What to Expect when Making Plans with Spaniards

Dear Reed,

As you start to make Spanish friends you will obviously want to make plans to see them. While planning may seem like a pretty self-explanatory thing, I’ve found that making plans with Spaniards is a different breed, indeed! First and foremost, I want to make the disclaimer that what I am about to say does not apply to ALL Spaniards, as you can obviously find very different kinds of people here (just as in any country). Still, I’ll share with you some insights based on the personal experiences I’ve had while living abroad in Spain.

In general, Spanish people do not plan! This can be very frustrating coming from a culture like the United States, where we start to talk about plans for the weekend on Monday (if not sooner). No pasa nada can explain this phenomenon rather clearly. In their minds, there is simply no reason to stress- they’ll do SOMETHING come Friday night, why worry about it now?? Of course, I do always worry and come across as the uptight guiri because of it. These are the three most important things I’ve gathered over the years that may be helpful for you to know…

Try not to get upset if your new Spanish friends don't arrive on time―this is simply part of the culture here!

Try not to get upset if your new Spanish friends don't arrive on time―this is simply part of the culture here!

1.) Time is relative: Not only do some Spaniards call 1pm 'the morning' and 8pm 'afternoon' (more specifically tarde-noche), a set time to meet is more like a loose guideline. I cannot tell you how many times I have made plans to meet with friends at 9pm and at 9:10 I received a message saying 'estoy llegando' which I literally took to mean 'I am arriving' aka 'on my way.' What I soon learned, however, is that some people will say this when they are finishing their makeup, having their last cigarette before leaving the house, or even just getting in the shower!

For the most part, my friends are rather punctual and that’s why they bother to send an 'estoy llegando' message before I even ask, but that still doesn’t mean they arrive at 9! Many people tell me that they use the half-hour-earlier trick on their Spanish friends (telling them to meet half an hour earlier than they actually want to meet), therefore ensuring that the Spaniards arrive around the right time. I haven’t gotten to this point but, depending on your friends’ habits, it might be the golden ticket! Another option is to bring a book with you, like Claudia does, or catch up with emails on your phone while you wait. Simply brace yourself ahead of time for the fact that you will most likely be the first to arrive and try not to get to frustrated in the meantime, this is just one of those moment for a lesson in culture competences.

2.) Plans are not set in stone: Personally, when I make a plan with someone (especially a group) I expect to follow through on the arrangements as discussed (unless there is a prior change of plan). For Spaniards, it seems that things take a much more fluid approach. Plans to go to the feria for lunch can turn into botellón-ing* at home until 10:30pm! Typically, I keep the mindset that “whatever happens, happens” as you simply cannot predict the changes of events that will occur with Spaniards.

However, this has been extremely difficult when my boyfriend comes in from out of town to join a plan and then it falls apart in front of our eyes. I have to admit that I am not the most assertive of people when it comes to these situations, especially because I feel like the outsider and that speaking up about the way I want to do it means not adapting to the Spanish way. At the same time, sometimes the 'Spanish way' (of the younger generation) means not attending the festival until the late hours and therefore missing out on the traditional aspects, so I guess you have to pick your battles.

3.) Getting drunk and saving money is always of the essence: Of course, this is most stereotypically characteristic of the university crowd (but keep in mind that, for most Spaniards I meet at least, that mentality tends to stick around until marriage). I’m all for a good, economical time as well, don’t get me wrong. Still, I find that Spaniards take it to a whole new level. And when you come from a country where a liter of beer from the chino costs 1 or 2€, can you blame them? It’s understandable, but just be aware of what you sign yourself up for.

Although no longer legal in most places around Spain, the young people here like to take advantage of a  botellón  in the streets when they can.

Although no longer legal in most places around Spain, the young people here like to take advantage of a botellón in the streets when they can.

If your Spanish friends want to meet at 11pm 'to go out,' simply know that this will most likely include 1-3 hours of botellón-ing before you get anywhere near a discoteca! Unless you have friends who are earning their own money, remember that the youth of Spain tend to live off of periodic deposits from mom and/or dad so they are always looking to save a bit of money. Spending 5€ on a copa at the bar simply isn’t gonna convince them when they can buy a bottle of cheap vodka at that cost. I find that this factor almost always affects the time and change of plans mentioned above.

So there you have it. Again, there is so much more going on in the Spanish planning (or lack thereof) thought process and this answer only scrapes at the surface. But if you’ve been frustrated about planning issues in the past, these three thoughts will likely help you put it all in perspective. Let us know if there’s anything else we could specifically shed light on!


*Botellón, literally translated as 'big bottle,' is a term that traditionally meant taking your bottles and drinking somewhere outdoors before truly 'going out.' As this practice has become illegal in more and more places across Spain, it has begun to be used for 'pre-gaming' that takes place at home as well.