You read this everywhere I'm sure but I'll repeat it. Things go at a slower
pace so be prepared to wait at banks, stores, bars, restaurants and tourist
offices. Waiters and bartenders generally don't work off tips, and while
service is generally good they aren't bending over backwards to meet your
every need. Yet I've never in my life seen people work harder or faster
than they do in some of the bars and restaurants here when things are
busy. As for working for tips from my point of view that's great. I can't
think of anything I hate more than a waiter trying to find something to
chat about when the time for the check nears. I'm here to eat, not to
bond with the staff. Some other examples of the patience we've had to
- We waited 5 or
more weeks for our television to be fixed. We called every other day
and were promised it would be ready "by the end of the week"
every time we called.
- We waited over
3 weeks to get our mattress delivered. I couldn't help but think about
1-800-Mattress in the U.S., with their same or next day service, as
I slept on my old bed.
- We plan for 20
minutes to wait in line each time we visit our bank, although sometimes
it takes less.
- We signed up for
automatic bank drafts twice since July with Telefonica. Each month after
we signed up a new bill came in the mail saying we had to take it to
the bank and pay the balance. When we called to complain they said they
didn't have our information and we signed up again. Three months later
and we're still waiting for our first bill to be drafted from the account.
Love it, embrace
it, hug it like you can't get enough of it because if you're really worried
about embarrassing yourself here than you're going to have a hard time.
You can't be an expert on the language and culture or know how they do
everything. To worry yourself about everything you say or do will keep
you from learning more and in many cases advancing your confidence. A
little guts with no fear to speak will have others laughing at you from
time to time, but you'll make it much further. Every time you learn how
to ask for, do or get something it makes it that much easier the rest
of the time you're here. And think about it - Sevillanos see
and hear these mistakes almost every day so it's nothing new to them.
Most of the time when you try to speak or make a mistake you can just
smile and the person behind the bar or desk will happily help you. Sometimes
they won't, but remember you can find jerks everywhere in this world.
is not fair
Remember that saying you always hated hearing from your parents and teachers?
Try and think of this often before you come here. Many Americans and others
feel entitled to be treated equally, but that may not always be the case
in Spain or Seville. The bartender may serve his friends or regulars first
even though you've been there longer trying to flag him down. Some people
may get olives with their beer while you get only the beer. They may even
serve others larger portions of tapas. The store employee may first serve
that person who broke in line right in front of you (see below). The person
behind the counter in the hardware store may decide they don't have what
you want even though you know they do. Someone in El Corte Inglés
may tell you there is no way to connect a DVD player to your type of television
when there are several ways (hint to the fellow who told us this - I'm
watching DVDs just fine on my type of television). These examples
are exceptions, not the rule, but they do happen.
Don't expect a lot of English, but do expect waiters and other
people to be helpful when you are trying to order something or find your
way around here. A little Spanish goes a long way, so try to speak what
you can. And practice the art of gesturing a lot - when you can't say
something maybe a shrug or a flailing of hands will bring you some luck,
if not some laughs.
Many of you living in a city in the U.S. already have this one down. In
Seville and most of Spain personal space is a much smaller buffer zone.
Bumping into or brushing by a person on the street requires a quick perdon
and generally nothing more (depending on whether you just knocked
down that little old lady). It's not an affront to you or your area and
not a reason to become unreasonably angry. Unlike many places in the U.S.
you tend to see your neighbors more often and at closer range as you all
enter through the same door in the building, hang your laundry on the
same roof and walk the same street every day. Quite a difference from
waving politely to your neighbor across the yard from your driveway. In
terms of the difference between Spain and the U.S. I always think of my
trips to the grocery while visiting home. Almost everyone who walked by
me in the U.S. while I stared at the selection on the shelves said "excuse
me". But why? I'm here shopping and certainly coming within 2-3 feet
of me doesn't warrant an apology.
Don't be surprised if that little, (seemingly) sweet old lady pushes her
way in front of you when you've been waiting for 10 or 15 minutes. And
don't be surprised when they attend to her before you. If you're in a
store talking to an employee and someone has a question don't be taken
aback if they interrupt your conversation to ask a question. I don't recommend
you break in line, too, but don't be afraid to push your way through a
crowd to get to where you need to go or speak up a little when you need
a question answered.
