Adapting,  Culture,  Living Abroad

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, we’ve found that making plans with Spaniards is a bit different than what we initially expected! However, first and foremost, we would like to make the disclaimer that what we are 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, we’ve had enough experiences over the years that we want to share with you some insights based on the personal experiences we’ve had while living abroad in Spain.

In comparison to what we were used to, 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, at the beginning we did worry more, and came across as the uptight guiri because of it. Luckily for you, we’ve learned some things during our time in Spain and these are the three most important things that may be helpful for you to know…

1.) Time is relative

Not only do some Spaniards call 1pm ‘the morning’ and 8pm ‘the afternoon’ (more specifically tarde-noche), a set time to meet can be more like a loose guideline than a specific time to meet. We cannot tell you how many times we have made plans to meet with friends at 9pm and at 9:10 we received a message saying ‘estoy llegando’ which, as foreigners, we literally took to mean ‘I am arriving’ aka ‘on my way.’ What we have 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, our friends are rather punctual (or at least with us) and that’s why they bother to send an ‘estoy llegando’ message before we even ask, but that still doesn’t mean they arrive at 9! Many people tell us 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. We don’t tend to do this 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. No matter what your plan, brace yourself ahead of time for the fact that you will most likely be the first to arrive and try not to get too frustrated in the meantime, this is just one of those moments for a lesson in culture competences.

2.) Plans are not set in stone

Personally, when we make a plan with someone, especially a group, we do so with the expectation to follow through on the arrangements as discussed (unless there is a prior change of plan). For Spaniards, from our perspective, things seem to 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, we try to 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 we try to include other people in a plan and then it falls apart in front of our eyes. This can feel especially frustrating if you are not willing to be assertive when it comes to situations like these and don’t stand up for knowing what is going on (which we can understand as you are a foreigner joining along). At the same time, sometimes the ‘Spanish way’ for people of our generation means not attending the festival until the late hours and therefore missing out on some of the traditional aspects you might want to see. Therefore, we recommend that you pick your battles and figure out what is important to you, staying true to yourself in friendship.

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 we meet at least, that mentality tends to stick around until or even after marriage). We are all for a good, economical time as well, don’t get us wrong. Still, we 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 when you say you are in for a night out.

If your Spanish friends want to meet at 11pm “to go out,” you should know that this will most likely include 1-3 hours of botellón-ing at someone’s house 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. We also find that this factor almost always affects the time and change of plans mentioned above because if things are going well at home, why would you need to go out just yet?

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.


  • Lucy

    So I have a Spanish friend who keeps suggesting to go away together, hiking in Barcelona, diving in Valencia… But whenever I try to make these plans concrete he doesn’t respond or keeps saying “perhaps”. When I text him when we should plan these vacations he doesn’t respond anymore. It frustrates me! How can I make plans that will ACTUALLY go through?!

    • Sincerely, Spain

      Dear Lucy,
      That sounds very frustrating. It seems like you have already been doing many of the things that we would recommend you to try out. The last thing you might try is planning something and inviting your friend along, just to join.
      Unfortunately, if none of your attempts at coaxing out plans actually works, you might also have to accept that this friend won’t be the kind of person that you will take these types of trips together. With all friendships (and not just as a foreigner in Spain), we have to realize that some people are more likely to make the effort than others. This has nothing to do with you personally and if this person doesn’t seem to want to be the right fit, you may have to consider trying to find other people to go on these adventures with. Let us know how it goes!
      Dani and Claudia

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