'I’ve yet to see anyone coming to a party in Ireland at the time that was suggested'

Pilar Alderete Diez reacts to JJ Keaney’s ‘10 things I’ve learned in 12 years living in Spain’

Pilar Alderete Diez has lived in Galway since 2003.

Pilar Alderete Diez has lived in Galway since 2003.


It is always easy to point out differences when you are in a foreign country. Everything you experience and encounter is part of the culture, and as an outsider, you need to explain it to yourself so it makes sense. Some things even go against everything you have lived by before. In order to immerse yourself in the cultural experience, you compare, criticise, filter how people behave.

I moved to Galway in 2003. I had lived here before though, so I already had a sense of the type of city I was arriving into. I had spent nine months as a poor student living in one of the residences on campus for my Erasmus experience, but when I was offered a temporary contract to teach Spanish as a foreign language assistant at NUI Galway, and then offered a new permanent post, I began to settle and see the great things my new country could offer.

Just like JJ Keaney’s experience (10 things I’ve learned in 12 years living in Spain) published on March 27th, it wasn’t easy initially, but once I accepted that things are different to how I remembered them or how they were in the other places I lived (Brazil, Canada, England, Spain), things eased up a bit.

When I read the article that was published in this paper a few weeks ago by JJ Keaney, I couldn’t help but respond to it

A permanent contract in 2006 and the birth of my daughter in 2015 meant that there was no returning home to Spain.

Even though I always knew that I would never be fully Irish, the reason that I chose to stay here in the west of Ireland was mainly your relaxed attitude – unnerving as it is for a Spaniard, sometimes – towards just about everything. It was always my purpose to learn a bit of that relaxed frame of mind, but from time to time, I encounter things that make my Spanish blood boil.

I’m not much of a patriot; I left my home town with every intention of never coming back and I’m one of the most fervent critics of my native land's ways, strange policies and unreasonable customs. But when I read J J Keaney's article, I couldn’t help but respond to it (and start a conversation among Spaniards of all walks of life and regions in Galway). I waited a few weeks to let it settle so I could respond in a collected manner, without the Spanish bravado.

JJ provided very good advice on five points in his article, but there were another five that most of us Spaniards agreed were not very accurate. Of course, his experience of Spain and Spaniards is going to be invariably partial.

Here are five things that we – my fellow Spanish friends and I - cannot really agree with JJ Keaney, when he claims that:

  1. Ahora does not mean now, as defined in any dictionary: Living in the heart of Connacht, it seems unusual that an Irish person would have an issue with the Spanish laidback conception of time markers. From where we stand,  "now" in Ireland can be a synonym of later, or even equally used as "yeah, I will"; which for anyone reading this from outside Ireland, does not guarantee any completion of the task required but basically, just marks the fact that the speaker has good intentions. This conception of slow time, time outside diaries and alarm clocks, is one of the certain similarities we have found in Ireland, and we definitely welcome it. We definitely agree with JJ, but we are surprised he’s surprised about it.
  2. The Spanish will always be late. Linked to the previous point, we agree that our attitude towards time tends to be on the relaxed side of life, far away from the British obsession with the Big Ben. Yet again, we would say that this is one of the similarities that we proudly share, the Irish and the Spaniards. I’ve yet to see anyone coming to a party in Ireland at the time that was suggested, or showing up in the pub at the agreed time. It is true that in Spain this lack of punctuality may extend to the institutional realm, especially in certain regions. But I happen to know a few tradesmen in cities and people working in rural areas in the west of Ireland, that would definitely agree with me in that time is always relative
  3. Nothing starts on time. This time, we disagree. "Nothing" seems like a bit of an overstatement. I certainly do not recommend a newcomer to Spain to try and go to an office, minutes later than his/her appointment was scheduled for; or arrive in class late, unless they want to be on the spot for the rest of the academic year; or even hand in an essay past the hour it is due at in a Spanish university. We take deadlines very seriously, in fact, more seriously than I’ve ever experienced in Ireland.  It may surprise you to see that in Spain, time is on the side of the powerful: for example a lecturer/doctor/politician/boss can arrive 15 minutes later to his/her appointment, but you, powerless foreigner, should never EVER try it yourself.
  4. The “round” system is unheard of here: This shocked us because it definitely goes against our experience as native Spaniards. In Spain, we not only have round system for drinks as you do in Ireland, but this system is also the most popular method of family warfare and social dynamics power-games. Or at least it is where I’m from in the midlands. We even call them the same as you: "rondas". So I’m afraid that on this point, JJ must have landed on a family or circle of friends that does not abide by the common customs.
  5. Dress code is very important in Spain: Having been away from Spain for the last 19 years, I’m a little reluctant to comment on this one, just in case things have changed a lot; but the last time I was invited to a wedding or went out for drinks, the dress code was definitely more relaxed than in Ireland. And I come from a city – Valladolid – well known for its formality in regular attire.  We  are surely worried about what cousins and neighbours may think of our fashion but we also – perhaps by overexposure – learn not to give a damn about it and do as we please. It is not unusual to see girls going out for drinks on jeans and Primark tops, not dressed up like the Kardashians.

Finally, as Spanish people living in Ireland, we would like to encourage anyone wanting to move to Spain to open up, enquire, be amazed, question and embrace the diverse ways that the vast country they are going to enjoys displaying. After all, we are all show-offs, aren’t we?

Pilar Alderete Diez is first year coordinator of Spanish at NUI Galway.

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