What seems to be out of control really is well under control. How do those
bartenders keep up with your tab when there are 40 people in the bar?
Why isn't everyone losing their minds as they try and make their way through
the Semana Santa crowds? Little social rules guide behavior so it's not
such a strange or chaotic situation to Sevillanos as it is to
visitors. Although many times things are more orderly here - try the butcher,
cheese or fruit counters at El Corte Inglés. I prefer the "take
a number" method to my deli counter back home, where everyone relies
on common courtesy to say who is next when the attendant asks.
What do do when the person at the checkout counter of the grocery store
tosses a few plastic bags in the direction of your groceries? Put your
stuff in a bag, of course! Unlike the U.S. don't expect anyone to come
by and bag your groceries for you. You're expected to pack them yourself
in most any supermarket so the checker can move on to the next person
in line. Likewise, you are expected to take all of your groceries out
of the cart or basket and place them on the conveyer belt for the checker
to ring you up.
touch the fruit!
Many times in supermarkets you need to wait for the attendant to pick
your fruit. Unlike in the U.S. you can't always reach out and squeeze
that tomato or plum to see if it is ripe. You can, however, ask that they
pick out a certain piece of fruit for you if it looks good. In general
if there is an attendant around it's wise to ask first if you can touch.
it on the floor
Is the floor in that tapas bar really that dirty? Well, yes, but it's
ok. What are all those people doing throwing their trash on the floor?
Keeping things clean. While it doesn't take place in the nicer restaurants
you'll see many people exercising their rights to throw napkins, olive
pits and cigarette butts on the floor. Not to worry, someone will come
by later and clean it up, but it sure keeps the mess off the counters.
your feet on the ground
You're relaxing outside at a cafe so why not stretch out and kick your
feet up on the seat next to you? If you do so you may be asked to put
them back on the ground. Many vacationing Americans see care-free Spain
and think doing this couldn't offend anyone. But the street is probably
the dirtiest thing around. Why else would those little old ladies spend
so much time mopping the sidewalk in front of their house? Putting your
feet, which surely have been touching the ground recently unless your
vacation is going all too well, on a seat is putting all of the dirt,
dog crap and anything else from the street where someone plans to sit.
y ahora mismo
What does it mean when
a bartender or store clerk says he will help you - ahora, le atiende
- and then walks off? Ahora means now, doesn't it? Sort of. Many
times ahora means in just a minute, or your next when I finish
what I'm doing. Ahora mismo, however, means "right now".
Spaniards smoke everywhere and you'll still see the occasional fool smoking
in the department store even though there are no smoking signs. The only
place I've seen the no smoking rule completely respected is in hospitals.
So be prepared to inhale second hand smoke. And I've never, seen anyone,
anywhere ask the person next to them to please put out their cigarette,
except once in a movie theatre about 10 years ago. And hey, you shouldn't
Why are there 100 people spilling into the streets while trying to squeeze
into that bar that only holds 25? Spaniards like to be where the action
is. An empty bar is empty for a reason. In an American's eyes this may
be an advantage but in a Spaniard's eyes this is a sign: it's not the
place to be tonight.
In McDonalds, for example. Or in the corner market, the bread store, a
drink machine. You can find beer almost anywhere. And that goes for liquor
as well. Not controlled by some puritan state law, you can buy a bottle
of whisky in most food stores, as well as get a mixed drink in most any
bar. I can even get a bottle of rum in my local video store. While not
always the case, many locals drink in moderation. Sure, six or so drinks
are nice, but not in the same place. Making, or rather walking, your way
to each bar tends to burn that stuff off. Many also prefer a beer or wine
with lunch or dinner rather than a Coke.
Dogs are wonderful - I am a dog lover. Despite laws in the city that owners
must pick up their dog's business hardly anyone does it. It is tempting
to look up at all the buildings and monuments, or just the beautiful blue
sky in Seville. I have learned to keep one eye on the ground when walking
around to keep my shoes clean. So far this year I've yet to step in any
but the dogs are doing their best to get me. And while near the Cathedral
and other tourist sites in the center keep an eye out for horse crap,
in the shade
I know this one seems obvious, but it is a necessary practice
in the summer heat to keep yourself going. You'll see plenty of people
cross the street to walk in the shade - follow their lead! In June they
place toldos or tarps over the narrower streets in the center
to keep everyone in the shade. Another way to keep yourself out of the
sun is to keep a Spanish schedule. Eat at 3pm, and take a nap or relax
afterwards. Then head out around 5:30 or later so you avoid the hottest
part of the day. Remember, in the summer there's light until 10pm, so
there's no rush.
