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House-Sitting in Spain: A Cross-Cultural Guide

Welcome to Nomador's Cultural Differences & House-sitting series, which is all about how
cultural differences can impact our members’ experiences as house-sitters around the world.
Our goal is to offer practical information and tips that can help you bridge the cultural differences
you might experience as a house-sitter. If you’re new to the series, be sure to read the series
introduction , our country guides to France , Canada , and Australia , and our two regional guides
focusing on Latin America and Asia.

This is our fourth country guide, with a focus on how cultural and social differences might affect
house-sitters in Spain. We’ll outline some of the cultural differences you might encounter in
Spain, and provide tips for house-sitters interested in applying for house-sits across the country.

Lloret del Mar, Spain - Photo credit: wandertooth.com

Spain is a Popular Year-Round House-Sitting Destination

Spain is one of the most popular house-sitting destinations out there, with a range of
opportunities to suit whatever kind of house-sit you’re looking for. From the big city culture of
Barcelona or Madrid to the hills of Andalusia, there’s something for everyone in Spain.

Part of what makes Spain such a desired destination for house-sitters is the prevalence of
northern European and UK expats who’ve settled down in Spain for retirement or earlier in life.
Often, these expats head back to their home country for short or extended visits with family, and
need someone to care for their property and pets while away.

Beyond that, however, is the fact that Spaniards have embraced the economía colaborativa and
people-to-people service communities, such as Nomador, whole heartedly. Despite the constant
stream of Barcelona vs. Airbnb and Uber news, the Spaniards indeed have a robust sharing
economy, a result of a number of interacting factors:

  • Research shows the countries hardest hit by the 2008 global economic crisis were some
    of the biggest adopters of sharing economy models. The crisis hit Spain particularly
    hard, and the country has yet to recover even now. It seems the Spanish responded to
    economic constraints with reduced emphasis on individual consumption, and an
    openness to the collaborative economy
  • Sharing is part of Spanish culture. As one Spanish newspaper put it , “the country that
    invented tapas understands the concept of sharing.” The country falls more toward the
    collectivist side of the individualist-collectivist cultural measure, which corresponds to
    close family and friend groups and a strong sense of group belonging.
  • Spain has a long history and culture of innovation. It’s no wonder the country that has
    produced some of the most imaginative thinkers of recent centuries - think Gaudi,
    Picasso, Miró, Dalí - would be open to new, imaginative forms of consumption and
    economic productivity.

Picasso - Street Art - Cadaquès, Spain - Photo credit: wandertooth.com

In addition to the general cultural factors that contribute to Spaniards’ embrace of the
collaborative economy, there are social and legal factors that contribute to the popularity of
house-sitting as well:

  • Pet ownership is popular in Spain, and the country falls within the top 20 cat and dog
    populations worldwide. Spain’s petcare market is worth more than €2.2 billion , and
    roughly half of Spanish households have at least one pet.
  • Local laws related to squatters’ rights make homeowners nervous about leaving their
    properties vacant for long stretches. Spanish law makes it relatively easy for squatters to
    take over vacant structures, meaning house-sitters play an important role when
    homeowners are away, even without the responsibility of pets.

All of these factors interact to produce a range of house-sitting opportunities for Nomador
members interested in visiting Spain.
How can you best ensure your chances of securing a house-sitting opportunity in Spain? And
how can you interact and work with the homeowner to create a fantastic experience for
everyone?
These questions are the focus of the remainder of this article.

Sunset near Palafrugell, Spain - Photo credit: wandertooth.com

Understanding Spain and Its Culture

The Spanish Schedule

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had our plans foiled by the Spanish schedule, arriving in a
new town for a half-day trip, only to hear the sound of roll-shutters smashing shut for the
mid-afternoon siesta.

Indeed, for Anglophones and northern Europeans, the Spanish schedule takes some getting
used to.

Between 2pm and 5pm, much of the country shuts down for a long lunch and a midday snooze.
When many northern Europeans are starting to think about dinner plans, the Spanish are
waking up from their afternoon siesta and getting ready for another 5 or 6 hours of daily tasks
before sitting down to their evening meal, at 10 pm or later.

