Why Spaniards Can Survive La Crisis

Published on 8/29/2011 in Spanish Culture

Yes it’s tough for so many people in Spain at the moment, especially with an unemployment rate of over 20%, but if anyone can see it through it’s got to be the Spanish.

I was sat the other day sipping a lovely coffee at a bar in the local village, talking to a group of locals of varying ages. Some were in their thirties and some were in their eighties. All were in the bar “shouting” at each other. They had no choice, being a typical bar the TV was on quite load so they had to shout to be heard. Why is there always a TV in a bar?

I digress. The point was that the topic of discussion was the usual one: La Crisis.

From which I concluded that there are two reasons that Spain and its people will be able to weather the storm much better than other countries possibly could. These are:

1. Tight family support

2. A return to a cash-based society

Let’s take a look at each one and throw in some examples too.

1. La Familia

Family togetherIn Spain the family is just so important. Talking to a good Spanish friend the other day, Lola, she was telling me that the one thing her mother made sure all her kids knew more than anything else (seven children in this case) was that it was always family first.

Now they are all grown up and all have their own families, Lola and her brothers and sisters are incredibly close. Her children have so many cousins and second cousins that afternoons at the beach and weekends away are always with other members of the family.

And Lola and her brothers look after each other. She told me that if one of the members of the family is having a tough time then all the others chip in. No one goes without. Together they form their own support network, financially and emotionally.

No Benefits

I was reading the other day in the Sur in English that over 60,000 unemployed people in the Malaga area receive no benefits whatsoever. Here in Spain benefits end after two years, although for some they may never have paid enough social security and so may not even have been able to claim benefits in the first place.

That’s quite a scary thought. Just imagine if all your income stopped tomorrow. Would you be able to survive? Nothing coming in at all. Forget paying the mortgage, what about simply buying food?

Not every family in Spain is like Lola’s. Many families still have no one to fall back on. That’s for sure. These may depend on local charities or help from the local town hall but it’s not a long term solution.

However, most of the families I have come across are definitely in the Lola camp. They are their own support network; I suppose we could think of it as a cooperative.

Some good friends of ours, Diego and Isa, left our village to return to their own village in Almeria as his benefits stopped. Their whole family lives in Almeria and they told us that being in Almeria means they’ll never be hungry and they’ll always have a roof over their heads. In fact, since they returned they’ve never been happier.

So the family in Spain is a big factor in people coping with severe unemployment and a lack of long term benefits. The older generation always tells me that they’ve been through a lot worse before and so they can survive this, no problem.

2. Cash Society

When we arrived in Spain over seven years ago you didn’t see many people pull out a cash card or credit card to pay for their shopping at the checkout.

No, they would pull out a wad of notes instead. This seemed quite normal and it always used to surprise me that people would be walking around with so much cash in their pockets.

I suppose half the reason for this was because paying by card just wasn’t possible, or should I say inconvenient, in many places. Systems were generally very slow and unreliable and so people resorted to paying cash for everything. It’s better today!

The other half of the reason being that many people were being paid for jobs in cash and there was a huge amount of “black” money circulating around. It was the stereotypical money under the mattress scenario.

But that cash culture never died. In fact, I think it’s probably stronger than ever today.

For example, being self employed in Spain is expensive, very expensive in fact. Paying your social security and other costs totaling around €300 every month, that’s a lot of money to pay out regardless of how much you earn.

Knowing families here who survive on less than €600 per month, half of that is a huge amount to forfeit. So many have decided to stop paying it and keep the cash instead. They still do what they were doing before but they just work for cash now.

Before I get shot down about this, not everyone does this but I do know enough that do.

Let’s take another example. Earlier in the year there was a campaign to form the longest unemployment queue in the world for the Gusiness Book of Records. This should have been easy to do in a country of over 4 million unemployed. They only needed 4,500 people to turn up.

Only 80 turned up on the day!

Checking some Spanish forums to see what had happened, the general consensus was that most of these people were actually working (for cash) and so couldn’t take the time off to join the queue.

Those aren’t my opinions but those of the Spaniards posting on the forums.

It seems that the money circulating around at the moment is going from person to person and bypassing the government. The government, I’m sure, is well aware of this.

But this is how many families are surviving these tough times, and I mean surviving. Many are just making enough money to pay most bills and put food on the table. If everyone tried to pay all their social security and tax obligations then it might be a different story.

It’s Still Tough

No matter what level of family support is out there or how many cash jobs people can do, it’s still very tough for many Spanish families at the moment. It’s the same story in many other countries too.

