1 May, 2011 @ 08:47
2 mins read

Spanish noise

Many a writer on Spain has commented on what a noisy country it is: Ernest Hemingway, for example, and George Orwell, Washington Irving, James Michener  and Giles Tremlett, the author of Ghosts of Spain.  According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Spain is the second noisiest country in the world after Japan. Paul Whitelock is not surprised. Here he gives his assessment of the noise in his adopted land.

Well, it is noisy, isn’t it? Everywhere you go it’s loud: people talking on the bus, in a bar, on the street, even in church. But there are other noises that are unique to Spain: the barking of distant dogs, the braying of a donkey, the crowing of cocks and the clucking of hens, the Sunday morning trailbike phutting loudly across the land, the tooting of a night-time train as it passes, the blaring of radios and TVs through open windows, the sound of gleeful children playing.

We moved house three months ago and we have all of the above. But in addition we’ve had the sound of heavy lorries chugging up the hill into town, the Foreign Legion in the nearby barracks practising drumming, chanting and marching for hours on end, and the clanging of the recently installed bells on the several level crossings in the area.

So, what effect does all this Spanish noise have on people? According to the WHO three out of every four Spaniards suffer from excessive noise levels. Of those, more than nine million have to tolerate levels of noise above 65 decibels, the acceptable limit. In Europe 20 per cent of the population – some 80 million people – are exposed to unacceptable levels of noise. Noise causes hearing loss and can have a negative effect on the quality of life of those who have to put up with it.

Here in Spain, things are beginning to improve, however. There have been recent court rulings imposing fines on discotheque owners for making too much noise too late at night. Councils are also banning the botellón, the gatherings of young people in public places to drink and listen to loud music until the early hours.

In theory, the policíá municipal is in charge of handling noise-related complaints, although whether or not they are actually able to do much more than register your complaint is another question.  Probably the most effective way to avoid noise problems is to establish close relationships with neighbours and to handle any resulting problems with discretion and tender loving care.

As for me, I’m not used to noise at all, for, since I became old enough to be aware of it – in other words since I became an adult and a parent  – I’ve always lived in quiet places. In a cul-de sac next to a park in a Cheshire village, up a mountain in North Wales, and next to a football ground in a northern English town, where there were only two matches a week to break the silence. Even in Spain, I’ve only lived in quiet places (quiet for Spain, that is!): in a peaceful barrio on the edge of town and up the hill where no cars can reach in a pueblo blanco in the mountains of the Serranía de Ronda.

But now that we’ve moved, auditory hell has been let loose! But as I get older and increasingly hard of hearing, it doesn’t seem to matter that much. Everything else is perfect and I guess you get used to the noise – in the end!

Paul Whitelock

Anglo-Welsh, born 1950. Two children (b. 1983 and 1987). Retired school inspector, and former languages teacher. Living in Serrania de Ronda. Re-married 2010. Freelance writer, translator and interpreter.


  1. Not much will change in Spain regarding the noise as the Spanish regard it as a sign of good breeding to tolerate noise above what we would call an acceptable level. What drives me and my wife up the wall is the local builders merchants working seven days a week from eight in the morning till gone ten at nigh,t crisis what crisis.

  2. Yes, it’s certainly a sign of good breeding to put up with things and not to complain.
    I’ve also noticed that the Spanish increasingly disregard the siesta period and get their loud garden machinery out when all self-respecting people should be having a post-prandial nap.
    Time was, not so long ago, when nobody made any noise between 2 and 5 pm. What’s the world – or Spain, at least – coming to?

  3. Of course, a person who complains is a person properly brought up. We need to complain in order to remedy the wrongs in our society. I mean, if Paul Whitelock’s new house was all of a sudden deemed to be illegal and demolished, I am sure he would be the first to complain lol. People who suffer in silence get trampled over, just look at history for numerous examples.

    Peter you’d better tell the 21%+ unemployed that there’s no crisis (oh and the outgoing leader as well).

    And builders are always busy in Spain since they are continually repairing the rubbish that they first constructed. I saw a building firm using soil (yes, dirt) to repair a road today. 21st Century Spain in a nutshell.

