What do the Spanish think about foreign people?

April 30, 2013

I don’t know how it happens…

But sometimes (well, maybe often would be a better word) Spanish people read what I’ve written here on this blog and get pissed off.

They say I’m generalizing about Spanish people and their culture, and that I obviously have no idea what I’m talking about.

Of course, it’s true. I am generalizing.

Not everybody over here is dishonest, or badly dressed, or a prostitute, and it wasn’t my intention to paint them that way.

However, it’s impossible to write about a nation of 46 million people without doing a lot of generalizing, so that’s exactly what I do.

It’s my blog, and of course, it’s my opinion! If your opinions are better than mine, you’re welcome to start your own blog.

(And when you’re ready to monetize, check out this article for tips.)

what do the spanish think about foreign people?
Not to generalize, but all Spanish people get around by donkey.

However, I recognize that my opinions here are quite one-sided. I sometimes say unpleasant things about Spanish people, and I should give them some way to respond.

So one of my best students has offered, in the interest of bilateral communication between nations, to write a bit about what she thinks of foreign people in Spain.

So here goes…

What do the Spanish think about foreign people?

With no further ado, I introduce you to Nuria. I’ve edited a little bit of what she wrote for clarity, but tried to leave some “local flavor” in the writing.

Generally, I agree with her. But of course, it is my blog, so I’ve responded to what Nuria says in parenthesis.

Anyway, what do the Spanish think about foreign people living in their country?

Here’s Nuria to explain it all…

Spanish customs and food

Since I came to Madrid seven years ago, I have met a lot of people from different nationalities. But recently, I’ve had the chance to get to know foreign people better. It’s very gratifying for me because I learn much of other cultures every day. Today, I have to admit that some of them are my friends now.

Soon, I discovered their opinions about my country, Spanish people, our culture and our customs.

When a foreigner comes to our country, the first thing he discovers is the food. They love the ham, the paella, and the olive oil, of course. Oh! yes. I completely agree with them. We have the best food.

(Yeah, Spanish food is awesome! Check out my article about the Top 10 Spanish Foods, for more about that.)

But also, they think Spaniards are a little bit unkind. Why? Only because we never say “please.” Is this really important?

(For many people, yes, it is! When I arrived in Madrid, I felt terrible for a couple of weeks because I thought everybody hated foreigners. Then I realized that the locals were treating everybody the same way: not very courteously. Nothing personal, just that people in Madrid don’t spend much time being unnecessarily polite… Now, when I go to other parts of Spain, I’m shocked that people are so nice to me. I think it’s just that “niceness” is a cultural convention rather than a universal quality.)

Inane political debates

Some foreign people have been here for a few years, and suddenly they consider themselves experts on Spanish politics. They think they can start speaking about ETA or about the independence of Catalonia… All of Spain’s deepest problems. It’s very insensitive!

(I used to try to stay the hell away from these conversations, but now I write a bit about Catalonia. Anyway, if Spanish people have been trying to solve them for centuries with no success, I’m certainly not going to come up with a brilliant solution myself. And I hate it when foreign people tell me how the USA could magically solve all its problems. So I understand what you mean.)

The Spanish healthcare system

One argument people have every day is about the Spanish healthcare system. How can anybody speak badly of our health system? Well, maybe they should go back to their countries to have better medical attention.

(I am a big fan and defender of the Spanish healthcare system… I think it legitimately is one of the best in the world, and everybody has the right to use it. Anybody who complains about the Spanish healthcare system probably just likes complaining. Don’t listen. Spain has the highest life expectancy in Europe, and people here also live longer than people in Australia, the USA, Norway and Canada.)

It’s true that over the years our health system has deteriorated, but Spain is now in a huge economic crisis with more than six million unemployed people and the health system costs millions and millions of euros and it’s the biggest sacrifice this country has to make.

(Very true. It’s a small miracle that Spanish society hasn’t just collapsed, with all the problems we have here. 27% unemployment, for example. And the government has done a remarkably good job so far at preserving both the health system and pensions… Spanish people living so long means they’re also getting a pension for 20 or 30 years, in many cases. We’ll see how long our social system lasts, it’s under a lot of pressure right now.)

(Update, Feb 2019: this was a few years ago, and the economy is better now. Still, demographics aren’t good and the pension system is still having problems with funds.)

spanish people and foreign people
Parc Güell in Barcelona… fun for non-Spanish people of all sizes!

Moving on…

Americans and their sense of entitlement

Another kind of foreigner moves to Spain thinking that their life here will be easier than other foreigners because their country is more developed than ours.

