The Ups, Downs, and Neutrals of Spain

Rafael S.
15 min readJan 14, 2022

So, for those who are unaware, I moved back to the motherland of Spain in July of 2021 to get my Master’s Degree in Advanced English Studies and their Applications in Literature/Culture. It’s a degree that’s juggling literary and film criticism, philology, writing, cultural studies, and then some. My thesis will be a secret for now to avoid thieves, but I gotta say, my idea is pretty groovy. Whether or not I stay here depends on a billion factors both in and out of my control, but I figured I would publish an article about the pros and cons since I’ve had so many people ask me about studying abroad, my time in Spain, yadda yadda. That all being said, my experience is not going to be like an average person’s because my privileged self has a lot of advantages that most people do not. I’ll list them out:

  1. My parents live in northern Spain, and my mother’s entire side of the family is Spanish. I have many connections all over the nation.
  2. I already have a double major undergraduate degree that I did not go into debt for while obtaining.
  3. Before moving to Spain, I already spent a lot of time in various regions as a child and young adult while visiting family or vacationing. I’m not an expert on the culture because I didn’t hang out with people my own age much until now, but I have more experience than most foreigners.
  4. I am fully fluent in Spanish and as it was my first language, I don’t have a weird accent beyond sounding more like a Latino than a Spaniard. I can blend right in.
  5. I am not studying in an expensive city like Madrid or Barcelona. I am in Santiago de Compostela, and US money goes very far in Europe.

Anyways, right off the bat, I’d like to say that I obviously wouldn’t be here if the good didn’t outweigh the bad! This is one of the best countries in the world for living, in my opinion. Remember, Spain holds the record for worldwide longevity. The issue right now (especially with the ‘RONA) is if a youngster like me has opportunity at the current moment in this country.

Well, let’s just get into it, no more lead-up.

1. Good: Virtually Everything is More Affordable

Yeah, it’s pretty sweet that my entire paycheck doesn’t just go to rent, bills, groceries, and insurance. I can actually use my money for other things, and to add a cherry on top, things here are much cheaper in every aspect. So it’s not just “my rent is $500 instead of $1200 for the same apartment size,” it’s also “eating out is $12 to feed three people more than they can eat” or “students can enter any museum free.”

I don’t know, this one’s pretty easy, it doesn’t need a lot of detail. Things are more reasonably priced here, and the things you DO have to pay for (like health insurance or public transport) function. Your taxes actually GO to something, there’s infrastructure. And just as a cherry on top, there’s discounts for everything left and right, for students, children, the elderly, you name it.

2. Neutral: It’s Old Fashioned

This can be really great in some areas and bite you in the ass in others. There’s lots of charming medieval old world scenery, people are a bit less technology dependent, there’s a charm to some of the simplicity.

On the other hand, a refusal to step away from archaic traditions or stick to rules that might not make sense, use of obsolete technology, and questionable design choices in buildings (electricity being out of code or leaky roofs) are not charming.

3. Bad: Bureaucracy is a BITCH

So, remember how I said in the last point that Spain being old school “can bite you in the ass?” Well, here is the absolute peak of that dilemma. The process of registration, paperwork, government forms, or just about anything feels like it was personally designed by Satan himself. It’s so bad, that I wanted to french kiss the next bald eagle I saw and eat a hot dog in Yankee Stadium while listening to Bruce Springsteen. This is the one and perhaps only thing that truly sucks ass about Spain. It’s an unavoidable, cruel, obnoxious, ugly little goblin that stands in the way of every important path of your quest. It’s like the rings in Superman 64. Just the absolute worst. I guarantee I will never complain about doing my taxes online in the USA again. And you come across it anytime you need to do adult things, which are already annoying enough.

Want a return on something you bought? Get ready to deal with bullshit.

Studying in school? Get ready to deal with a lot of bullshit.

Doing civic paperwork? Get ready to deal with even more bullshit.

