Service standards in Spain

Old May 28th, 2007, 03:09 PM
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Service standards in Spain

Here goes... this topic may offend some, but I need to get it off my chest. I'm just back from a month in Spain: Madrid, Valencia, Alicante and down the coast to Malaga. My third trip to Spain. Each time I have found many Spaniards in the tourist industry to be, in variable degrees, indiferrent, unknowledgeable, impatient, curt, and unreliable. I'm talking here of restaurants, bars, tourist offices, train stations, hotel front desks, etc. I would estimate that I received pleasant and knowledgeable service about 30% of the time. On the other hand, people on the street were always kind and helpful, when asked for directions or other information. My approach was always polite and positive. Here are some thoughts: is it because I'm a single woman travelling alone? Is there distrust or discomfort with this in Spain? Is it because I approached people in Spanish (I am by no means fluent, but can get by- I've been studying Spanish for several years). Is it part of the Spanish caracter? What bothers me is that many travelers have mentioned how Spaniards are warm and friendly. I love Spain, but would hesitate to go again because of this. Your thoughts would be most welcome.
louanne is offline  
Old May 28th, 2007, 03:19 PM
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I have travelled extensively in europe in the last few years, and the first European destination I visited was Madrid. I found the Spanish here to be highly indifferent, impatient and just generally unhelpful. I found the complete opposite in the holiday resorts of Spain however, and the service and friendliness on the Spanish Islands, the Balearics in particular is second to none. I have found through my travels though that the Spanish are amongst my least favourite nationalities of all the Eurpoeans with regard to their hospitality. I can honestly say, without going into detail that the worst hospitality I ever received was in Valencia. Not a very nice place to visit in particular, made worse by the attitude of the locals.
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Old May 28th, 2007, 04:13 PM
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i certainly hope you let the mayors of those towns you visited know..

what a shame. i am sure no city/country wants to be rememberd in this way.

i hope you at least enjoyed part of your well planned trip.

lincasanova is offline  
Old May 28th, 2007, 04:13 PM
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weelynnie, thanks so much for your thoughts. It helps. Have you any idea why they are that way? Were you by any chance travelling by yourself?
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Old May 28th, 2007, 04:17 PM
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lincasanova, I believe you live in Valencia, no? I have to say, Valencia was amongst the worst cities in terms of poor hospitality. Writing to the mayors is not a bad idea.... do you have the name of a contact or an e-mail address in Valencia? The thing is, I might spend a lot of time writing and explaining, with nothing happening as a result. Bureacracy being what it is.
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Old May 28th, 2007, 04:23 PM
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Louanne, I was travelling with another female, both in our twenties. I have no idea why the Spanish seemed so inhospitable, and have to say I'll probably never visit again.
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Old May 28th, 2007, 04:31 PM
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I have never had any trouble dealing with the same type of people when traveling through Spain, and my Spanish is not that good. You have to expect some indifference when you stop by a tourist office in a large city were they have to deal with hundreds of tourist a week, if not that many in one day, and some can be very demanding and belligerent.

It's a problem sometimes, but I donít think itís anything to fret about. Itís probably not much different in dealing with government employees at home. Iím sure you wouldnít have the same experience when visiting a tourist office in one of the smaller villages.
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Old May 28th, 2007, 05:27 PM
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Hi louanne,
I'm really sorry to hear about your experience. That is really disappointing.

I was a solo female traveller last month in Seville, Cordoba & Madrid. My experience was much different. On the whole, everyone I spoke to in the tourist industry was very nice & helpful. From the tourist offices to bus drivers to people working at the tourist sites. My Spanish is pretty much non-existent, but I would just smile & try my best and people would respond in turn.

From my experience, I wouldn't think it would have to do with being a woman travelling alone. Maybe you just encountered some bad luck & some grumpy Spainards.

