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You only have to Google ‘things I wish I’d known before I moved to Spain’ and you’ll find dozens of articles to choose from – the bureaucracy generally being top of the list!

However, while I do have plenty to say on that it can wait for another time as I wanted to write a light-hearted post about how clueless I was about some aspects of Spanish life before I moved here in 2017.

So, what exactly do I wish I’d known before I moved to Spain?

It gets REALLY cold in the winter

Yes, the skies may be blue and the sun may be shining but, during winter in Andalucia, it’s still flipping cold! In October the duvet goes back on the bed after a summer of sleeping under just a sheet (or nothing at all) and by November the hot water bottles are out of hibernation. Thankfully, Spain has an abundance of Chinese supermarkets which are a mecca for everything you never knew you wanted or needed so, during our first winter, we were able to buy hot water bottles to make the cold evenings more bearable in the absence of the central heating we were used to.

Houses are built to stay cool in the summer with the drawback that they’re freezing in the winter. Until the sun disappears from our balcony in the late afternoon we’re better off sitting outside during the winter months.

Not only that but, as we live on the coast, it’s a humid cold so, while it may be 20c plus according to the thermometer, it actually feels more like being in the Arctic.

When I left the Isle of Man I had a good clearout of my wardrobe and, although I brought some of my favourite winter woolies with me (everyone needs a Christmas jumper after all), a lot of my winter clothes went to the charity shop. Big mistake. 

Chatting to Kim from Travelling Around Spain it seems I’m not alone. “I was surprised (rather shocked actually) by how cold I always was inside the houses during the winter months – especially in Andalucia. I have been in friend’s homes and have seen them sit down for their evening dinner in a ski jacket. Later they take off their jacket to go for a stroll outside as it’s warmer outside their house than inside”.

It gets REALLY hot in the summer 

Okay, so I knew it would be hot but, trust me, ‘two weeks in the sun on holiday’ hot is totally different to ‘trying to get on with daily life when the mercury is rising rapidly’ hot. Finding acceptable work outfits is a trial when all you want to do is put on shorts and a vest (or lounge around in swimwear). Even getting to work was an ordeal – there wasn’t much point wearing make up as it was generally halfway down my face by the time I reached the office.

Even now that I’m not working in an office I make sure I get my daily walk in either early morning or late afternoon as any exercise during the hottest part of the day zaps your energy. Thankfully, over the past few summers I’ve been able to perfect my summer survival tips so I’m not making any more rookie mistakes.

When it rains, it really rains 

Who knew I’d have to buy a waterproof jacket and a pair of waterproof trousers just to keep me dry on my way to work? I even got my first ever pair of wellies for Christmas a few years ago. They may not see much action but, when it does rain here we certainly know about it.

Not that I’m complaining too much about the rain – with over 320 sunny days per year on the Costa del Sol, weatherwise the good definitely outweighs the bad and my traditional New Year’s Day dip is definitely far more pleasant in the Med than in the North Sea.

Getting used to the Spanish way of eating takes time

They eat late here. Really late. Used to the very British way of eating my evening meal around 6pm it took a while to realise that, if we went to a restaurant at that time, we’d generally be the only ones in the place.

Kim says she spent her first two or three years in Spain in a permanent state of low blood sugar as she could never manager to adapt to Spanish eating times. “If I wasn’t in a state of low blood sugar I was looking for every opportunity to eat and seemed to be eating about seven meals a day always worried that I might not make it through until the next meal time. Lunch is normally around 3pm (how does one survive from breakfast until 3pm??) and dinner is after 9pm but usually closer to 10pm or 11pm. I still rebel against this eating schedule in my own home but have to adjust when eating with friends”.

Learning a language is so much harder when you’re older

I thought that, because languages were always my favourite subjects at school, I’d take to picking up Spanish like a duck to water. Not so. I took an intensive language course when I first arrived and then, shamefully, once the course was over lapsed somewhat in my practice. For a long time I could understand more than I could speak and was getting by with a lot of mime and a smattering of Spanglish (not to mention Spench and Spitalian) and, when I was working, I picked up a pretty impressive vocabulary of swear words to choose from if nothing else!

Since I moved to Spain I’ve tried a few different ways of learning the language – some more successful than others – but I definitely wish I’d started learning before my move.

Finding nice greetings cards feels like mission impossible

This is definitely one of those first world problems but I get the impression that the Spanish don’t do greetings cards the way the Brits do. Maybe the fact that my sister manages a card shop means I’m usually spoilt for choice but trying to find nice cards whether it’s for a birthday or Christmas is like searching for the Holy Grail. I guess I’m lucky that I can usually pop into Gibraltar and pick up cards as and when I need them but, to be honest, it’s a limited selection and Moonpig is making a small fortune from me during these Covid times anyway.

It’s not all doom and gloom though.

