Spanish stereotypes of the British and British stereotypes of the Spanish

LAST UPDATED: 3 Apr, 2016 @ 22:37

“EVERYTHING in Spain is done shoddily” proclaims an elderly British expat whilst sipping his café con leche.

siesta“They never finish a job.” The kind Spanish lady he is breakfasting with quickly points out that her son trained to be an engineer in Spain. He’s never done a bad job. The elderly expat falls silent.

We’ve all done it. Living abroad in a different country, with a different culture, inevitably leads to clashes. The Spanish perceive the English as hardworkers, powered almost entirely by tea, whilst the British complain audibly about the flawed Spanish education system.

As an Englishman myself politeness offered an infuriating barrier to honesty when I asked spaniards what the ‘British stereotype’ is. However, I have managed to gleam a few snippets.

“In England, you are always in a rush. You never relax” proclaimed one Spanish lady whilst reclining leisurely in a cafe enjoying her mid-morning tostada.

Brits are usually madly dashing between meetings and activities. Time is of the essence.

On the other hand the Spanish mantra appears to be “tenemos tiempo” (we have time).

If this doesn’t put a damper on smug Brits, the next comment will. Great Britain is remembered as a place of appalling weather.

Teachers taking kids on a London school exchange were befuddled by the concept of a ‘quiz night.’ Having being invited to one, they didn’t know what it was. Following an explanation that it is a normal British nocturnal activity one laughed and said, “well, with such awful weather I suppose you have to find something to do.”

With 761,000 Brits moved to Spain for the omnipresent sun, she has a point.

British passion for hot weather has destroyed the Malaga coastline, and caused Ibiza to deteriorate into drunken revelry. The lands of Al-andalus and the matadors are gone, replaced with Hotel World and Villa metropolis.

Whilst the Spanish grumble about the destruction of their coastline, the British have some equally unpleasant comments about Spanish culture.

Some say they are lazy.

“We may well always be in a rush, but at least we get stuff done” retorted one English language assistant. She’d been watching grass grow whilst queueing in Carrefour.

Banks opening hours are also a bit of a joke.

With doors open from 8:30 – 13:00, Monday to Friday, anyone wishing to go must miss work.

The banks lazy attitude cuts Spain’s productivity and costs them money, all so the bankers can clock off early.

Expats, furthermore, have a word or two about the chronically unfair Spanish university system.

I recently heard about a nightmare story involving the English Literature course at the University of Cádiz. Taking this course you’d expect to see at least a word of English?

Well, apparently not.

They studied the Spanish translations of famous English texts and talked about the Spanish translations. They never saw a word of English.

Irritated that they weren’t learning English on an English Literature course, one student complained. How did the university respond? It failed her. It failed her for questioning their methods.

That’s unbelievable.

The maths degree at Sevilla university is equally disastrous. They take on 1,000 students. By the end only 75 graduate.

“I think that they take so many to keep them off the streets”, explained the expat mother with plenty of experience wrangling with Spanish universities.

Talking with current students about the university system, they agree. “It’s like this here. Our university teachers don’t help us.”

A system like this in England would be expelled.

The Spaniards see the British as rushing around like headless chickens, whilst paradoxically the British think of the Spanish as lazy. The two cultures then exchange fiery comments about the weather, educational systems and working attitudes.

The difference is clear when a Spanish girl who couldn’t find a job in Spain moved to England.

‘In Spain it is hard to find a job as you have to have the right connections. You need to have a family link with the institution before they even take you. In England it’s so much simpler. I got a temporary job within the first few months, and a permanent contract shortly after. They’re not interested in your links to them, only in your attitude and if you can do the job well.’

With Brussels continuing its ‘YAY EUROPE’ project, one of these systems may end up drowning.


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Fresh from Durham to Jerez de la Frontera, the change in my life has been huge. I was born and raised in London where I worked as a tour guide. From there, I went to study an Anthropology BA at Durham University. This year is equivalent to a 'year abroad' for me, although not department endorsed. I had been learning Spanish for two years, and took the decision to come out to Jerez to gain experience of a different culture and life. My interests include swimming, drawing, writing (of course) and playing the piano.


  1. So-called ‘English politeness’ is viewed by many as discourtesy in that it displays a person’s reluctance to socially engage and speak honestly except on one’s own foreign terms which are, apparently, assumed by many English to be of ‘universal’ standard.
    As to worker reliability, there is plenty of fault regardless of nationality: shoddy work, lax timetables, attempts to over charge, presumption that one’s own (English, German, etc.) techniques are ‘best’, or an attitude that non-Spanish workers ought to get paid the same as they do in their countries of origin.
    That being said, it is possible to criticise the organisation of all levels of Spanish educational systems, which sadly remain under the tight control of the Francoist styled civil service and the Spanish Roman Catholic church, and which favors rote learning of concepts over critical thinking and an understanding of idea construction. The ‘philosophy’ module for institute (high school) students has little to do with philosophy and much to do with choice and interpretation of philosophers from a traditional, conservative, Roman Catholic viewpoint.
    While it is possible to get a good education in Spain, it is likely that those who do have the means to attend private grammar and high schools, and have the political/social connections to get into the best university programs. I know several 20 year olds who retook their exams in Germany in order to escape the pedantry they encountered in Spanish programs. Even with the yar they lost adjusting to German life, they are now ahead with good career prospects in both Germany and Spain.

    The fact that top university administrators are replaced when different political parties come into power obstructs program and intellectual progress. For example, an Asturian engineering department responsible for ‘energy engineering’ was forced to dismantle the solar panel system powering their laboratory because the elected PP aligned party promoted the power geneating monopoly.
    That there are ‘universal standards’ is likely traceable to the legacy of British empire thinking, and an unresponsive Spanish educational structure springs from the legacy of Francoist and Roman Catholic religious corporatist control though, of course, its more complicated than that.

  2. “British passion for hot weather has destroyed the Malaga coastline … The lands of Al-andalus and the matadors are gone”

    Luke, the Costa del Sol is not all of Spain lol. As for “British passion” destroying the coastline, it is actually the Spanish who destroyed parts of their own coastline because they were greedy for tourism. Just look at recent events such as the Hotel Algarrobico to see how Spain could not care a less about its precious Costas.