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Christmas, Navidad and all that

December 23, 2010 – 10:00 am

This is my last post until Christmas, and until after the New Year too, as the nice folk here at andalucia.com have given me next week off. I’m going back to the UK for a few weeks, so a very Happy Christmas to all Spain-dwellers who are enjoying a sunny Andalucian Christmas, and who will be tucking into a big Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) dinner tomorrow night. If you want to know more about what happens here in Spain at the festive season, you can read about all aspects of it, from what to eat and how to make it, to the traditional music and songs you hear at Christmas, in our comprehensive guide.

So as the last post of 2010, I thought I’d take a look at some of the cultural customs which are key to living here in Spain, as a foreigner. These are things which I still forget, after seven years living here (I’m a novice compared to most of my friends, who arrived around the time of the Expo, in ’92). If they seem obvious to you because you’re a more seasoned expat than me, and some of the other readers, then apologies.

When you arrive somewhere, whether it’s a shop, the bus stop, or the doctor’s waiting room, you should always say “Buenas Dias” – Good Morning – or “Buenas Tardes” – Good Afternoon/Evening. So many times I forget, because I’m distracted and thinking about something else, and then the next person arrives and does say it, and I realise I didn’t and I feel rude and foreign. It’s such a small thing to remember, but it helps you to fit in and seem less strange to other, usually local people (especially if you’re obviously northern European-looking, as I am, with fair hair and blue eyes. And like our guest blogger Sarah, who talked about the rubia phenomenon in her post on Monday. I, however, do not get shouted at. That’s middle age for you, I guess.). This goes even more at festive times like this, where goodwill is even more appreciated – “Feliz Navidad!”

Another custom, or way of doing things, which I still haven’t got used to here, is time-keeping – or lack of it. First of all, if someone says they’ll be there in half an hour, forget it. Expect them any time from an hour onwards. And the classic timing pitfall – never, ever phone a government office between 10 and 11am – that hour encompasses the two breakfast shifts, so sod’s law dictates that the person you need to speak to will be out enjoying their tostada con tomato, jamon y aceite and cafe solo. Best leave it till after 11am.

I say that in the interests of helping people who are new to Andalucia’s quirks and peculiarities, rather than criticizing them, which would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Start the new year off knowing when to do things, and you’ll waste less time and get less frustrated – forewarned is forearmed.

So, on that note of learning to live with, and love, the many ups and downs of this beautiful region where we reside, let me wish you a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous 2010.

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