As a house-sitter, the Spanish schedule will almost certainly affect your daily schedule during
your house-sit. Most importantly, be sure to ask the homeowner about veterinarian clinic hours,
and know what to do in case an emergency corresponds with siesta.

A Different Concept of Time

Time - and how we view it, use it, and value it - is largely a cultural construct . And Spaniards’
conception of time differs somewhat from that of northern European and Anglo cultures.

In North America, Australia and the UK, people view time as linear. It’s something that can be
spent or saved, and should be managed to meet schedules and deadlines. People are
future-oriented, spending a lot of time thinking about and planning for the future. A common
cliché in these cultures reflects this view: time is money .

Other cultures view time more in terms of relationships. Meeting deadlines and following
schedules is secondary to using the time they have to build strong and trusting relationships.
These cultures tend to be present-oriented, and accept schedule interruptions, missed
deadlines, and other future costs as a fair price to include the right people in the process, and
foster important relationships.

Spain more closely reflects this second outlook, which has important practical implications to
foreigners trying to understand Spanish culture.

  • Expect an ‘immediatist’ mindset. Long-standing plans may change at the last minute, a
    Spanish homeowner may be unwilling to make solid plans until the last minute, or they
    may want to speak with you immediately about a house-sit, rather than scheduling
    something for the near future.
  • Lateness doesn’t have the same negative implication (rude; inconsiderate of others’
    time) in Spain as it does in Anglo and northern cultures. Quite the opposite, a Spanish
    person might consider it rude if you cut your current meeting short to arrive on time to
    your next meeting! All things being equal (social hierarchy; closeness of a relationship),
    the person they are currently with is the relationship a Spanish person will most likely
    focus on.

Personal Space

Cross-cultural researchers have divided the world into contact cultures vs non-contact cultures
based on how people view, protect and use personal space. Spain is most definitely a contact
culture, a fact that’s easy enough to observe when you see how close Spanish friends stand to
one another , and how often people touch one another.

Driving that point home, a recent study found that Spanish people prefer (approximately) 90cm
of personal space when interacting with a stranger, 65cm for an acquaintance, and 58cm for a
close friend/family. Compare that to the Swiss, where the approximate distance for strangers,
acquaintances, and close relationships are 97cm, 91cm, and 80 cm, respectively. That’s quite a
difference!

Depending on your own culture, the Spanish fondness of touching and closeness may take
some getting used to. At minimum, be prepared to navigate the Spanish greeting, which differs
based on your gender, and the gender of the person you’re meeting :

  • Two women, or a woman and a man : A left-right cheek kiss when meeting a Spanish
    person, and for greetings and goodbyes.
  • Two male acquaintances : A handshake is more common than the cheek kiss.
  • Two close male friends/family members : A left-right cheek kiss.

Regional Differences

As an outsider, it’s easy to think of Spain as a single entity and culture, where all the locals are
Spanish-speakers and share a common Spanish culture. When you dig beneath the surface,
however, you’ll see things are more complex.

Spain’s official language is Castilian, the form of Spanish spoken by about 72% of the country.
While Castilian is the only official language nation-wide, Spain’s different regions have different
cultures and different languages, some of which have official status within their own region.

Perhaps the most well-known of these minority cultures is that of Catalonia, a coastal stretch in
north-east Spain that reaches up to the border with France and Andorra. While most Catalans
are bilingual in Castilian Spanish and Catalan, they’re also extremely proud of their language
and culture. If you’re applying for a house-sit in Catalonia, learning a few words of Catalan and
expressing your interest in visiting Catalonia (instead of, or in addition to, Spain) could go a long
way.

While Catalonia is the most famous example due to its current politics , Spain as a whole is
highly decentralized , with each of the 17 autonomous communities having limited self
government, and with many cultural subtleties and differences across the country.
House-sitters willing to recognize and honour these differences in their applications may have a
better shot of winning over some homeowners!

View of Sevilla, Spain - Photo credit: wandertooth.com

Power Distance

Power Distance reflects how well a culture tolerates and accepts unequal power distribution
within society. The Spanish rank significantly higher in power distance (57/100) than the United
States (40/100), the United Kingdom (35/100), Ireland (28/100) Canada (39/100), Australia
(36/100), and New Zealand (22/100), putting them closer to their French neighbors (68/100) in
their acceptance of hierarchy and privilege.

