So far we’ve spent almost 1 year in Spain (without a few days) living as digital nomads. During that time we lived in 8 different cities and visited many places in the Valencian Community, Andalusia, Catalonia, Asturias, and Cantabria. Thanks to that we were able to soak into a culture, observe local daily life and discover interesting things about this beautiful country and its people. And thus discover many interesting and sometimes weird facts about Spain.
Especially at the beginning, we experienced a small culture shock and some things really surprised us. But it didn’t stop there and we kept discovering newer “quirks” about Spain every now and then. Probably, there wasn’t a week without something that didn’t surprise us!
Read on if you’re curious about all the weird facts about Spain that we didn’t expect as travelers and don’t let them surprise you too!
IMPORTANT NOTE. The post was written from the perspective of people who spent most of their lives in Poland, so take it with a grain of salt as Poles also have their own quirks.
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Weird facts about Spain that we didn’t expect as travelers
Spaniards boil water in a pot or… microwave
First apartment, first surprise. “Where is the kettle? How are we supposed to boil the water for the tea?”. There were also no kettles in any Spanish hotels we’ve been to before, but back then that didn’t surprise us that much. But no kettle in the apartment? Seriously, what is going on?! Quick research on the Internet and there’s the answer – we have to boil water in a pot. A quick look through the kitchen shelves and… bingo! There it was – a pot for boiling the water with a little notch to help pour it into the cups!
There’s a really poor tea selection in the stores
Spaniards drink tea mainly when they are sick. So if you’re a tea lover you won’t be happy about tea selection in Spanish stores. Unless you like tea for better digestion as they reign on shelves. Good that we’ve stocked a little bit before reaching Spain and later on found British stores along the way. Yay!
Lack of spoken English
We knew it might be tough, but we didn’t expect it to be that tough. Even though we knew a bit of Spanish in the beginning, it was very hard for us to understand Spaniards, so even a small dose of English would be a huge help. We were quite surprised that even people renting flats didn’t know it. So the first contact with locals was mostly in “sign language”, singular words, and “habla más despacio por favor” (speak slower please).
Movies in cinemas are mostly dubbed
This one hurt even more because we love watching movies. Unfortunately, in Spain cinemas are located mostly in larger cities and only sometimes play movies in VO/VOSE (version original with Spanish subtitles).
There is no central heating in the apartments
Apartments are sometimes heated with air conditioning with heating options, fireplaces, or portable radiators. But it depends on what is available in a particular apartment. Because of that…
… it’s warmer outside than inside, all year round!
No kidding, there are even memes about it! Especially in winter, apartments are really cold, moisture lasts for a long time and fungus/mold on the walls is ‘normal’. Even after being removed, it returns at the speed of light. Also, clothes can dry for a really long time, and because of that can smell funny.
Drying laundry outdoors is the most important decoration of windows
Another interesting fun fact about Spain is that gave us a heart attack, especially on windy days. Several times we had to go all the way down to get our things that fell, and also return losses to the neighbors whose things landed on our dryer.
Garbage bins on the streets are another “decoration”
They may not look good at all, but they are practical. We’ve never seen them too full, as garbage trucks come regularly. And there’s no need to plug the nose while opening the closed space in which they are stored (which is common in Poland).
Spaniards LOVE lotteries
They are crazy about them. Christmas lottery, New Year’s Eve lottery, April lottery, September lottery… you name it! ONCE booths are literally everywhere, almost on every corner. There are also a lot of mobile ONCE dispensers – you can often spot people selling coupons, with an ONCE vest. We call them Mr/Mrs. Scratch Cards.
ONCE – Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles
Spain continues to surprise us even now when we are preparing this post. We didn’t know that ONCE is an abbreviation for the National Organization of Spanish blind people, which as their main source of funding decided to sell their own lottery tickets. Mystery solved!
Closed residential areas/housing estates & monitoring
Almost everything is closed and behind high fences, so you’ll need a few keys, an entrance code, a secret password and probably a key fob to get in (a little exaggeration but still…). This is due to a problem with ocupas (squatters). Almost everywhere you’ll see a highly visible sticker on the wall informing about the alarm on the property. There are also lots of ads from security companies providing this service. You’ll probably hear it on the radio, TV, or if you get lucky they will target you directly on your smartphone or other device.
Most doors have no handles, only knobs
When they are closed – they are closed and there is no chance of entering without the key. To open the door, put the key in, turn it with one hand, and with the other push/pull the knob at the same time. So never ever forget your keys, unless you fancy meeting the locksmith.
Large sliding windows & no window sills
One more fun fact about Spain from the ‘domestic category’. Like doors, windows are also weird. They don’t have handles, and cannot be opened outwards or inwards, you just slide them right and left. They have a button that you need to press down to be able to slide the window. Funny thing is that we’ve experienced ~50% of those buttons not working properly. Anyone could open the windows at all times, from the inside and… from the outside. So much for the security! The downside of such windows is the lack of window sills which means fewer flowers in the apartments.
Designation of apartment numbers
The only thing you need to remember is a floor number and a letter assigned to the apartment (A,B,C, etc.). So for example it’s 1/C (first floor, apartment C) or 5E (fifth floor, apartment E).