  4. Fred. That’s why no-one could ever accuse me of being well-bred, for I complain constantly, as you say, to remedy the wrongs in society, but also to protect my own rights and interests.
    In recent times Telefónica/Movistar, Endesa, Repsol and Orange have felt the full brunt of my wrath. So have Unicaja, Santander, our builder and the next-door neighbour with the chained up dogs that bark and howl the whole time.
    As for results, I’ve been less successful than I used to be in the UK, but have nevertheless achieved a discount on our phone bill for 6 months, a refund of bank charges from both banks and a free roof terrace repair. Oh, and the next-door dogs have gone!
    Good point about builders being busy!

  5. By the way, if anyone’s interested, I’m on the radio tonight! Talk Radio Europe presenter Richie Allen read my Olive Press article on noise in Spain and has invited me to take part in the Tonight Show this evening.
    Tune in to Radio Talk Europe on 88.9 or 91.9 FM at around 7.20 pm or listen online at http://www.talkradioeurope.com

  6. Paul, I’m glad to see you moan about Spain just like the rest of us. Funny how you always seem to omit that from your constant vision of ‘perfect’ Spain though. Are you being economical with the truth perhaps? lol.

  7. Fred. Nowhere is 100% perfect, of course, and we’d be naive and foolish to think so.
    As for my perfect view of Spain, on the whole everything is good about the place and that is why I have chosen to live here.
    Yes, the bureaucracy is mostly infuriating, timekeeping by Spanish tradesmen can be abysmal, and the big companies have appalling customer service. But it’s all about balance and most of the rest is good, I find.
    As for the Spanish Noise article, it was intended to be quite light-hearted and positive about rural life in Spain. If it didn’t come across in that way, I apologise.

  8. Blimey……..what with Lorries and Church Bells is it any wonder you’ve got to put up with it…..still there’s always the legion boys to sort it…….best keep on good terms with ‘dem lot……………

  9. Spain? I hate the place! I bitterly regret being talked into coming here by members of my family who were already here. I long to go home to our green and pleasant land. If and when the property market starts moving I´m out of this dump!

  10. Looks like you’re stuck Robert. The property market isn’t going to do what you require. Why not make the best of it? Some afficionados of Spain who post on here,will probably be able to help you. Try Mr. Abusing. You’ll get on like a house on fire.

  11. Paul Whitelock,
    you do realise that those barking dogs have probably been dumped on an access or exit road of a motorway – that’s what the Spanish do, we lost count of the dogs killed this way. Or maybe they have been taken out into unoccupied land and tied to a tree and left to die of thirst and starvation – we saw 3 examples of that around Guadix.

    Robert, I can’t understand how you did’nt know that Spain was incredibly noisy – the worst is their fiestas – noise levels that anywhere else would have the police closing down the whole thing. We turned this horrendous negative into a positive by camping out in the Badlands/tierras malas for 3 days each year, returning home for desayuno, a shower and shopping and got the hell out and back to the gloriously empty badlands for barbecues and peace and quiet.

    I saw a few places that if legal planning consents could have been obtained I would have built an alt. energy home. of course these were way out in the countryside with no near neighbours.

    That’s one big plus for Spain – 99% of Spanish hate the countryside, so it’s possible to walk all day during the week and see no bipeds at all, quite unlike the UK or Germany.

  12. Stuart,

    First of all, is not only spanish who do that, and you forget to mention that many spanish people works hard to maintain Shelters for abandon pets.
    So stop bloody generalizing.

    Seriously piss me off how you english can just generalize when speaking about other countries, for instance the north of spain has nothing to do with the south, neither in weather or culture.

  13. Topman,
    first I’m not an Aryan, I’m a Celt.

    If you had read any of my posts you would know that I constantly berate Brits who talk about ‘sunny Spain’ and hav’nt a clue about all the different races/cultures that make up the Spanish, so idiots like you really piss me off.

    There are a few Spanish who do care about abandoned pets and hunting dogs but they are not many. And yes I know there are some foreigners who leave Spain and abandon their pets.

    So Topman (what an arrogant handle you give yourself) where are you from?


    ‘the worst is (should be ‘are’ btw) their fiestas – noise levels that anywhere else would have the police closing down the whole thing. We turned this horrendous negative into a positive by camping out in the Badlands/tierras malas for 3 days each year….’