One thing that sometimes surprises people visiting Seville is the generational
mix. It's not uncommon to see a whole family sitting outside at a bar,
perhaps even 4 generations from the great-grandmother to the great-grandchildren.
Don't be surprised to see a mother, her daughter and her daughter
walking arm in arm down the street. It's not that this doesn't happen
in the U.S. or elsewhere, it's the fact that this is not a rare occurrence
myth of sangria
Many travelers think of Spain and they automatically think of casually
sipping sangria outside of a bar. The problem is most bars don't have
sangria, and more often than not those that do are tourist bars. Sangria
is a wonderful drink, they just don't go to the trouble of making it every
day in every bar. I see many tourists pointing at glasses of tinto
de verano and asking the bartender for sangria. So what is a tinto
de verano? It's red wine on ice mixed with your choice of soda: blanco,
limon or naranja. If you are dying to try sangria but can't find
it anywhere try this instead. While simpler and not exactly the same it
does the trick. Plus it's easier to make at home when you get back to
myth of gazpacho
Ditto on the above - many think gazpacho is everywhere. It generally is,
but generally during spring and summer, and not very common in fall or
winter. Many menus will even list gazpacho en verano. Also, don't
be surprised to have your gazpacho served to you in a glass instead of
a bowl. This is more common in tapas bars. Some restaurants will server
gazpacho in a bowl with guarnicion- little bits of green pepper,
fried bread, ham and hard boiled egg. And while gazpacho gets all the
hype many people fail to ever try salmorejo - it's like gazpacho,
but always served in a bowl, most often with bits of serrano ham. It's
thicker and a bit sweeter than gazpacho.
myth of paella
Paella is everywhere here, although maybe in a little different
form than what you see in the pictures. They tend to call it simply arroz
(rice) in Seville, and while many bars and restaurants offer it every
day a lot don't. You'll discover places offer it only on Saturday and
Sunday. As for that picture you have in your head of a large dish with
delicately arranged seafood on the top - try to forget it. Most of the
time it comes in a big scoop on a plate. Expect different variations wherever
you go, with possible combinations of chicken, shrimp, pork, squid and
clams. In the nicer restaurants you can order paella and get what you've
seen in those magazines, but it'll likely taste the same.
It runs through the river between el centro and Triana, but
it also is a popular drink offered at a few bars here. Try this instead
of sangria if you're feeling bold. Don't finish the night up with a pitcher
of it, though, as it packs a punch. Served in jaras (pitcher)
or media jaras (half-pitchers) be prepared to pay a hefty price
- anywhere from 20-30€ for a pitcher. Here's what's in it:
- zumo de piña
- ron (rum)
- Licor 43
- nata (whipped
cream: on top and then stirred in)
moreno (brown sugar)
Feria, las tiendas and how to have
a good time there
Feria is a very festive time in Seville. It's a fair in Seville with a
lot of tents where everyone's drinking and dancing, right? Well, it's
in Seville but across the river on the other side of Los Remedios. Just
a little hike to get there but not too far. What you can't do when you
get there is enter most of the tents or tiendas, as they are
private. A few community tents are open to everyone, though. Feria is
a great time, although the daylight hours may be the best for visiting.
On some nights it's crowded and often hard to move around, and you can
expect the folks in the crowd to be well past drunk. Like fairs in the
U.S. expect overpriced food and drink and the same kind of carnival games
and rides in the appropriately named calle de infierno.
eat the oranges
Orange trees in the spring provide flowers and the wonderful smell of
azahar. Then there's the color of the oranges which brightens
up the sidewalks and makes for great pictures. Later there's the wonderful
smell as oranges fall to the ground and are crushed by the passing cars.
A nice ripe orange looks thirst quenching, but don't try and eat them
- they aren't so tasty. Most of the oranges are collected later and shipped
off to make orange marmalade, which better suits their bitter taste.
As explained above the waiters don't work off tips, but they do work hard.