On top of that, I’m not sure if it’s that famous Spanish pride, but despite being chummier people, many Spaniards also have a knack for dodging fault. Especially the ones in charge! Because job security is so good here, the employees can do pretty much as they please. And because the job security is good once a job is obtained, many people stay in those jobs forever and because things are smaller scale here, those are the people you will HAVE to interact with whenever you do anything. “The customer is always right” is a philosophy I never agreed with, but I also don’t agree with “fuck the customer for complaining.”

Want an example? This just happened to me a few weeks back. It’s such a long story that I’m going to publish it as a different article.

4. Good: The Community is Great

I really love the Spaniards. They’re outrageously blunt, they don’t mind cussing, they’re proud, they’re loud, they’re considerate, they’re hilarious, they’re educated, they’re passionate, they’re curious, they’re adaptable, etc. Overall, they have good hearts. Not many people are constantly on their phone, and they are always interested in making conversation. An acquaintance can become a great friend in a few days, and long-unseen family will always treat you like the inner circle. It’s a pretty progressive and accepting community in the areas where it counts. Everywhere you go, everybody knows your name, like Cheers, and you can always find friendly faces from locals you encounter just about daily. Oh, you just needed to buy glasses? Congratulations, you’re friends with your optometrist now.

But beyond just Spaniards, it’s also an international community that’s really inclusive and enjoyable as well. You hear languages and see people from all around the world and are more connected to everyone. Sure, everyone likes to rag on the English a little bit, but it’s not outright vitriol. I can run into Koreans, Greeks, Turks, Moroccans, Germans, Italians, Mexicans, Czechs, you name it. The most endearing piece is that there’s a massive presence of Venezuelans in Spain now, following the diaspora (I’ve written about this here). It’s comforting to see that so many have found a new life here, and considering half of my family is from Venezuela, I hope more of them can grow into the welcoming community here in Spain.

5. Neutral: The Language Barrier

Well, this one doesn’t affect me much, if at all. I’m fluent conversationally and pragmatically in Spanish, I just can’t write in the language as well as I can in English (a problem solved with a computer) and I can’t have intense academic and political discussions in Spanish because I never needed to do so while I was growing up. I can sit and understand it all, I just can’t answer back as well as I could in English for those kinds of topics. Sure, people will tease me for or be confused by my Latino slang or make note of my Latino accent, but I can just as easily tease them for their sanctimonious approach to vernacular, or just add a little more cotton to my voice and blend in as a local. In fact, a lot of people thought I merely studied in the United States and didn’t realize I was from the United States because my Spanish accent is that of a native speaker. But besides Spanish, here in Galicia, the Galician language is akin to a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese, the latter of which I have a terrible ear for, despite being a Latin language. Luckily, everyone here also speaks Castilian, so it’s no issue beyond an occasional “hey, can you speak Spanish for me?”

But the bigger issue is that Spain can be pretty intimidating for a non-Spanish speaker. It’s pretty accommodating for English speakers, to an extent. Signage and a few files here and there are translated. But the government services, which are common for newcomers, do not provide translators. And mind you, this is English speakers, I’ve seen Asian, other European, and Middle-Eastern people with a weak grasp of English get a bit thrown to the wayside or stalled. And oftentimes, the Spaniards’ English is not always up to snuff to accommodate a foreigner, either. For a tourist, it’s not a problem, but it must be tricky to navigate for a long-term immigrant.

6. Bad: Smoking is Too Popular

These folks need to hurry up and get with transitioning to the marijuana game, because cigarettes are so 1964. They make teeth go yellow, cause nicotine stains, are highly addictive, smell like Satan’s anus, and cause cancer to the user and anyone nearby. They do look cool as hell, honestly, but come on. It really pisses me off when I’m eating a delicious meal and all of a sudden it tastes like I’m French kissing Humphrey Bogart. I was so glad that the COVID restrictions included banning smoking from outdoor patios.

Cigarettes kill 2 out of three users, 95,000 people a year die from liquor, and meanwhile, it is literally impossible to die from using marijuana. Get with the program, Europe. Get that kush.

