lunch break…
The culture of presentismo that values showing up and staying late – apparently it doesn’t much matter what you actually do… Your boss will be impressed if you clock long hours.
And the terrible salaries – in many cases not even breaking four figures.
Of course, I’ve been around for a long time. So I remember when people would complain about their 1200€ a month salaries.
Being a mileurista – by which I mean earning a bit more than 1000€ a month – used to be the most terrible fate that could befall someone back around 2005.
Then the crisis happened and earning even a thousand euros a month became a luxury.
Want something even worse?
Check out the 10 poorest places in Spain. That shit’s heartbreaking to read.
It’s starts with a story about a woman who’s watering down the milk she gives her kids before school. They live in an occupied house, which is more typical than you’d think. At the time of writing, according to that article, more than a million andaluces are living on less than 332€ a month.
Sorry, Spain. But you need to get your act together.
Anyway, my experience with Spanish work culture was always as an English teacher, so I’ve never worked in an office. However, my salary wasn’t anything to brag about, and neither were the work conditions.
Long days taking the bus out to some class in the suburbs, terrible pay, bosses who treat you like you’ve fallen off the lowest branch of the tree of life. (In fairness, at least some of the staff at the language school probably had. But I guess that’s a story for another article.)
Non-existent customer service
You know those times where you go to a bar and the hostile white haired waiters spend 20 minutes ignoring you?
Then, when they finally do look your way, they act like they’re doing you a big favor.
You know when shop assistants do their best to avoid eye contact with customers, and basically refuse to do anything resembling service?
They’re busy taking a personal call… how could they possibly be expected to do their jobs on a weekday at 11AM?
It’s happened to all of us.
I think that the larger problem is that for the most part, Spanish marketing is stuck in the 1940s – by which I mean it doesn’t exist.
The older businesses are firmly entrenched in the mentality that all they have to do is open the door, and someone will walk in and spend money.
I guess that system worked pretty well in times of postwar food rationing, but hey…
It’s the 21st century.
And a complete lack of marketing and innovation is part of what’s killing the old man bars, the local markets, and the independent shops.
People complain (myself included) about the ridiculous gastro fad, but the fact is, those places are doing something right.
If you haven’t changed anything about your business in 40 years, and you don’t believe in marketing or customer service, then good luck to you.
But I’m not going to cry myself to sleep about that big bully gentrification when I see your shop shuttered and up for rent.
Also, there’s this one…
All the noise, noise, noise, noise
The garbage trucks rumbling and crashing down your street long after midnight.
The kids leaving the disco at 5AM, shouting, singing and smashing bottles on the sidewalk.
The jackhammer that starts pounding on the pavement, right outside your window, at 8 AM sharp.
The restaurant with a tiny dining room packed to the gills with people of all ages talking at the same time, shouting at the top of their lungs to be heard.
Your neighbor passing a leisurely Saturday afternoon listening to “Despacito” on repeat.
The old emphyzemic coughing his (or her) smoker’s lungs out on the other side of a paperthin wall… while upstairs (on the other side of a paperthin ceiling) your other neighbors are loudly having intercourse.
Madrid is noisy. And so is Barcelona.
And either you learn to shout back, or you spend your quiet anglosaxon life frustrated and alone, with waiters ignoring you and dates thinking you’re way too timid to be relationship – or even violent intercourse – material.
More than once, while travelling, I’ve had problems with friends for being “way too loud” in their city. Take your Metro de Madrid voice onto the London Underground and people take notice – not always in a good way.
So my excuse is: that’s just how we talk in Spain.
We have to be loud, to cut through all the other noise.
Spanish politics is a joke – and not a very funny one
From the ponytailed class warriors in million dollar homes on the far left to the actual walking undead who were fairly recently running the country from the right, Spanish politics is just one bad joke.
(And don’t get me started on our current President, Pedro Sanchez.)
Anyway, I remember a bucolic afternoon several years ago, when I was somewhere on vacation.
During lunch, the story broke on TV that (then) Prime Minister Rajoy had been texting Luis Bárcenas – the ex-treasurer of the party who was – and still is – in prison for funnelling money out of the country, and apparently handing envelopes full of cash to party members.
“Be strong, Luis. We’re pulling for you. Hugs and kisses.” – Mariano.
(That’s not an exact quote, but close.)
Publicly, the Popular Party had fired and disowned Bárcenas long before. “Those are his Swiss bank accounts and we know nothing about them,” was the official story.
But now the Prime Minister himself was telling him to stay strong during the trial. Looks pretty bad, doesn’t it?
Surely, I told my (then) girlfriend, he’s gonna resign.
I spent a large part of that afternoon refreshing El País on my phone, waiting for Rajoy to step down so that a new, less-corrupt government could form.
That was several years ago. It took several more years for corruption to finally catch up with Rajoy. Only in 2018 was he finally forced out of office.
All that actually happened back then, when the text messages were first reported, was that I lost my enthusiasm for Spanish politics.
Presumably, people from all parties were rolling in the dough during the big real estate boom of the early 2000s. It seems like there have been big investigations going on for my whole time here. Occasionally someone goes to prison. But most don’t. There’s no apparent incentive not to be corrupt – or at least there wasn’t, back in the day.
Anyway, tax fraud is practically the national sport.
The government, of course, isn’t doing much to stop it… ‘Cause they’re the first ones who’d have to pay the fines.
On the other hand, we have the leftists who promise big things, but mostly just end up raising their own salaries and then splitting their parties into ever-smaller segments. And the Catalan separatists who spend most of their time trolling, refuse to go to meetings with the central government, and occasionally riot and set fire to things in my neighborhood.
Anyway, I’m sure other countries have problems…
But damn, Spain.
(Update, 2022: I wrote this a few years ago, and the aforementioned pony-tailed class warrior has since retired – and cut off his pony tail. But rest assured, Spanish politics is still a joke. Now a lot of people are hating on the President of the Madrid Community, Isabel Díaz Ayuso. And politics moves so fast that anything I put in here will seem quaintly dated by the time you probably read it. So just trust me.)
In conclusion, I don’t really hate Spain…
There might be more.
I could talk about the slowness of Spanish bureaucracy, for example. Then again, I’ve never heard anyone talk about the efficiency of bureaucracy in any other country. So that’s probably a universal. The recent coronavirus lockdowns haven’t been fun, either, but a lot of countries have done worse.
Anyway, as I’ve made abundantly clear here and elsewhere, I love Spain… Despite its problems and annoyances.
No country is perfect.
Spain still has a lot of things going for it, and there are literally hundreds of guiri bloggers who will make lists of their favorite rooftop bars and tell you how fun everything is…
However, in the interest of creating some meaningful dialogue, I wanted to put this out there.
I know not everyone’s going to like it…
But to paraphrase my business guru Dan Kennedy, “If you haven’t pissed somebody off by noon every day, you need to work harder.”
So, here’s to being polarizing…
P.S. I hope you enjoyed the things I hate about Spain. What are yours? Hit me up, right here in the comments.
P.P.S. I know, I know… if I hate Spain so much I should just leave. But here’s the thing: I got used to the whole “love it or leave it” speech when I was back in Arizona and questioning the ridiculous logic of ultra-conservative America. In other words, I’ve been doing this forever. So go ahead and troll me. I can take it.
P.P.P.S. Of course, I’m not saying the US is perfect either. And if you want to know more about that, I’ve also got some articles on here about cultural differences between the US and Spain. Check it out… 4 things I’ve learned about American culture living in Spain, and part 2: 4 more cultural differences. They’re sort of long, but people tend to like them. Enjoy!