extremely british problems in Spain

Sunday, 18 October 2015 Spain

Extremely British Problems in Spain

Being British these days is synonymous with awkwardness. You only need to watch Very British Problems to understand the daily struggle in avoiding uncomfortable situations and feeling awkward. So what happens when us clumsy Brits embark on a year abroad to a place where awkwardness seems nothing short of bizarre?

Hilarity ensues, that's what. Spanish people do not trip over invisible paving, get embarrassed or have difficulty in saying goodbye. This only serves to make our predicament worse. A huge contrast between British people and the Spanish is that they have only a few ways to greet new people. Friends = two kiss on cheeks. Colleagues = handshake. And that's pretty much it! Why must the Brits have so many ways to greet each other?! Meeting new people creates the stress of how to greet them. Do I wave (awkwardly), go in for a hand-shake (awkward when they don't do handshakes) or even a hug?! And here we arrive at a hugely British malfunction - Cheek kissing (How many do they do? Oh shit they're doing THREE not two).

A seriously British problem I'm experiencing here is the amount of pelican crossings here, as in the road markings which have no traffic lights. They are everywhere in Salamanca, and on my usual walk to the languages faculty, I cross perhaps 7 or 8 down ONE ROAD. This makes for many awkward crossings, since in England I'm used to giving a quick wave of thank you when people stop, because we have enough traffic lights around to stop this kind of nonsense. Every single time I cross here I feel like I need to say thank you, and if I forget to I feel extremely rude! I've now resorted to this weird half grimace/smile of thanks whilst I'm crossing the street, and consequently end up looking a little peculiar to drivers.

Staying with the politeness theme, most British are familiar with saying "thank you" about a million times more than necessary when being served at the till or in a restaurant. We're used to saying it after every item the waitress takes off the table, which is a ridiculous procedure but speaking from the experience of a customer assistant, it suddenly feels rude when someone doesn't overuse thank you! In Spain however, "gracias" just doesn't seem necessary. People hardly say it, unless its genuinely to say thank you for something, not as well as to make sure we come across as polite.

When buying something in the city, the temptation to say thank you when the shop assistant has grunted at me to enter my pin is irresistible, not to mention bizarre because I wouldn't say customer service is great in Salamanca, bar a few shops dotted around. Over-saying it here makes you seem more sarcastic than gracious, which perhaps in the end has the desired effect when the service has been less than pleasant!

My final problem is the fact that, no real translation of the word "awkward" properly exists in Spanish. There are some translations which mean more uncomfortable, difficult or strained. But not awkward, which is almost untranslatable for most Brits, as I've spent much of my time trying to explain to foreign friends what it means. Perhaps it's because we feel it so unnecessarily in our society, always trying to dodge saying what we want to just scream out loud because we want to seem rude or create a fuss that we can't just express our real emotions circling around our heads.

What British problems are you experiencing abroad? Thanks for reading!



  1. I think documenting all your thoughts/ observations on all these daily interactions is going to stand you in good stead for 'something' in future. Whether it's simply a great reminder of your travels, or published articles .... even a book? Well worth keeping track of it all!

    You might enjoy dipping into https://iwillbloom.wordpress.com sometime [by Helen, an English friend of mine living abroad] for a kindred spirit!

  2. Oh wow that's such a huge thing to say! :) thank you so so much!! Oh definitely it's always so nice to look over your memories again! And awesome will look into it :)


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