Americans, for example, think that they are the “kings of the world” and they say things like “How can they do this to me?” or “I am an American citizen!” Perhaps they are, but it’s a very arrogant attitude.

(Nuria, for a little bit of background, works with a government ministry that deals with a lot of foreign people. I’m somewhat shocked that anybody is ridiculous enough to start shouting “But I’m American!” when things don’t work out for them. But I guess it does make some sense: we Americans all like to think we’re special. In any case, let me assure you: If the only thing you  have to justify yourself is “I’m an American citizen!” then you’re definitely not special. You’re just another ignorant asshole, one of 312 million!)

Spaniards’ dubious fashion sense

My English teacher (That’s me!) publishes in his blog things like “Spanish people dress like a circus in summer!” Someone should tell my English teacher that everybody knows that Americans are the worst-dressed in the world during all the year!

(Maybe we’re not the worst-dressed, but I do generally agree. At least let’s say we’re in competition with the English for worst-dressed. Let the record show that when I wrote Summer is Coming to Madrid, the circus-like environment was among the positive things. I could have easily added something negative along the lines of: Soon, Madrid will be full of fat, badly-dressed American tourists who will shuffle around shouting in their shrill nasal voices “OH MY GOD I CAN’T BELIEVE WE, LIKE, HAVE TO WALK, LIKE, TWO WHOLE BLOCKS FROM THE HOTEL TO STARBUCKS!  I JUST WANT MY FRAPUCCINO NOW!”)

Are European girls more liberal?

Once he wrote: “the European girls first make love and then they decide if it was a good idea or not.” I would like to ask him, how many Spanish girls made love to you and then decided whether or not it was a good idea? Maybe a lot? I don’t think so…

(Ouch! I was quoting from the Simpsons, to be fair. See point #2 in the article Teaching English in Spain is So Glamorous for the context. In reality, I try to avoid any serious discussion of “who is ‘more liberal,’ Spanish girls or American girls?” because my statistical samples are much too small – ahem! – to say that I’ve done any sort of scientific study. In any case, what I’ve said about Puritan culture making people feel bad if they try to enjoy their lives (here, for example) is very very true. Some people will say, “What about in New York?” To which I respond: “Bah! Nobody’s from New York!”)

Spain is wonderful…

Finally, I guess it’s easier to see the worst of a country than to recognize all the good it has. Being grateful is a virtue.

(Yes it is! And believe me, I am grateful for many things about your beautiful country. Many times when I wake up in the morning I’m still somewhat surprised to find myself here in Madrid, and I consider myself to be very lucky to live in such a wonderful place and to have the life I have here.)

Anyway, I envy foreign people’s love of their respective countries. I love Spain, too, but most Spanish people never say: I love my country.

Maybe in the future, we will…

(I love Spain, too! And thanks a lot for writing, Nuria!)

In conclusion, or something similar…

Well, that’s that! One Spaniard’s opinion of foreign people in their country. I guess I should write a few more articles about why Spain is great. Just for some balance.

For some things I’ve learned about the USA while living here, check out this article. Or if you really want to have some fun, try Are Europeans more civilized than Americans?

You’ll thank me later.

Loving Spanishness – in all of its facets and manifestations.

Yours,

Mr Chorizo.

P.S. Spaniards, what do you think about foreigners in your country? Leave a message in the comments!

P.P.S. I’ve got some more generalizations around here if you want. Check out my instant classic article about dating Spanish girls, for example.

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. For the record, I’ve never thought you portray Spain in a bad light at all. Just an honest one.

    I feel like a lot of her comments are not about the attitudes of foreigners generally, but Americans (only some of them!). I’ve never known others (from the developed world at least) to have problems here with manners, healthcare, or the way Spaniards dress, because their cultures aren’t so at odds with how things are done here. You get a variety of foreigners, particularly from anglophone countries, that have that “kings of the world” attitude, though, not just Americans. The English in Málaga, to illustrate…

    I had never considered that it might be insensitive to debate Spanish politics! I always find it fascinating when foreigners know anything about my country’s politics, so I thought it was fine to talk about as long as I’m not being patronising. I’ll have to learn to hold my tongue more often.

    Also, that article on America you linked to is brilliant. I am going to start referring people to it when these types of discussions come up.

    1. Hey Jess! I learned years ago that when a Spanish person asks you “What do you think about Spanish people?” that there’s a definite right and wrong answer. Most people want to hear something positive about themselves, obviously.

      In any case, as I admit in the article, we’re all generalizing. It’s impossible to write about Spanish people or American people without generalizing, and of course there are always exceptions.

      Thanks for the comment!