7. Good: It’s Hard to be Bored

There’s a billion things to do in Spain. The whole country is decently sized, but after centuries of continual habitation, there’s a huge variety of different cultures and things so different from one another, but all are within reach with that good transportation system. No to mention that geographically, Spain is also gorgeous, there are natural wonders left and right, I would say it is the prettiest place I’ve been to besides Venezuela. And with everything being so cheap, you can thankfully do a lot of it. For ambiverts, it’s a true paradise, where you can choose to quietly do your own thing or you can take groups to go exploring.

8. Neutral: Schedules Are Chaotic

My classes start at 4:00 pm here. As an extreme insomniac, I’m thankful. But then people don’t eat until like 10:00 pm and they go out starting at midnight and ending at 5:00 am. But I can’t help but feel it’s a little bad that I’m constantly awake when there’s no sun out, I feel like Nosferatu. Pretty good analogy, honestly. My farmer’s tan is gone, so I guess I’m just a pale little freak. I need Vitamin D or else I’m going to croak. The siesta hours kind of help make up for the insane sleep schedule, but it also really annoys me that I can’t eat at a different hour because everything is closed at those times. Also, I learned this as a student, students like to party on weekdays and then they tend to go back home for the weekends. So you’ll be a friendless loser on weekends, unless you know the locals. But what really concerns me is partying when you have class the next day. I’m not one to complain about a party, but I like to show up to class without feeling groggy the next day. I really like to party when I have absolutely nothing the next day, no responsibilities, and anything can happen, you know?

It’s also pretty weird that I straight up can’t do anything shopping wise on a Sunday, so if I forgot to get groceries or household supplies, guess I gotta pay to eat out or wipe my ass with tinfoil.

9. Bad: Shopping Sucks

The shopping aisles are a claustrophobic nightmare and the carts tend to be puny. Now, you might be thinking “no biggie, do multiple trips!” OK, what if I don’t want to do multiple trips or, such as my case, don’t have a car? I am so thankful I live right next door to two little food supermarkets and a hardware shop, because otherwise, it’d be quite the odyssey to get bread and eggs. You would have to provide the bags yourself, walk or find transport with said bags, and try not to crush or spill anything, and work your arm muscles.

Then there’s the selection. The general appliances are more of a problem than the food choices, and it can be a pain in the ass to buy simple things like electronics, office supplies, or pillow cases. Why not just buy it online? Well, if Amazon Spain doesn’t have a good selection and Amazon USA is expensive for shipping and customs, it’s better to just go hunt around town until you’re in luck. So yeah, it can get a little tiresome when you’re coming from the country of instant gratification and endless supply.

PS: I don’t miss too many foods from the United States, but come on, how is peanut butter so damn difficult to manufacture or import?

10. Good: Crime is Scarce

Spain is consistently ranked among the safest countries in the world, and I will be the first guy to testify to that. I became somewhat desensitized to constant violent crime and danger in the United States especially in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There were multiple murders, drug-dealing neighbors, domestic abuse cases, assaults, break-ins, drunk vagrants, vandalism, car thefts, and even an attempted mass shooter at my apartment complex within a year. And I didn’t even consider my area to be that ghetto for Albuquerque. I’m used to seeing bullet holes in storefront glass of half the businesses I go to and Albuquerque just shuts down at 9:00 pm these days because it’s too dangerous to be out and about at night, like we have a vampire problem. I got used to falling asleep to the sound of random gunshots, police sirens, women crying, cholos arguing, and stray cats meowing. My “security system” was my downstairs neighbor, an ex-Marine who was about as unstable as a vet with PTSD can get, but his heart was in the right place, so I trusted him more than everyone else in the complex.