I haven’t actually missed as much as I thought I would 

Friends and family aside, there’s very little that I’ve really missed. Randomly, I do miss a good mooch around Boots the Chemist and TK Maxx in my lunch hour (so far, nothing I’ve found in Spain comes close) and, much as I love sitting in a chiringuito sipping a café con leche, nothing will ever match the cappuccino from my favourite coffee shop back on the Isle of Man (Spill the Beans in case you’re interested).  

What an adventure it was going to be

If I’d known just how much I was going to love it here I’d have made the move years ago. And, I have to say, I’ve adapted exceptionally well to siesta time! On the subject of siestas, over to Kim. “In small towns it took me a long time to accept that one couldn’t shop from 2pm to 5pm as all the stores are closed for lunch and siesta. They open up for the ‘afternoon’ at 5pm or 5.30pm and stay open until around 9pm”.

Shops also close on Sundays so I’ve had to be more organised than before I moved – if I use the last of the milk on Saturday night then it’s black coffee until the shops open again on Monday.  

If you’ve made the move to Spain did you experience any culture shock? What do you wish you’d known beforehand?

Special thanks to Kim for her contributions. If you want to read more from her you can find her website here, or follow her on Facebook and Pinterest.

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Google ‘things I wish I’d known before I moved to Spain’ and you’ll find dozens of articles to choose from - here's my light-hearted take.

20 Comments

  1. Great article! Thanks for sharing it. I am moving soon to La Linea, I will be working in Gib. Really excited to read that you are enjoying the place! My goal at the moment is to settle down and this opportunity seems perfect for it! I am already following you on Instagram @natdomeniche
    Enjoy the weekend ☺️

    1. Thanks Natalia I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      I’m sure you will love it when you get here. Spain has so much to offer and there’s plenty to do in Gib too (even though it’s so small!).

      Have a great weekend too. ?

  2. Fun article Alison, and it was a walk down memory lane remembering all the things that took getting used to in the beginning. One Spanish habit I have to admit to loving is the siesta. That little mid-day boost is a wonderful invention.

  3. Great article Alison and spot on. We don’t live there as yet but spend a great many months at our apartment not far from Gibraltar and agree with all your points mentioned. I look forward to reading your articles in the future. Adios x

  4. Omg I don’t know if I’d be able to deal with super cold winters or hot summers! Or heavy rains hahaha. And greeting cards – tell me about it! When I lived in Thailand, I decided to just lean in and send weird local cards hahaha

    1. Thankfully the rain doesn’t happen very often! I think I need to follow your lead with the local cards – or have a go at making my own!!

  5. Nice article! Me and my husband were actually had a few potential job opportunities in Spain (while living in the Netherlands) and were considering moving there.
    If we ever decide to do so, we will be more prepared after reading your post 🙂

  6. I always enjoy reading people’s experiences when moving to a different country. Do they not have indoor heating in the winter? That reminds me of Brazil. It’s cold only for a short time, so they bundle up inside because there is no heating. Coming from Canada, that is weird to us. Funny how things differ from place to place.

  7. Really enjoyed this article, Alison! Some of these things about moving to Spain also ring true for moving to Hong Kong. The winters feel so much colder without central heat and with cold tile floors! The greeting cards too. We have Hallmark stores but they’re small and just don’t have the variety. But I’m glad that like me, you’re enjoying where you live and don’t miss much! 🙂

  8. I can a relate several things from here in the places I’ve been. So when you say about the heat, is as warm in the middle east?! Late eating time… well I guess similar to the Mediterranean schedule. When I first visited Greece for 10 days, I started to feel a gastro acidic attack due to late lunches at 3pm and and yes late dinners at 9-10 pm. And one more thing greeting cards?! Here in Cyprus I get them from fairs usually made by Brits! 😉 I enjoyed this post!

  9. While I’ve never been to Andalucia, I can really relate to some of this. I’ll never forget sitting on a bench in Galicia and seeing that first raindrop hit the ground. It was huge. And then everything was just submerged. Where did that deluge come from?! And eating was a serious challenge on the Camino. We really needed the early-bird special! All the same, I’m endlessly jealous that you live in Spain.

  10. Alison, first of all, I don’t think I could adjust to 3pm lunches and dinner at 9 – 10pm. I would feel out of whack too. I like reading about what life is really like in different places. Keep writing about life in Spain because I’m enjoying learning about the Spanish culture.

  11. It was full-on culture shock moving from Australia to New York, but to move to a country with a different language and the expectations that we wait until 3pm for lunch – you must have been way out of your comfort zone. Always fun to read how other expats survived their big move.

    1. Such a fun post! As a Brit it’s crazy that they eat so late. I’d certainly be very hungry all the time except just before bed after a huge dinner haha.

  12. I’ve heard about the cold winters from friends in other med countries. Central heating is definitely a big one to miss. But as I can see the good outweighs the bad.

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