The Babbel Blog

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Socks, sandals and sombreros: Seven deadly Spanish vacation sins

Posted on June 18, 2015 by

Spain’s appeal is obvious – the sun, the sea and the sangria spring instantly to mind. Less clear, perhaps, is how to go about making the best of it all while staying on the good side of the locals. We can’t promise to keep you out of trouble on la playa this summer, but we do have a few pointers.
We asked all our favorite Españoles to tell us about the guiris1 that just don’t get it, and this is what they came up with… Avoid the following at all costs:

The seven deadly Spanish vacation sins

1. Socks and sandals
A cliché for a reason – we never seem to learn. It’s a relatively minor transgression in the grand scheme of things, but there’s some sense in putting to rest this age-old tradition. While looking like a tourist is no great shame in and of itself (you are one, after all), it’s a great way to become a target for pickpockets. Watch your belongings in crowded areas, of course, and remember: the better you blend in, the less likely it is that you’ll end up a victim.
2. Over-reliance on handshakes

You’re not at work now. While men tend to greet other men with a firm and friendly handshake in Spain, any other mix of genders are likely to meet with two kisses (really just touching cheeks – please, no tongue). This applies equally to old friends as well as people you’ve just met.
3. Impatience
If it isn’t urgent, it can wait until mañana. Hungry? Dinner isn’t until after nine and it’ll be ready when it’s ready – no need to hassle the camarero. Slow down, you’re on vacation!
4. The lobster look
It gets hot in Spain. Wear sunscreen. Aside from the obvious health benefits of the stuff, a bright red face is a sure sign of a tourist. Let yourself get to this point and you may as well just wear the socks and sandals (see no.1).
5. Eating on La Rambla

This Barcelona avenue is the classic example, but the same advice applies almost anywhere: a fancy location and an English menu don’t guarantee quality, and la cuenta is likely to be higher than you’d expect. Whether you’re looking for tapas, seafood or the regional specialty, venture down the side streets and look for a place packed with locals. You’ll often find better food at lower prices. Be careful though – pie means foot, pan means bread and an abogado is a lawyer – if you want avocado in your salad you’ll need to ask for aguacate. You may want to brush up on our Spanish false friends courses before you leave.
6. Assuming everyone is a proud Spaniard
Politics on the Iberian peninsula can be complicated, and current issues come loaded with historical and cultural significance. Read up a little on your destination before you arrive to avoid putting your foot in your mouth. Depending on where you are and who you ask, you may not even be in Spain (and you’re definitely not in Mexico, so leave the sombrero at home).
7. Following lists
These are rules of thumb. The “must-see” attractions in your guidebook? Merely suggestions. And as for the “secret spots” you found on a travel blog – well they aren’t so secret now, are they? Our top tip is to go with the flow. Nothing we can tell you could ever be as useful as meeting the locals, asking for their advice and seeing what happens. Worried about the language barrier? There’s still time to brush up on your skills with Babbel.

1. Guiri is Spanish slang for a foreigner – particularly one from Northern Europe or North America.