Those of us who live in Spain, know it to be true: The Spanish have it sussed when it comes to living well.
Officially they are one of the healthiest nations and have the longest life expectancy in Europe (soon to be the world) but they also know how to enjoy life and top comparison charts for work/life balance.
So here’s a list of the typical habits you should adopt from the Spanish.
1.Grow your own vegetables
It may not be much of an option for those of us who live in cities unless there is a community allotment space near you, but even the smallest corner of a terrace or window box could provide be the perfect spot for growing your own tomatoes , chillies or at the very least a kitchen garden of herb varieties.
But for many households in rural Spain the family allotment, often located in a spot outside of the town itself, provides all the seasonal vegetable supplies, and often enough to share with friends too.
Spain is all about seasonal fruit and veg and with such a great climate in most of Spain – as long as you have an irrigation system in place – growing your own is a fantastic way to save money and eat well. It will also teach you to be inventive in the kitchen when you realise you have a glut of one particular vegetable crop to get through.
2. Shop at the market
For those who don’t have the time or space to grow their own, fret not. You can still enjoy the best seasonal produce Spain has to offer by shopping at your local market.
Although it’s tempting to shop at the vast hypermarkets on the outskirts of town or pop into the local supermarket Express that have appeared on every other block across Spanish cities, follow in the footsteps of the neighbourhood ‘abuelas’ and visit the local market to buy your fresh produce.
Meat and fish are often locally sourced and come with valuable advice from vendors on how best to cook them. The green grocers will often through in a freebie for regular customers and once your face is known you’ll be met with a cheery greeting.
The market isn’t just a place for shopping, it’s also a valuable opportunity to socialize and gossip, with the stall keepers and your neighbours, all while you are trying to figure out the queuing system.
It’s a great way to improve your Spanish and integrate into your local community.
3. Adopt a pueblo
Every Spanish city dweller has their pueblo – the land of their ancestors and quite possibly a ramshackle property once belonging to their grandparents that is filled with dark furniture and religious icons.
It is to this town or village where Spaniards return for local fiestas, saints days and to escape the heat and bustle of the city.
Spaniards are full of pride for their pueblo, which is always famous for something – the best tortilla, morcilla or leafy green vegetable – and want to invite foreign friends to visit to discover for themselves why it is the most beautiful spot in Spain if not the world.
We encourage you to embrace this concept and if possible find a village of your own that you can keep going back to again and again.
4. Enjoy long leisurely lunches
It may not be as usual as it once was to take at least a two-hour lunch during the working week but lunch is still considered the most important meal of the day in Spain and it cannot be hurried.
The practice of grabbing a sandwich and eating at your desk is still a rarity in Spanish offices and the culture of Menú del Dia is still going strong.
But it is during weekends and holidays that the Spanish art of lunching really comes into its own.
It starts when you meet friends for an aperitivo – a vermut or sherry accompanied by some fresh green olives – and continues for much of the afternoon. Three hours later it is not uncommon to be still seated at the table enjoying a sobremesa – the word describing the postprandial chat with your family members, friends or work colleagues.
5. Take a siesta
For most people – ie those that have jobs – it doesn’t form a part of Spanish everyday routine anymore but at weekends, holidays and summer afternoons for those whose work adopts “jornada intensiva” the siesta is an essential part of healthy living.
Every Spaniard knows the advantage of retreating to a cool dark room during the hottest hours of a summer afternoon for a quick 40 winks.
In fact, multiple scientific studies in recent years have proven that a short sleep after lunch provides health benefits, including stress reduction, and improves alertness and memory.
But you have to learn how to do it right.
6. Book off the whole month of August
Most of the interior of Spain grinds to a halt in August. Businesses shut down, restaurants close and the streets are devoid of traffic and people as everyone heads to the coast, their pueblos or failing that as an option, the nearest pool.
Don’t be the one that tries to work through August. Everyone else will be on holiday, they won’t answer your emails or take your calls and it will be a struggle to find even a dry cleaner open to launder your office shirts.
August is the month to enjoy family and old friends, to let loose at local fiestas, and most importantly to escape the stifling heat of the city and head to cooler climes.
7. Socialise a lot and between all ages
Spaniards are extraordinarily social, even to the point that is rare to see someone eating at a restaurant table alone or, god forbid, make a solo trip to the cinema.
And there is little in the way of segregation between generations. Weekend lunches involve all the family, from great grandparents to toddlers and cafe terraces will be filled until late into the night – at least in summer – with young children playing while their parents socialise.
During fiestas, an essential part of community life in Spain, all ages get involved in activities and no-one is considered too old or too young to have a good time.
8. Be more touchy-feely
Forget about shaking hands to greet someone.
Spanish people always kiss each other on the cheeks to greet each other. It is usually two kisses and it takes place when you are introduced to someone even if it is the first time you meet them.
If the greeting is between two men it’s a thump on the back, or a wave of the hand. Any other form of greeting in Spain will be met with befuddlement. Attempt just one kiss and you will leave the Spaniards kissing in mid-air and if you stick out your arm for a handshake then expect it to be pulled in and met with the double kiss.
So get over your fear of intimacy and put the idea of spreading germs right out of your mind as science suggests that being a bit more touchy-feely could make you happier. Physical contact with other humans produces oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that is central to intimacy and bonding.
9. Drink sensibly
Although Spain is full of bars and drinking alcohol is very much part of everyday culture, there isn’t the same culture of binge drinking that exists in northern European countries such as Britain, where it’s not unusual to find a seat in a pub after work on a Friday and stagger out at closing time with only a packet of salt’n’vinegar or a bag of roasted peanuts as sustenance.
Ordering a pint instead of the more usual ‘caña’ raises eyebrows in the expectation that the drinker is on a ‘bender’. Tapas is considered an accompaniment to drinking and not a replacement for dinner.
The Spanish night out involves touring a number of different venues over the course of an evening, it’s all about the socializing rather than the alcohol consumption.
10. Learn not to be in a rush
There’s no point tutting when your Spanish friend arrives half an hour late to meet you for a drink, and don’t get cross when a group of Spanish old ladies block the entire pavement as they stop for a gossip in the middle of a busy street.
Life will be much easier if you just go with the flow of Spanish life, take a deep breath and relax.