11 Things Not To Expect When Moving to Spain

  • Don’t expect to have a checkbook for your bank account. Checkbooks are a rarity in Spain. Most transactions are made in cash or using the debit card on your bank account. In other cases, such as repeated monthly payments, magazine subscriptions, etc., there are direct bank transfers.
  • Don’t expect to be able to use your credit and debit cards at every store and restaurant. I recently pulled out my credit card in a local restaurant only to be told that their machine wasn’t working. Luckily, I had cash to pay the bill.
  • Don’t expect restaurants and shops to have the same opening and closing hours as in your home country. Also, don’t expect them to have the same hours. And don't expect them to be open every day of the week. Small shops in Girona, for example, are often closed on Monday morning because they are open on Saturday. Fish markets are closed on Mondays because the fishermen don’t fish on Sunday. Generally, in Spain, all shops except bars and bread stores are closed on Sundays. Other countries have different opening and closing times.
  • Don’t expect quick service in shops. No matter how many people are waiting, the clerks are likely to give the customer their full attention until they are satisfied. Talk about mindfulness practice in action!
  • Don’t expect to find products in the same kinds of stores where you find them in your home country. In Spain, for example, pharmacies may or may not carry cosmetics, infant formula,and the like. There are special shops called “parapharmacies” and “perfumerias” that carry such items, along with a range of household products.
  • Don’t expect apartment hall lights and lights in public restrooms to stay on. Most are on energy-saving timers. So take note of the light switch location before you settle in. They are usually, but not always, illuminated by a faint light identified with a light bulb symbol.
  • Don’t expect to need a doctor for minor medical advice. You can get very good medical advice and even cursory examinations at a pharmacy. Pharmacists can often prescribe simple remedies for simple complaints. They may even refill your prescriptions without a doctor’s prescription form in an emergency. I take the box from the prescription in as proof. But it is always better to bring your prescription from home.
  • Don’t expect the same standard of hygiene in Spanish food shops that sell food as you might find in your home country. Butchers, for example, often use their bare hands in preparing and cutting the meat you order. If you think you are going to contract some dread disease, just consider that the locals around you seem quite healthy in spite of a lifetime of "unhygienic" exposure. (NB: the European Union has very strict food safety requirements.)
  • Don’t expect to find the same brands of food, vitamins, and other supplements as in your home country. When you do find them they may be very expensive. I will have a post in the near future about how to get such items shipped to you .
  • Don’t expect waiters in restaurants to be as “cordial” as in your home country. A young American friend referred to them as "brusk." We would call them "business-like." Waiters in Spain are paid a living wage and they are professionals. They do their job very well, but they don’t “chat up" the customer to get a higher tip.
  • Don't expect the same open hours at rental car agencies as in your home country. If you are renting and returning to an airport you may find nearly the usual hours, but anywhere else you are likely to find much shorter hours, including lunch breaks. We rented a car last Saturday for one day here in Girona and found that the agency (Hertz) was going to close at 1 PM and not open again until Monday. There would be no one on duty in the parking garage to take our car back and check it for damage. They had only a secure box for us to leave our keys and paperwork.
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