But I was only there a week, so am by no means an expert. I'll be curious to see what others have to say...
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Old May 28th, 2007, 05:33 PM
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louanne: On my two last trips to Spain, I also felt that waiters and others in the tourist industry were indifferent or impatient. I attributed it to the fact that I was visiting in September and that they were tired of the hordes of tourists by then.

When I visit France, which is every year in September, I never encounter that attitude.

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Old May 28th, 2007, 05:56 PM
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Have traveled in Spain several times - a couple as a woman alone (after a business meeting) andhave found that, in general, those in the tourist industry are professional and helpful - but not necessarily ingratiatingly charming as you find in some places. (But then I never trust people that are SO charming - I alwys think they hade hidden agendas.)

We did have one problem at a 4* hotel in Madrid - and I noticed there that patrons speaking Spanish were treated much more politely than those who spoke English. We can both manage a little Spanish - and as soon as we used it the staff's attitude changed.

They ran Bingo games several nights a week in their ballroom until 3am - and our room was only one floor above. We were awake most of the night listening to them call out the numbers. The next moring I said we wanted a different room because of it - and they denied doing it. When I pointed out the sign - in spanish - and read it to them, then recited some of the numbers they called - Bey, ocho - their attitude changed immediately. They apologized, gave us an upgraded room for the rest of the stay, and sent up housekeepers to pack and move our things.

But they continued to be quite rude to some other english-speaking tourists we saw.

But - this seemed to be limited to the ill-trained staff at this hotel. We didn;t find it other places - even in some small towns where English wasn't widely spoken - and we were bumbling along in our simple Spanish.
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Old May 28th, 2007, 06:56 PM
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I don't think I've encountered rudeness in Spain, except for an impatient waiter in a restaurant in Barcelona.
Pegontheroad is online now  
Old May 28th, 2007, 07:02 PM
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!!!!Kenderina you might want to tackle this!!!!!!

I have as a foreigner lived and worked in Spain and have only ever had the best and most heartfelt experiences, every day I'm not there I'm home sick and miss it. Although I do know even the Spanish say that if making a friend in the North is tough but you make a friend for life, in the south its easy but lasts for a moments.
All I can say is if I have to deal with tourists all day, especially ones that arent well behaved, I too might become a bit jaded
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Old May 28th, 2007, 07:44 PM
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My trip to Spain was in May - no crowds, early in the season - so I don't think being tired of the tourists explains it, Robert. My sense is that there may be some discomfort on their part at women traveling alone. Any views on this idea? Couples in restaurants, for instance, were better treated than I was. Waiters didn't even bother lighting the candle on MY table, to use a trivial example. I often had to ask for service, after others seated after me had received the waiters' attention.
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Old May 28th, 2007, 08:00 PM
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I actually thought the opposite - the Spanish were more apt to go out of their way to be helpful and kind because I was a woman travelling alone. At most restaurants & bars, I felt like I received extra attention from waiters/bartenders because I was alone. Several times, I felt the waitstaff would "dote" on me. I chalked it up to the fact that they felt sorry for me since I had no companion with me!

I wish you had a better experience, louanne. I guess it just goes to show it's kind of luck of the draw with people we encounter on our travels. I was lucky I guess.
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Old May 28th, 2007, 08:12 PM
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Tough question - even tougher not being female ;-)

Tourism industry in Europe often lacks what I call "professional friendliness" in restaurants or motels/hotels - that kind of corteous behaviour which us Europeans often amazes us in when travelling in the States.

Another reason may be that the major tourist resorts and also the big cities in Spain attract workforce from different parts of the country - so you often get served (or not) by people who come there for the season just to work - and do not care about the image you get from that region. Locals may act nicer because they care more about that.