    Stuart, you think Spanish fiestas are a ‘horrendous negative’. I’ve never ever heard such extreme MISERY in all my life!


  15. Mr Abusing,
    obviously you have hearing problems or have never actually been anywhere near a Spanish fiesta. How anyone can defend the ear splitting noise of one defies credulity but in your case I think that everyone can accept that you would defend it as you do all the negative points of life in Spain.


    I thought fiestas are where communities gets together, take part in processions, dance together, families return from all around, eat paellas, socialise until the early hours, then do it all over again for 3 whole days.

    It’s the best part of the year surely? Do you avoid your community?

    If you’ve not got A. The stamina B. The social skills & C. The fun inside you.. then it probably is best you crawl off into the hills to camp out alone somewhere!… or is that just to get out of contributing paying towards your town’s fiesta?


  17. Mr Abusing. Sir, it appears that you too can’t spell or punctuate. It’s not, ‘you hav’nt, it’s, you haven’t.

    I do think however, that Stuart is a well-travelled Celt and an interesting OP blogger, the value of his posts negate his spelling errors.

    Perhaps Mr Abusing, you should apologise to Stuart.

  18. Mug in Spain and Fredimp, if you both bothered to read back properly, it was Stuart who’s punctuation was incorrect. It was myself simply being sarcastic! – which is btw what Fred does ALL the time (LOL eh Fred?).


  19. As far as being noisy goes (back to topic), Spain is just a livelier, noisier more effervescent country.

    Get used to it! or go back to the UK where it’s not as noisy (as most people are stuck inside their houses due to the WEATHER), unless the noise is the sound of ASBO kids smashing things outside and fighting?

    Few months of warm nights ahead any day now! Viva España!

  20. “It was myself simply being sarcastic!”

    yeh right, lol.

    “Few months of warm nights ahead any day now”

    Any day now? It’s June almost. Actually, Meteo have just said that 2013 will be ‘the year without summer’ and that Spain will have a grey, wet summer. So much for the 320 days of sun in Spain lol.

  21. My goodness why on earth did you miserable people ever come here;everything is doom and gloom. Geez,if it is so terrible LEAVE! And if you did- then stop moaning about it, your gone-GO ENJOY LIFE!

  22. ‘Mug in Spain’ or rather, mugged in Spain by town hall officials in respect of; a Building License that should never have been issued, mugged in Spain for an Architect’s Project, where an architect would have known at the outset that it was inappropriate to build a property, mugged in Spain for the rubber stamp of ‘Diligence’from the Malaga School of Architects, when they too would have known that the land was outside the scope of urban development. Mugged in Spain indeed and facing demolition.

  23. Well Fred it’s pretty hard to tell with all the whiny and swipes at each other that is done. I guess that Olive Press commenters do indeed enjoy something.

  24. Christine: You really do need to tune in to Brit humour. We love a good moan, sarky comments and, most of all, irony. Chuckle along girl! It’s funny, I assure you.

  25. annoyed JUST by Olive Press censoring actually.

    You are the guys seem to ALWAYS have things against Spain! as do the majority of contributors on here…

    just had it with this site -utterly pointless if things aren’t allowed to be followed up – see y’all

  26. I always find it funny when somebody leaves a comments section or forum and announces it. They actually think it will make a difference. Normal people just don’t post again and get on with their lives. Meltdown.

  27. If the Fiestas are too noisy and stop us sleeping well for 3-4 nights at a time, why not find out who also suffers this way in villages a few kilometres away who may have a spare room (for free) and do sleep-over swaps when it’s your/their village’s turn for all-night-volume. Every country has drawbacks, but we are lifetime guests in Spain, and,even though we may not like some aspects of the way the Spanish live, we need to work around it.

  28. i really see all sides , but agree with feeling fed up at the noise levels when trying to sleep, work live basically ,at least theres the mountain peace ….

  29. Eventually it does get into you and doesn’t help a bit if you aren’t feeling well or need to focus on anything…
    The Spanish regard this as normal, and if you are quiet they may think you are stupid or worse, police doesn’t interfere unless it affects rich areas or lots of people complain, and still…

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