But I think that the Spanish mentality and culture will see them through it and things will start improving again in the not too distant future.

Written by: Justin Aldridge (EOS)

About the author:

Justin has been running Eye on Spain for over 5 years and recently with his partner Susan launched their popular moving to Spain video guide, Spain Uncut.

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Richard Rockon said:
Wednesday, September 26, 2012 @ 10:10 PM

Francisco , your crazy.. spain has so much corruption it swims in it. my family , the way business is conducted, the way you sell your house, the way the banks rob your money if your not from spain or if you are. Credit card should be free not, 20 bucks a year. which adds up. the construction companies, the jobs now given to immigrants and not spaniards. BCM club that puts pill in drink , you throw up and they rob you. The police are lazy good for nothing. everyone is corrupt. we have it in our blood.

Jackie Ford said:
Sunday, August 26, 2012 @ 2:02 PM

We visit Extremadura frequently to see our Spanish Friends who speak absolutely no English and refuse because they have no reason to in a remote area of Spain which attracts very few visitors. Thats why we adore it. Extremadura meaning 'Extreme land' is that entirely. Absolutely beautiful countryside with such passionate people and a very hard way of life being very simply the poorer part of Spain but surely the most 'mesmorising'. They survive because of family importance, the coming together for any celebration with friends and neighbours and the fact they all help each other when it is required. They are the most selfless people we have ever met. Many have solar and wind turbines to function electricity and generators to operate the hot water. Need I say more? Our electricity and gas is extortion in the UK - our utility bills are frighteningly expensive. Who is worse off? I know where I would rather be.

Francisco said:
Monday, September 26, 2011 @ 12:58 AM

I'm a spanish living in UK. sorry but what I read here it's hate against Spain, with many lies about the people, the country and the way of living. I've been living in Spain for 43 years and I don't recognise the country that you describe in your "articles". Maybe any Freud related problem with your past origins is the cause of this.
And now I live in UK and I love british culture too, everywhere you'll find good and bad things, but I try to be positive and see only the good things about UK.

Darren said:
Wednesday, September 14, 2011 @ 12:47 AM

The spanish I know I prudent with their cash, they dont blow it, with the mind set hard to come by, hard to let go of. Sure they know how the system works and what is allowed, required, what they can get away with. The system is not the most robust, but it is button down the hatches probably for alot of areas, as there are massive shortfalls of income in the public sector. The economy on the costas benefits from 30 to 40 million tourists. Also it does not necessarily cost so much to live in spain, if you have a family, a house, and you share things, the beach is free, the weather and climate is free, the fiestas are paid by the government. The communities are supported by EU and foreigner money coming in for last 30 years.

Sandra said:
Sunday, September 11, 2011 @ 1:09 AM

I have just spent a week travelling through Catalonia, Castilla La Mancha and Andalusia. I found the Spaniards I have encountered a very civilized, polite and generous people. The cities we have visited were clean, well maintained and for the most part beautiful. Everywhere we went we saw plenty of busy industrial parks, huge agricultural production and seemingly contented youth. What we saw was a thriving nation, with well kept roads etc. and to our astonishment there was absolutely no sign of financial crisis which puzzled us given all the latest media reports.
I just thought I would this comment to this page...