When sitting outside at a bar or restaurant I've found that they are harder
to flag down to order that second round of drinks or tapas. And when the
time comes for the check it seems there's a blind spot in front of your
table. You must ask for the check in almost all cases. People like to
linger at tables and waiters won't chase you off by bringing you the check
(hint, hint) after you finish your meal. And don't always expect wait
service at the tables. Some bars have tables inside and outside but you
have to order at the bar and bring it yourself to the table. It's called
in the bars
The generations mix, including in los bares. Some are shocked
to see a a couple with their 8 month-old and 4 year-old in a bar at 1am.
Not only is it smoke-filled, but the children should have been in bed
by 8 or 9pm! Two things will help you understand what's going on. First,
while bars in the U.S. are for people 21 and older there are many with
a family atmosphere in Spain. Just because it says "bar" outside
doesn't mean it's all sports, dancing and lots of beer drinking. Second,
bedtimes for children here are much later - consider that dinner is often
served at 9 or 10pm and sometimes later in the summer.
a drink on me
When out with Spaniards it's often custom to pay for a round of drinks
rather than splitting things up. Or sometimes you or they may pay for
several rounds in one place. The next round or place and it's your turn.
Sometimes you come out ahead while other times you don't. Now worries
- it'll all even out eventually.
killed the cat, but not the Spaniard
Groups form quickly here: in the street, outside a bar, near a street
performer or next to a store window. There are many magnetic situations
that attract people: a couple arguing, a group practicing for a Cruz
de Mayo, a strange noise or just about anyone giving out anything
for free ("What's free?!? Where?? I don't care. I want it!").
Most Spaniards I've met are the first ones to tell me they're simply a
curious bunch. There is often no shame in watching the spectacle, whatever
it may be, because it's ok to stop everything you're doing, run into the
street and see what's going on.
Curiosity breeds the art of staring. In the U.S. this can get you into
trouble with the wrong people ("What're you looking at?!?").
Here if you look a bit different or are simply walking by someone in the
street be ready for others to stare at you. And don't be surprised if
they look longer than a few seconds. Unlike the U.S. it's not time to
square off and get into a defensive position. Sure, some people may be
muttering some insult about foreigners under their breath, but the majority
are simply curious and getting a better look.
This one's well known and you're in Europe, so I won't go into it too
much. Just don't be surprised to see breasts, a butt or even complete
nudity in a magazine, a poster, on regular TV (an ad or when showing an
R-rated movie). Some local television stations also show explicit adult
shows and movies after midnight. And
yes, some women, although very few, are topless on the beaches...
not how much you've drank, it's where you've been
For the younger of the visitors here, most folks are not interested in
how much you drank last night. Sitting in one bar and downing beer after
shot after beer is not going to win you many prizes or much respect. Most
people going out here tend to hop from one place to another, drinking
a round or two and then heading on to the next place. All the walking
involved in la marcha helps burn of the alcohol, if you're interested
in doing that (you should be!). Many do get drunk, but in general you
see less ridiculous behavior when you're in a bar than when in the U.S.
this a napkin?
Your sitting in a bar eating a tapa, your hands are a little greasy and
you reach for a napkin. But wait, what is this semi-transparent thing
you just pulled out of the napkin holder? With the absorbent power to
handle maybe 3 drops of water, it may take 4 or 5 of these to clean yourself
up. Cloth napkins will be available in some nice restaurants, but otherwise
you'll need to get used to these little guys masquerading as napkins.
much was that? The peseta lives on
because the currency changed doesn't mean the thinking has. While prices
for smaller things are often only listed in Euros it's a challenge to
rent an apartment or make a larger purchase without someone either first
telling you the price in pesetas, and then letting you do the math, or
converting it the second they tell you the price in Euros. While it may
seem strange to hang on to the old currency many people spent their lives
earning and saving in pesetas, so the mental calculations don't go away
diet, thanks, I just want it Light or with saccharin
everyone is diet crazed in Spain, so when you're looking for sugar-free
soft drinks ask for a light, as in Coca-Cola Light, instead of Diet Coke.
And if you've long forgotten about Tab and it's saccharin filled goodness,
well it's alive and well in Spain and in most supermarkets.
red mean stop?
When it comes to traffic lights I used to think
so. And while most people stop for a red light it's not uncommon to see
a car slow down and then "sneak through" if nobody is crossing
the other way. And as for mopeds they're the worst, most of them thinking
they have the right to run through any light. So remember that old saying
"left, right, then left again"? Make good use of it here.