As we noted in our Cross-Cultural Guide to House-Sitting in France , this means house-sitters
should veer towards being overly polite, rather than overly familiar, in their initial interactions
with homeowners, using polite forms of Spanish, and using surnames rather than first names.

While Spain has a very relaxed culture overall, it’s best to begin with a more formal tone, and
relax from there.

Tips for Managing Differences of Power Distance:

  • Use formal language when communicating with homeowners, using the polite and formal
    “usted” form of Spanish, instead of the “tu” form.
  • Address the homeowner as señor or señora, rather than by their first name, until asked
    to do otherwise. When writing a letter, you can begin with Estimado Sr. Surname: (male)
    or Estimada Sra. Surname: (female), rather than using the homeowner’s first name. In
    Spanish, salutations are followed by a colon (:) rather than a comma (,) as in English.
  • Use a friendly-professional tone that’s not overly casual, and warm up to your main
    points with general pleasantries and introductions.

Tips for Applying to House-sitting Assignments in Spain

When it comes to cultural differences and house-sitting, practical information is of course the
most useful and important take away. We’ve summarized some of our key learnings and
recommendations below, in hopes Nomador members can apply them to their next house-sitting
application or experience in Spain.

  • Regionality: When writing to a homeowner, be mindful of regional pride and the position
    of minority cultures. During the Franco years, assimilationist policies suppressed these
    cultures and languages, and their current resurgence is a passionate topic for some.
    When explaining your motivations for the house-sit, show you’re interested in learning
    about the region as well as Spain as a whole, and mention it by name.
  • Hierarchy and Politeness : When interacting with a homeowner, it’s best to treat it as a
    professional relationship, rather than a familiar relationship, until you get to know the
    homeowner personally.
  • Flexibility : Be flexible when scheduling a call to discuss the house-sit with a Spanish
    homeowner, and be prepared that plans may change last minute. Similarly, don’t try to
    stick to a strict agenda during your first call or in-person meeting. Spanish culture is very
    flexible and relaxed, and you may find yourself getting frustrated if you expect a specific
    point-by-point agenda to be followed. Along a similar point, it’s worth noting that
    interruptions are common in Spain, and aren’t considered rude. If the homeowner
    interrupts you while speaking, don’t think anything negative of it, and continue on with
    the conversation.

View of the Alhambra de Granada, Spain - Photo credit: wandertooth.com

Specific Points to Discuss With the Homeowner for House-sitting Assignments in Spain

Finally, it’s worth noting there are a few Spain-specific scenarios that could impact your
house-sitting experience. Whenever possible, be sure to speak with the homeowner about
those points that apply to your house-sit.

  • Squatters’ Rights : If the homeowner is concerned about squatters, they’ll likely bring it up
    specifically before leaving you in charge. However, be sure to ask if there are additional
    structures on large properties in addition to the main home, and if squatting has been a
    problem in the area in the recent past.
  • Climate & Environment : Parts of Spain can experience very hot, dry summers, and it’s
    worth speaking to the homeowner about the potential for forest fires, and also pet safety
    in extreme weather.

Final Thoughts

From the pretty coastal towns of Costa Brava, to the museums of Madrid, to the olive groves of
Andalusia, the most challenging part of house-sitting in Spain might be choosing where to go. A
country with wonderful diversity, and an abundance of cultural and natural wealth, it’s not
surprising Spain is near the top of the list when it comes to house-sitting popularity. Hopefully
this guide has provided a helpful overview of how Spanish culture might impact your experience
exploring Spain as a house-sitter. As always, we would love to hear your thoughts and
questions.


Katie Matthews
Wandertooth.com

As full-time travellers, Katie Matthews and her husband Geoff frequently housesit as a way to gain a deeper interaction with different cultures, meet like-minded people, and spend some time with furry animals. They have been housesitting since 2013, recently settling in Budapest to focus on their business creating travel-themed adult colouring books and writing their travel blog, wandertooth.com. Holding a Master's of Arts in International and Intercultural Communication, Katie has a keen interest in how culture shapes communications.

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