The Spanish National Character : Live and Let Live

Spain has a particular fascination for the Northern European and has done for centuries? It’s not just because Spain is colourful and fun which it is in buckets. It’s also because of the stark contradictions apparent in everyday behaviour. Why do they litter the streets but clean the pavement outside they’re own home? Why are they so anarchic and also so bureaucratic? Why are they always late but so keen to pass you on the motorway?!!!

Well there’s a surfeit of Northern Europeans all blogging about siestas and paella and flamenco in order to promote their website (……irony intentional) but they are all missing the essential insight that explains everything and that is LIVE & LET LIVE. (Other bloggers please forgive the implied criticism -in this article I am being playful not snidy).

You see if we take all the things that Northern Europeans moan about as being chaotic, badly organised, or even anti-social we find that the explanation at the heart of it is tolerance and good humour.

Let’s take one of the big ones – noise. Noisy motorbikes…. screaming for “Javi” in the swimming pool – Spain is the world’s noisiest country. Researchers have dangled microphones out of windows to prove it. But, you see, when you go to the beach with your ghetto blaster and I have to listen to your music it means I can take my ghetto blaster to the beach and listen to my music: live and let live.

Let’s take another – double parking. You double park and block my car in. I just honk and you come out and move. It’s great because it means I can double park.

And another big one – lateness. Yes we do have to check, on those rare occasions that it actually matters, whether we mean Spanish time or English time but live and let live also explains Spanish lateness. We Northern Europeans just need to lighten up a bit.

The Bureaucracy – everyone gets fed up with this Spaniards and foreigners alike. I could drone on about it being a throwback to the Franco era or complain about oposiciones and I could tell endless stories about pointless delays in building licences but instead of that let me try and say something useful.

Observe how the Spanish deal with the bureaucrats. Do they get cross or threaten to mount a campaign to expose inefficiency? Do they appeal to the bureaucrat’s sense of reasonableness (there is nothing quite so futile as this!)? No, if you watch them they use charm. You probably never thought of that did you? They smile, talk about the local fiesta, flirt a bit, flatter a bit. You may well ask how far it gets them, well quite honestly I couldn’t say. Charm is an art form that, in the face of the bureacrat, it shames me to confess, I still have to master.

Moving on shall we discuss the person in front of you chatting at the check-out desk while you are waiting? or having to say good morning to everyone? No let’s just live and let live.

Lunch is a serious business. It occurs between 14.30 and 16.30. We stop. We go to a restaurant with everyone else and have a menu del dia (fixed price limited choice 3 course meal for about 10€). We eat. We talk. We rest. We will work in the afternoon till 20.30 and quite often until much later.

A cheese sandwich at 13.00 and keep going? Surely this must be some kind of joke!

The Siesta – no article on the Spanish national character would be complete without talking about the siesta. The fiesta siesta is my favourite. Perhaps best not to go into details but its highly recommended (as a cultural experience).

Business Legal and Cultural Environment. To speak seriously for a moment there are important differences that you should be aware of if you are going to invest a lot of money in property or and build yourself a house or villa. Its too big a subject to fall within the scope of this light hearted article. It’s probably best for you to call me but I will leave you with one peice of advice.

Remember when buying property in Spain there is no obligation on the part of the vendor to disclose defects. In fact there are a lot of people, Spaniards and foreigners alike, trying to fob off their defective properties, (illegal square meterage, impossibility of getting planning consent and so on) to naïve foreigners who might think there is the equivalent of solicitors searches when buying a property of building plot. The sellers may be assisted by estate agents and lawyers that make everything look clean. I have personally heard a lawyer say “well they didn’t ask so I didn’t say anything”…so……..be cautious.

Author: John Wolfendale
Bio: John is a founder of Eco Vida Homes and is passionate about bringing modern design and construction practices to Spain. He believes a home which is warm in winter and cool in summer is largely a matter of design and selective use of materials. He is British and a Chartered Surveyor with over 24 years experience living and working in Spain.

Eco Vida Homes is a team of Architects, Technical Architects, Builders, an Engineer, and a Chartered Surveyor. We help people design and build beautiful energy efficient home, designed for Mediterranean living, in Marbella and Southern Spain. There are two things that make us stand out: a sharp focus on our clients’ needs and everything we build is comfortable and energy efficiency………..It’s like Grand Designs………… only without the drama.