Almeria said:
Friday, September 9, 2011 @ 11:00 AM

Murcia, I am English and don't want to become a Spanish national here. My husband is spanish and also proud of his nationality. I personally don't see myself as an immigrant as now we as Europeans are free to live within Europe. An immigrant in my opinion is someone from outside of Europe. Yes, sorry my south african friends. I am speaking with experience as I know personally many immigrants, ie, Ecudorians, Columbians, Morrocans who were handed 130% mortgages on plates. Most had tampered with their paperwork changing their temporary work contract for a full term one etc. Yes, helped by their spanish friends, bosses, banks etc. because in the boom everyone was pocketing commision. You say that many of these people would have been happy to have an opportunity to own a home, well yes, they did, and still do back in their home country as they sent their 20/30k for 'furniture expenses' back by western union to build a mortgage free home back in their own country. Upon handing the keys back here in Spain to the banks, because in the words of two, why pay a 500 euro mortgage when they could rent for 200euros! So they ripped the doors, taps, bath, showertray up to the tiles and lightbulbs and handed the keys back. The bank won't worry about them will they. Two families then had, at that time, the 2500 euros for having a baby and then pocketed 2000 euros each to return home (as long as they don't return to spain within 3 years). Nice. How many Spanish or British get those types of handouts? What about the Brits who came here to retire and now can't afford to live, can they get paid to return to the UK, no. didn't think so. In our block of flats (20 flats) we have 3 morocan familes who don't seem to be ashamed of saying that they haven't paid their mortgages for nearly 3 years, they don't open their post and they only pay the electricity bills. The water can't be cut off as we have a well as back up and the bills will just mount up for their flats. So therefore they don't pay and don't care if they are chased for their payments. I'm sure the banks don't bother to chase them anyway as they know it'll be too difficult. Also, what about those groups of immigrants (ie, with experience Ecudorians) who in a group of 4 brought a flat together from one bank, then they went to another bank and got another joint mortgage, then another so that all of them had a property each whilst the banks thought that their joint earnings would pay the mortgage. What about all of them handing the keys back to the banks and these people now renting (oh sorry, they are renting but fail to pay their rent!). I am angry and I do blame others where blame is due. It's just not fair. If we could hand the keys back to the bank I would be there to do it this morning but we can't. We have 28 years of paying for our flat and the daily stress of having to actually earn money to do it and buy food. The Red Cross isn't knocking on our door with food parcels and as we are married I can't pretend to be a single mother and get 500 euros per month as others do. I live here and i'm not living in 'Little Britain' as some are.
ps, before Europe my father in law was an immigrant, he went to Switzerland at 18 years old. He had to arrange a job contract before he arrived and a medical certificate to say that he was fit and healthy. He was an immigrant, worked hard and came home to Spain. He repected the way the Swiss lived and they respected the way the Spanish were.

Murcia said:
Monday, September 5, 2011 @ 11:42 PM

Almeria...do you not consider yourself an immigrant too? If you believe the problems Spain is going through at the moment are caused by immigration, then you are part of the problem too. Some of the people you've complained about in your post would be very happy to have the opportunity of owing a home as you, but they don't have fathers and mothers to co-sign loans and mortgages unlike you and your husband. Blaming others will not make your life any easier or better.

normansands said:
Sunday, September 4, 2011 @ 1:01 PM

Isn't this the dark side of the mentality, you must not complain about your neighbour's bad behaviour because his cousin is in the police etc.
human nature being what it is, if the "blip" is not the "wipe out" how many would return to paying the E300???
it is simply flouting the law and cannot be condoned except by necessity - we would all be "Robin Hoods" if we had to, but it is sad to hear the truth of it.
Nevertheless there is a cultural difference and I for one don't believe any Spanish fisherman has or would ever practice discard - am I wrong?

Sanchez1 said:
Saturday, September 3, 2011 @ 12:18 PM

Quite funny that someone earlier in the thread called Spain's current problems as a "blip". This is Spain's great depression. A lot of people still don't get this yet.

Kev Moore said:
Thursday, September 1, 2011 @ 8:55 PM


I remember watching a programme in the UK about mortgages when the first crisis hit - and the bankers were actually telling the kids to get their parents to underwrite the mortgages - I thought this was outrageous, as it was the banks cavalier attitude that got everybody in a mess in the first place!

Andrew said:
Thursday, September 1, 2011 @ 1:16 AM

Blood is always thicker than water

Almeria said:
Wednesday, August 31, 2011 @ 5:02 PM

As someone married to a Spanish man I can say that the family do stick together, but what does this mean... it means that when getting a mortgage young Spaniards had to get their parents to sign on to the mortgage. Now when we are two months behind the bank send letters to my father in law or call him day and night. He is suffering from ill health. They are still sending letters to my mother in law who sadly died 4 months ago. Many spanish families have no choice but to help each other as sharing one big stew means that they can eat. Yes, it is that bad for many, many families. To keep your head held high we have to pay for the childrens school books whilst immigrants send their children to school with nothing and then the materials we have bought are shared out to others. The Red Cross and other charities hand out free milk, bread, pasta etc. etc. to immigrants and locals are there watching. Many are too proud to get handouts. Many are working for cash because it's true, paying 300 euros autonomo takes nearly all your earnings, but what is happening...so many 20/30 something spaniards will have no pension when they stop working. They are working for cash to eat and pay the few back payments of their mortgages. They can't hand back their keys to the banks like Ecudorians and Moroccans do as the banks say no, the parents should be chased to pay. So, yes, Spanish familes are sticking together but that is because this crisis is more than a slight blip for many, this is serious stuff and tempers are rising. Yes, there are many on the dole, when they get it, and yes there are many families, Europeans, who are hungry. Let's now watch what happens at the elections in November and see if the PP can sharpen things up.