    1. Why, Sarah, thank you for your well-worded and thoughtful comment. I actually thought this was one of my less stupid articles, but apparently I was wrong. Oh well. Time to cry myself to sleep 🙂

  2. Since we are with the generalization…overall Latin Europeans (Spanish, French, Portugese, Italians and Romanians) and Eastern Europeans (specially Poles and…my God, the Ruskies…) tend to be notoriously rude when compared to Northern Germanic people (Brits, Germans, Dutch, Scandinavians…), on the other hand, we are substantially less likely to pass out in the sidewalk face deep in our own vomit (except again, maybe, the Russians who seem to embody all “the best” attributes of Europe), but yes, we really ought to say “por favor” more often…

    The point you make about puritan culture is actually one of the things that fascinates me the most about American culture. It’s an odd little contradiction that should be object to more studies, when the country that gave us Playboy, throws a tantrum when Beyonce’s nipple shows on TV. America is a country where you can’t legally have sex with a woman whom you paid, unless you decide to film it. Those odd quirks and that strange love-hate relationship Americans have with sex is something that never ceases to amaze me.

  3. I just wonder what kind of reactions your remarks would arise in Spaniards if you happened to come from a developing country instead.
    We Spaniards can often be self-critical as much as we are chauvinist, but mind you, most of us are not prepared to receive negative feedback from people bringing fresh perspectives from the outer world.
    On a positive note, the crisis which is still hitting the country has sent many people abroad, where they are being confronted with cultural relativism, so I hope -should these ever manage to return- they bring a bit of mildness to the discussion.

    In the mean time, I think you’re doing a brilliant job presenting us with your contrasting views of the country and city I grew up in. I would just say, don’t take too seriously my fellow nationals’ outrage about everything related to food. Nations usually take pride on basic ideas. Our recent history doesn’t provide much to be proud of, so food is all we were left with.

    All the best.

    (I realise this comment comes a bit late in the thread, but I thought it was worth participating anyway)

    1. Thanks a lot! I had also contemplated what you say: probably every country has to think it’s great for some reason. So Spain talks about beaches and ham. And yes, I’m sure that if I were from Bolivia and started criticising Spain the reaction would be different. Anyway, I love Spain! Just not all the time…

  4. I don´t think like Nuria at all in almost any of the points! I am from Málaga but I´ve been living in Madrid for five years (Now I am writing from the Netherlands) and I don´t think that foreign people feel everything has to work properly for them because they are just foreign people, or that they critizice(wrong spelling?) the health system. It is true that maybe they/you overrate Spain as we overrate other countries from outside, I mean, your life as an expat sometimes could be different to ours in terms of work, for example, or you may not suffer the unemployment or other things we may do, as I guess I am living in the Netherlands differently to Dutch people. But actually I don´t really think that foreign people could hate Spain for many reasons, to be honest I think that we spanish people normally believe that you foreign people are just coming to Spain to go clubbing and go to the beach and get drunk and then go back home. Again, I am from Málaga, I have seen a lot of these ones! Now that I am abroad I feel people talk about Spain sometimes like the club of Europe. I don´t know if there are many like you, ‘guiris’ with a stable life in Spain, I always believe that these 6million you mentioned in some other article are mostly old people enjoying their old life in the sunny coasts… but yes, interesting to know there are spanish people thinking like this (there must be some real basis on it) and foreign people thinking like you. This blog is the great discover of this rainy Saturday here!

  5. Interesting discussion!!
    My wife and I have been to spain snd islands many times over the years most often for short breaks. I am english and my wife is thai and we are usually embarrassed by the behavior and attitudes of the English people in Spain.
    We stay well away from the area frequented by the english and go to the spanish area. We even have had some spanish lessons.
    We are professionals, hardly drink alcohol and we run in the mountains and parks with the local runners.
    Our biggest complaint about spain is that we so much want to br part of the spanish culture especially we dress up at night and take pride in our appearance and manners.
    So why is it that we cannot ever receive the same lovely food that we see on the plates of the spanish people? We find it very difficult to havr good food and now we have tins of mackeral or tuna from the mercado.
    Valencia was particularly dissapointing. Malaga was better.
    The 2nd complaint, and it may be related to the first, is that my wife is asian with dark skin. We really dont feel welcome in quite a few places.
    This is not being paranoid. We have been to 10 european countries this year and spain is by far the worst when it comes to the way my wife is made to feel.
    Quite annoying when spain is right up there with our favourite countries to visit.
    But after poor food in Valencia and unwelcoming restaurants, (so much for the famous paella valenciana – undercooked, awful )we are not considering returning next year if at all.

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