Washing machine is located in the kitchen or… on the balcony
But… why? The place for the washing machine is in the bathroom, period. Ok, at least in Poland this is a norm. Now we are used to seeing it in weird places, but it still surprises us.
Does anyone even still use them? They were literally in every bathroom, but we’ve found a good alternative use! They made a fantastic place to store dirty clothes.
Spaniards love the darkness
Seriously, they may have their window blinds closed all day long (maybe they are vampires?). We had a weird feeling that all our neighbors thought we were weird because opening blinds is the first thing we do in the morning, and the blinds stay open all day.
Pools and tennis courts
The swimming pools in almost every house or communal area is something normal. A similar thing is with tennis courts.
Many restaurants are closed one day a week
Usually on Mondays, but that’s not the rule. Why? It’s pretty obvious – because employees need to rest.
Spaniards mainly drink … beer!
No, not wine as you may have thought. Yes, we were also surprised – not what we expected from one of the largest wine producers in the world. Also, beers are mainly sold in 0.33L pint bottles or in 1L giants. If you find 0.5L, it will probably be a foreign beer. You can also find tiny 0.2L bottles.
The interesting thing is that they seem to be drinking it all day long. From the early hours, you can spot many Spaniards drinking beer till the end of the day. Fortunately, they seem to know when to stop, as we’ve only seen one guy out of hundreds that were hammered.
You can’t choose which beer/wine you want to drink in a restaurant/bar
Usually, there’s only one and you just order beer or vino tinto (red wine) or vino blanco (white wine), without option to specify further. Quite weird, as different people might like different drinks.
Spain is the biggest producer of olive oil in the world
Spain produces about 44% of the world’s supply of olive oil each year, followed by Italy and Greece. Another very interesting fact is that Spain is home to approximately… 300 million olive trees!
The selection of vege products is quite poor but…
… ham selection is huge
Spaniards love their hams (jamónes). Especially Jamón Serrano and Jamón Ibérico which they are very proud of. In each store, you’ll see hanging pig legs and ham cutting stations.
Spanish breakfast is usually something sweet and a cup of coffee
Or just a cup of coffee. Porridge or sandwiches for breakfast are something out of this world. Store shelves are full of breakfast sweets, which in our opinion are perfect for afternoon tea and not to start the day.
It’s almost impossible to find a delicious, crispy bread
For the Spaniards, bread = toast. Fortunately, there are crispy baguettes at every turn.
Spaniards eat dinner really late, about 8-11 PM
While we were slowly getting ready for bed, they were preparing dinner. It’s usually a full, normal-sized dinner, heavy for the stomach before sleep (no wonder they need so many digestive teas).
It’s very problematic to eat “normal” dinner in the restaurant around 2 o’clock
Or maybe it was only our bad luck? We tried maybe 7 times but managed to eat around those hours only in a handful of places. In very touristic cities, where only foreigners eat at such bizarre hours and locals are just starting the day
Citruses are everywhere
One thing that is clearly visible is the ever-present citrus trees of all kinds. Lemons, oranges, limons, tangerines, and others just grow everywhere, even in the city centers. You can also spot figs or pomegranates pretty frequently, just look around.
Purchase of cigarettes isn’t possible in every shop
You will be able to get cigarettes only in specific places, like tobacco shops, or special cigarette machines in bars or gas stations.
Books are really expensive
Like really expensive, of course, compared to Poland and the UK prices we know about. The price of around €20 is perfectly normal for even a thin book.
Public nudity on the beach is legal in Spain
Or rather isn’t illegal. Everybody can sunbathe topless on public beaches and nobody really cares or pays too much attention to it (mostly surprised tourists). No one comments or harasses, which is really cool. There are a lot of hidden, nudist beaches as well if you prefer that.
Support for LGBT, mental stability, and lack of it for macho violence
There are plenty of public spaces where you can see how open and progressive Spain is. There is a lot of support for LGBT. They are not afraid to talk about mental problems like depression. And the violencia machista is a big no-no (so if you are macho you need to behave).
Spaniards have at least two surnames
Usually, the first part they take from their father and the second part is from their mother. Until 1999 the law stated that it was the father’s name that had to come first in the ordering of the child’s surnames, but in 1999 a new law was introduced which states that the order of the child’s surnames can be decided by the parents. What’s more: since 2011, an additional law states that each child can choose the order of their names after turning 18 years old. Also, Spanish women don’t take their husband’s surname.
Grapes & Cava for starting a New Year
On New Year’s Eve, at midnight, instead of saying “Happy New Year” and making wishes, Spaniards try to eat 12 grapes in the first ~40 seconds of the year. Each successfully eaten grape means one month full of luck in the upcoming year. And cava, oh yea… that is just the “Spanish champagne”, but they cannot use the french name as the French wouldn’t forgive that.
Gifts aren’t brought by Santa Claus and not on Xmas
But by the Three Wise Men / Kings (Los Reyes Magos) on January 6th.
Weird facts about Spain – Summing up
These are all the weird facts about Spain that we didn’t expect and that took us by surprise. We didn’t even expect that we had experienced so many (36!) Spanish quirks before writing this post. Hope you had fun reading this and maybe you’ll use some of them to get ready for your journey. 🙂