Out here, I can go for a stroll at any time I please. I can trust strangers almost fully. It’s shocking how many people come up and ask me for directions instead of money, and even more surprising how many of them give me their phone and ask me to take photos. There’s a huge sense of trust and community. If something bad does go down (I’ve never seen it, I’m going off family anecdotes for this case), people join in to help out. And people aren’t likely to commit crimes since Spaniards group together. People freely unlock their cars, knowing that no one is dumb enough to steal them. If you jaywalk, the cars will always stop for you. Police aren’t really going to show up on time, but they’re also not likely to shoot you for no reason. Drug addicts are extremely uncommon and when they do appear, they’re quite mellow and keep to themselves. Pickpockets are an issue in Barcelona and Madrid, but only the most naïve and inattentive tourists fall victim to them. There are no mass shootings here whatsoever. Guns are unheard of for personal fun or for defense, and are strictly monitored and used only for hunting.

I never felt more American than when a massive bang went off as I was walking on the sidewalk and I was the only person to immediately duck and run to cover. It was nearby construction.

11. Neutral: It’s Not Car-Friendly (But Public Transport is Great)

I do miss being able to drive a fast car to go cruising, entertain myself. It was pretty sweet that I could go on a road trip to most anywhere I pleased in the USA, I even lived in a classic Route 66 city. Las Vegas? Vroom-vroom. The forest? Vroom-vroom. Santa Fe? Vroom-vroom. Mexico? Vroom-vroom.

However, as a guy who also doesn’t give a fuck about cars, it’s pretty sweet that I don’t have to pay for car insurance, gas, or maintenance, and it’s great that I rarely have to worry about accidents or traffic. And just to make things better, there are buses everywhere that can take me to the other side of town for a few cents, 1 euro max. Or, I can take a taxi at any given moment. And I might not be able to drive places, but with so many options, I can fly, bus, or take a train to nearby cities or even countries the day of. I felt like taking a day trip to A Coruña (about 65 km away) and I was able to buy a quick and refundable train ticket (round trip) on that day for about $14. Likewise, last minute plane tickets to Benidorm during the winter travel season didn’t kill me, and I was also able to move around flight dates without issue.

So if you love car culture, if you’re one of those people who makes their entire personality or a big part of it fixing up their cars, sorry. Or, if you just like having a car or you feel you need one, it’s a good compromise.

12. Bad: The Technology is Trapped in the 1990s

Christ, the web design of the most basic things can make anything here virtually impossible unless you 1) Go in the flesh or 2) Make a series of phone calls to check. And when you combine that with the bad bureaucracy, it can be a nightmare. Yet again, the “old fashioned” statement comes back to haunt me. Let me elaborate with examples.

Restaurants are somehow the dominating force for effectively knowing how to use the web effectively. Almost every restaurant I’ve been to has a QR code that you can scan and view the menu with, which is neat and eco-friendly.

It’s all downhill from there.

Trying to order takeout? Good luck, because you might need the app which can only be downloaded if you have a European phone. Fingers crossed it doesn’t crash if you’re able to get it.

Trying to go to a museum, theater, cinema, zoo, aquarium, concert, theme park, or anything that requires a ticket? Just hope that the system actually guarantees your spot, and you can usually only buy things just before the date you will attend. And if you need a refund, forget it.

Trying to do university work? Prepare your three long passwords and usernames and have fun navigating a website that was designed in 2003 and left to rot ever since, with the most recent updates only appearing from 3 years prior.

Setting up transportation or a service? Don’t expect any updates or schedule changes whatsoever, and if you get thrown to the wayside, enjoy the refund process.

Trying to Google something on your phone? Try not to throw it across the room when each web page now has pop ups that remind you about EU privacy and date laws and asks for your permission to open literally every link, page, document, or file.

Oh, you just need directions or a phone number, maybe you’re hoping to find a website? Get fucked.

This article doesn’t need a conclusion.

But maybe you do. That’s why you’re here, right?

Here’s an idea: Make the conclusion yourself.

I’m tired. I’m drowning in my Master’s degree homework. Fly free.



Rafael S.

I’m not a pessimist, I’m correct. Follow me for troglodyte slaying 101.