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A Lesson in Manners

Por: | 22 de junio de 2015

Pavements are pretty narrow in Seville, particularly in the cobbled, quaint parts of town. Sometimes I think it’s rather an insult calling them a pavement at all for the lot of good they do. It’s an everyday occurrence to find someone coming at you in the opposite direction, desperately clinging to the same precarious, concrete edge. And it’s at this point I find myself with the dizzying conundrum: step off or be stepped on.


So more often than not it’s me who leaps off into oncoming traffic, waits to let people pass, steps into a doorway or shimmies up a lamp post. It’s my choice obviously and one that’s based on that innate British horror at offending or inconveniencing the other. So here I am looking expectantly into the eyes of the fellow human being I’ve stood aside to let past and 80% of the time it´s a big fat nothing in return. Okay, if I’m honest, it’s not entirely nothing; eye contact is indeed made, but instead of a warm acknowledgement of my efforts, I'm met with a cold, hard stare that enters my hopeful heart like a burning hot arrow.


For the first year or so in Seville, I took it all very badly. Such pavement encounters were met with audible, narked off sighs (on my behalf) and an occasional 'both hands on hip in utter disbelief' stance. But then an English Reading Comprehension exercise entitled ‘Watching the English’ changed my perspective. Taken from the book of the same name by anthropologist Kate Fox, she studies the quirks and foibles of the English character, where fair play or the lack of it gets us extremely riled and sorry is every other word. After the first few paragraphs I soon began to realise that my expectations and concept of politeness were purely cultural and far from definitive.

So with a new ‘I know it’s not personal’ bravado I thought I’d use my observations of Seville etiquette and see what would entail. Which was, by the way, a complete disaster. A late night encounter on my bike with a street cleaner who very politely stopped to let me through, went completely unacknowledged by my new 'Sevillanoed' self, much should I say to his palpable disdain. Here was a perfectly nice man just being kind to a passing 'guiri' and all he got as thanks was a Paddington Bear stare and a gust of wind as I cycled past at break neck speed. I felt like throwing down my bike and pleading for his forgiveness, but instead I just kept on cycling cursing all the while at the utter failure of my attempt to fit in.

I would like to point out at this point that this is not a personal slight on people from Seville, Andalusia or Spain in general. But I just want to know what to do. Please someone tell me. All I’ve ever wanted to do is fit in, as much as I can being a 5ft 9 blond with freckles and pale skin, but at least if I know when to say please and thank you that will be a start. So, this is a kind of shout out to any Spanish or Andalusian social etiquette experts: Please teach me some manners.

Hay 10 Comentarios

Even before reading this article, this has been a common gripe of mine as an Irish guiri in Madrid. Pavements are a little (only a little!) more substantial in most of the city but I am always, ALWAYS the one to step aside. Initially I wondered if it's only the guiris stepping aside (friends have complained about the same), how do the Spanish not collide with each other more often? So many things I still don't understand six years on. People here are, on the whole, wonderful but what constitutes as manners here confounds me often. Nice article

You think ahead, the Spanish person doesn't. It's not that he doesn't want to, it's just not a part of the culture (in certain situations). Check-out a pretty good example in the link.

Thanks all for your wise words and advice. I will drop the odd ´de nada´ and see what happens.

If you want to meet nice people in Spain just click in my name. The best website to meet people for free!!

Andalucians* appreciate politeness and good manners.

Oh how I miss those cobbled sunlight streets.
I used to live in every one every where, you are better off being polite and considerate.I found being polite in Spanish was always positively received.

Don't try to fit in just be yourself,and as you are already inclined to being polite...stick with that!Andalucia appreciate politeness!

Having lived in Andalucia for 24 years and Seville for 6 of those, I can safely say, at the risk of offending my many Sevillano friends is that this is a fairly modern development, as when I first arrived in Spain, the people in general and the youth were particularly polite, respectful compared to the sullen, rude, ignorant bunch that exist today. I noticed this began to change during the 8 yrs in government of Aznar and his Thatcherite policies, the continuous dumbing down of education and the creation of a pretty stupid, consumer-orientated society that only believes in 2 things: self and money.

The other thing is that compared to most other Spaniards or Andalucians, the 'sevillanos' have an unusually high opinion of themselves, and other Spaniards commonly refer to them as believing they are the 'umbligo del mundo', the bellybutton of the world...

Wonderful article. I love it. I understand you so well: I was born and raised in the Uk (Leaminghton Spa) so I have been inoculated with most of the cocktail that makes you an englishman. On the other hand, I have lived in Seville for 7 years. i like to think I have the best of both worlds.
I recomend you speak out so your dumb but not deaf passer by can hear your laconic "de nada" so he can feel the pressure for the absence of a "gracias".
Two scenarios can arise: A late recognition of your politness, you will have encountered a well bred. If you get no reply you just happened to come across an A** H***.

Hi Mary,

Thanks for sharing your reflections on such a delicate matter.
My advice is that you don't change: just be yourself and don't stop saying "thank you" and "sorry" every single time you interact with a stranger, like any English person does. That way you will fit in. Maybe you won' fit in as a local, but as a very nice and polite guiri, but that's what you are, and that's what we like.

And also, don't give so much importance to those apparently rude gestures. They mean so much for you, but surely most of the people who don't step off the pavement didn't even notice.

Enjoy your stay in Sevilla, and thanks for your interest in our country.

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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