I also found quite regularly that some restaurants consider themselves "upscale" - and seem to think that indifferent service is an integral part of that concept.
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Old May 28th, 2007, 08:14 PM
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"My sense is that there may be some discomfort on their part at women traveling alone". You may be correct in that assumption. Depending on where you traveled, a woman traveling alone can upset some men. Most of Spain is still a male dominated society. One of the major exceptions would be if you where traveling in the north, in parts of the Basque Country (País Vasco and Pays Basque) as well as Navarra and La Rioja (Alavesa), where they tend to be a tad be more liberal and a woman traveling alone doesn't seem to bother them much.
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Old May 28th, 2007, 11:46 PM
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Yes, here in valencia.
i imagine you can write to

La alcadesa
Dña. Rita Barberá
Ayuntamineto Valencia
Plaza del Ayuntamiento
Valencia Spain

or any mayor.. no name necessary.

It certainly gives a bad picture. One reason I think the spaniards can come off this way comparatively is that they will have the worst command of the English language in most tourist destinations you travel to. in fact, many hotels now have other europeans on the front desk as they speak more languages.

The language is a big issue, and in most places these people are on temporary contracts, very little job training, and P.R. is not a high priority it seems, from your comments.

Many servers/reception people are now on internships. The city is bustling with non-spanish speaking tourists and many of these people are simply not prepared for the job they are doing, nor do they care, plus salaries are the pits. it is getting harder to get good people.. i reckon this impression you had will become more prevalent if things donīt change.

it reminds me of when my dad was in a nursing hom the last days of his life and i finally had it out with one of the "nurses" and told her she should be working in a lab, not with the dying and his family.

Maybe in your complaint you could ask the mayoress to forward this observation to the head of the hotel industry association.

a shame, is all i can say. i know that if i felt treated poorly places, i would not want to go back, either.

i would have loved to have met up with you for coffee.

how were your accomodations? i remember you were looking for quaint places. did you find any? werenīt you going to hotel inglés?

i think i would write directly to the hotels, too.

lincasanova is offline  
Old May 29th, 2007, 12:33 AM
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I second lincasanova, if you have had what you consider a bad or poor or unfriendly service, file a claim right on the spot. Every place has sheets where you can complain. Just ask for them. If you are denied, go out and get the first policeman you see and tell him. His duty is to go back to the place with you and make them give you the sheets for you to fill. You have to keep a signed and sealed carbon copy of the sheet for further use. It wont help us if you go back to your country and write a bad report.
Writing to the local authorities is also a good idea.
I had once a rude attention at a Parador and wrote to the main office for complaining, which they attended promptly.
BTW, I was treated very friendly in (most of) the US, and then had to pay an 18% for the smiles.
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Old May 29th, 2007, 05:35 AM
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I think there are four things here worth expanding on.

1. Solo women travelers were often treated very badly here in the US when my wife started traveling on business in the 1970's -- bad rooms, the worst tables and bad service in restaurants, the assumption that a woman alone would appreciate a strange man in her room for the night. Spain is in some ways where we were 30 years ago.

2. Part of Spain's problem is that it was a military dictatorship almost as long as the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Service in former dictatorships is often terrible since passive aggression was the only way to strike back at inequities in income and status. Croatia is a happy exception; service is sometimes unsophisticated or incompetent but always friendly.

3. Few Europeans smile and act friendly in the way Americans act and expect. Certainly many of the French believe that our constant smiling and joking is deeply insincere.

4. I live in a tourist destination. You are glad to see them, but when they ride bikes on the sidewalk, hold up the line at the grocery store, clog the ATM, and so forth, you do not feel friendly. They are on vacation, you are not. It is a good opportunity to practice Christian charity, but the tenth time I see someone riding a motor scooter the wrong way up a one way street, I sometimes lose it. No excuse for me or for Europeans in the same boat, but I understand it.
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Old May 29th, 2007, 05:52 AM
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As you speak Spanish, you should consider going to Mexico for your next trip. Lovely, darling people and very friendly towards foreigners.

I have found that Spanish waiters and hotel staff can be unfriendly and cold. I remember one particular hotel in Madrid where the reception staff bordered on the hostile in their attitude towards me but hey, I have had good experiences too so I try to keep a balance.
lauralamb is offline  

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