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Expat mishaps in Spain – Anecdotes from living abroad

Expat mishaps in Spain – Anecdotes from living abroad

Anecdotes living abroad

Living abroad you can find yourself in odd situations. I shared one of these stories on my blog a while ago, on this post about Village life . Although that anecdote is just one of many after fifteen years abroad, I have quite a few..

I thought that if you are moving  abroad or considering it,  by sharing my embarrassing moments you might relate and can begin to understand that these confusing situations are often just part of adjusting.  Several of my anecdotes are moments ´Lost in Translation´ of course.

Knowing the local language makes a huge difference living abroad, but there are lots of tips which you should be aware of if you’re thinking of emigrating. Even when you speak the language well, and say the correct words, it doesn´t always work out how you expect. Communication is a two way thing. The person listening must try to understand you and be open minded too, this is not always the case!

Tea at 5 o´clock

I remember asking for ´three iced coffees ´ in a bar. Tres cafés con hielo It was summertime in Granada. My Spanish was at a very good level. Even so the waiter served me three cups of tea. Now there is no similarity between the phrase tres cafés con hielo and tres tés but that´s what he served me.

My only thoughts on this are that he must have thought:  5pm. English. She will want tea. This situation has no explanation at all. It´s just one of those things.

port Alcudia Majorca living abroad

Beach bats and batteries

One hot Summer many years ago, I think I was about thirteen. I was in Tarragona spending summertime with my Spanish exchange student friend. I remember this frustrating situation. It happened when we were packing the bags to head to the beach.

I could see everything being packed into large straw beach bags. Towels, sun cream, sun hats etc. I thought to myself we must take the wooden bats and ball with us. You know those wooden bats that you always see in Spain, everyone has them on the beaches, they sell them in a coloured net bag in the souvenir shops.

So I told my friend we need to take the ´pilas´ to the ´playa´ Of course my Spanish friend was confused at this request and asked me to elaborate and to give her more information. What size of ´pilas´ do I need? What do I want them for? she asked. Although I explained that I needed them to play with at the beach. I also insisted that we always take them to the beach and today was no different.

Fuengirola Beach Costa del Sol

It was honestly hard for me to understand why she didn´t get it. It made me think she didn´t want to take them for some reason.

I was of course asking her to take batteries (pilas) rather than bats (palas) to the beach. No wonder she was confused. After quite a while arguing I resolved this by going to where the bats were stored. I grabbed them and marched into the hall to show them what I wanted. They howled with laughter when I appeared with the Pilas.  

Palas! Palas! they shouted. What frustration all for just one letter difference.

Luckily my Spanish has improved somewhat since then. Living abroad has helped. 

Puerta Real Granada City Spain

Post office patience

Not all misunderstandings are down to language though, culture plays a big part. What our expectations are and what we think the outcome will be  in certain situations may leave us completely flabbergasted in another country as it doesn´t match up.

One day in 2013 (yes, last year!) I went along to the main post office in Granada to buy some stamps. Simple!

My idea was to take along one of my letters already written out. The idea was to buy 20 stamps for that size/weight of envelope so that I could post them in a few days time when they were written out with all the addresses.


So I walked into the large post office building. The system here for queuing is by taking a small piece of paper from a machine which gives you a number. (like the deli counter)  When that number appears on the display it´s your turn. The wait is usually about 15 minutes (at least) So I took my number, sat down and waited.

10 minutes later when I got to the counter, the man explained to me that he didn´t have any stamps. That he couldn´t give me the stamps I wanted. He told me that the stamps could only be sold by a special counter. He could only post things now, not issue stamps for future mailing.

Of course the queue was a different for the Special Stamp Counter. I would have to join a new queue. Unbelievable.

I wonder if my Spanish wasn´t up to scratch how confusing this would have been? This is just a weird system. But the longer I am here it seems the more I get used to what I think are illogical things and just take them in your stride.

What weird things have happened to you while living abroad?

Puerta Real Granada City Spain

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  1. Robyn says:

    Enjoyed reading your stories of life in Spain!

  2. GK says:

    Hello! I’ve been reading your web site for
    a long time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a
    shout out from Atascocita Tx! Just wanted to mention keep up the good work!

  3. anna nicholas says:

    Well Molly we haven’t had stamps for the UK for months now…only way is to get the letters franked in the PO. You couldn’t make it up but this is Mallorca!

  4. Lynda Wood says:

    Your post reminded me of when I was struggling with the language and living with my husband (a flamenco dancer|) on te Costa Brava.
    I wanted a lettuce and asked for a lechuga.
    When I returned home and commented on the Catalans’ rudeness in pretending that they didn’t understand Castillano, my husband asked me what I had asked for. When I told him he collapsed with laughter.

    • Lynda Wood says:

      Correction……I asked for a lechuza ……my story doesn’t make sense LOL

      • Molly says:

        These three anecdotes I explain here are just a few, there are more to come…
        Hilarious that you were asking for an Owl (instead of lettuce)

  5. Stine says:

    Hi Molly.
    Can’t wait to here more 🙂
    The examples above are quite modest – have you got a NIE-number/residencia then you’ve really had the ultimate fun experience with Andalucian offices! It takes 1,5-3 hours, and the acual interaction takes about 5 minutes, the rest is waiting..
    The Spaniards are quite good at queueing – as someone else wrote: make it an “adventure”, bring a book or make use of the time to check up on the news or respond e-mails. I got some funny looks when I worked on my laptop while queueing for the NIE-office 😉

  6. Expat mishaps in Spain - Some of my anecdotes f... says:

    […] Mihaps as an Expat in Spain – An account of anecdotes while living abroad.From Barcelona to Andalusia the years living in Spain I´ve had many situations to  […]

  7. Lisa says:

    My hubby has a few good language mix up stories … He once gave a shovel to a guy who was asking for something for his wife who was in the car with a headache (we were in a ski resort and he had completely misunderstood!)
    My fave, when I totally burst into fits of giggles, was when we were driving through Spain in a VW camper van and he admitted that this question had been bugging him for days … He asked me where “carreterra” was, as he kept seeing it signposted everywhere 🙂

  8. Sally Scamell says:

    Really enjoyed your anecdotes and have subscribed. Information like this is amusing but also very valuable for people coming to live here in Spain! It saves time and a lot of irritation especially for people from the UK who do not believe in queuing too long! As I say to people – tranquila, enjoy your life and don’t get stressed – are you really that busy? You can learn a lot from queues and meet some lovely people too 🙂 Going to the Post Office is now a morning adventure – don’t plan for anything else then there is no problem.

  9. Rachel says:

    Ooh, yeah…. Memories. Stamps can still be bought in bulk from Estancos around us though. Very handy to avoid the PO queues.

  10. The post office, along with the foreigner’s office, is my idea of hell. When I get the slip that I’ve missed a package, it’s horrifying (especially because my assigned post office is 2km away when there’s one 200m from my doorstep!). Spain, you whack.

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