Patricia said:
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 @ 6:39 PM

I know, Kev, and I know what you are saying. When push comes to shove people will try to unite behind their own. The world of business is a harsh one.

All the best

Kev Moore said:
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 @ 6:30 PM

You're quite right Patricia, the article doesn't say that, it's just I received the link to this post in my mail, and upon reading the article, given what's happening locally, it just caused me to smile wryly! :-)

Patricia said:
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 @ 6:04 PM

That's a well-grounded post, David. Thank you. And that is the right perspective. Many don't know how well off they are just having to deal with "la crisis", and not the misfortunes besetting much of the world.

Patricia said:
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 @ 6:01 PM

Sure, Kev, of coure they are surviving, because of the solidarity of the family unit in Spain. Not because they are surviving at the expense of others. I am re-reading the article and I don't think it says that. Maybe I am wrong.
You said they were systematically making it as difficult as possible for Brits to remain in business in the area you mention, and by that token "surviving very well". So, I am just surmising that the 5 families you mention are using some sort of heavy-handed tactics to drive out their British competitors. I don't think everyone is like that...
Just saying, that's all.

david H said:
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 @ 5:57 PM

To Spanish people this isn't a crisis; a crisis is when you are ruled by a brutal dictator and are in fear of being killed by your own countrymen. This is a modern inconvenience, and like all disturbing events - it will pass. In time, the rich economies in the world will absorb Spain's capacity to produce food and drink, and a new cultural tourism will add to its exports. The 'crisis' is only a blip that well grounded Spanish people will survive easily.

Kev Moore said:
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 @ 4:59 PM

I'm sorry Patricia, I must've been labouring under a misapprehension - I thought the article was about 'why Spaniards can survive "La Crisis".'
I was merely pointing out that some of the families around here are surviving very well indeed.

Patricia said:
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 @ 4:15 PM

AS Justin says:

"She told me that if one of the members of the family is having a tough time then all the others chip in. No one goes without. Together they form their own support network, financially and emotionally.
This is commendable, and if only all families everywhere were like that IMO.
The article is about families who are surviving, and just surviving, with a little help .....

Kev Moore said:
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 @ 3:48 PM

Oh, yes...the protection of the family.
Mojacar in particular has Five families that are VERY protective. Adhering to the phrase 'charity begins at home' they are systematically making it as difficult as possible for the Brits to remain in business here. And no - I don't have an axe to grind, I don't rely on the area for my living. But I'm watching dreams die daily.

geoff said:
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 @ 2:24 PM

The problem is that there are tens of thousands of empty homes that were built mainly for a foreign clientèle and it will take at least ten years to shift these unless as has been talked about they knock them down..anyone who wants to sell and move back to the uk is stuck and will have to take a massive hit on the price or just sit and feel trapped.This is what happens when you treat houses as commodities and not just a place to live in...look up Spanish ghost towns on you-tube and you will be horrified at the scale of it.
And prices still have a lot more to fall before it has bottomed out..

Patricia said:
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 @ 1:33 PM

Excellent article, Justin. I have lived in Spain practically all my life and it is so edifying to see the good family structure which prevails almost everywhere. The Spanish are also a practical people; many have the little "campito" as they call it, a sort of allotment where they grow great fruit and vegs.
I think in general the Spanish have excellent standards, and like a good standard of living where possible. We have friends, a couple, in a pueblo up the hills, and they both come from big families. The support is incredible. Mind you, the husband is working two jobs, and glad to have them, but I don't know how he manages on s little sleep. The Spanish are a pragmatic people.

A cash society is no bad thing. You think twice about spending when you have actual money in your pocket or purse. Far better than maxing out the plastic, and then not being able to pay your card debts.
As you say, Justin, the older generation have been through a lot worse, and they'll all get through this too. Definitely.

Lisa Scott said:
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 @ 10:45 AM

Another reason is that the Spanish (particularly Andalucians) don't have the same standards as Northern Europeans when it comes to home comforts such as heating etc.

They'll throw another blanket over themselves and sit there with their teeth chattering rather than invest in some form of heating that costs money to run.

Many of them also illegally hack into mains water pipes to get free water and don't register their properties fully, so no Basura or IBI taxes

Many of them are also sitting pretty on the hundreds of thousands of euros that they've fleeced foreigners for in the way of illegal properties over the last few years

In The Garlic said:
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 @ 9:48 AM

Excellent points. Despite the invasion of Macdonalds etc etc, let's hope these key elements of what makes Spaniards tick survive.

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