Service standards in Spain

Old May 29th, 2007, 06:18 AM
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Overall, my trip to Spain last year was great and for the most part, the people we (2 women traveling along) encountered were friendly. That said, I did have a few encounters in which the people were extremely indifferent, if not to the point of being rude. While I don't speak Spanish, I tried very hard, always with phrase book in hand and starting the dialoge in Spanish. One instance was asking directions in a small town between Jerez and Ronda. The lady flat out refused to help, along with the other men in the the small market. My friend and I drove across the street to a gas station and a nice man went out of his way to help us find the correct road, writing down road numbers and identifying everything on the map. Regarding the workers at the Madrid train station, all I can stay is FRUSTRATING and INDIFFERENT. But, at the station in Cordoba, they were very helpful. In defense of the folks working at the station in Madrid, if that was my job, I think that I would be frustrated myself, having to deal with people all day long. I have always heard about the rudeness in France, but not in Spain. But in my limited travels, I thought overall, France was a more pleasant place for a woman traveler. There are rude people everywhere, and friendly people everywhere.
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Old May 29th, 2007, 06:45 AM
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"... this topic may offend some, but I need to get it off my chest. ... I have found many Spaniards in the tourist industry to be, in variable degrees, indiferrent, unknowledgeable, impatient, curt, and unreliable. ... restaurants, bars, tourist offices, train stations, hotel front desks, etc. ... My approach was always polite and positive. Here are some thoughts: is it because I'm a single woman travelling alone? What bothers me is that many travelers have mentioned how Spaniards are warm and friendly. ... Your thoughts would be most welcome."

Yours is a real 'put down' for Spain. If I read it, it might cause me to cancel my Spain visit. But I am fluent in Castellano: I have never encountered attitudes and/or behavior you describe, whether in Basque Country, Catalunia, Galicia or wherever.

I don't think your perceived attitudes had anything to do with you being a woman traveling alone. They might have something to do with how you dressed or your 'body language.'

What you consider "polite and positive" approachs might also be interpreted as domineering. And your lack of fluency could exacerbate that situation.

Valencia, Alicante, Malaga: That's the 'Tourist trail!' Many of the 'seasonal' employees at places you are likely tto have stopped are from Germany or the UK. We stopped at a German restaurant in Benidorm where the wait-staff didn't speak or understand Spanish. In Torremolinos we tried to order dos cafes con leche and the counter person (from the UK) couldn't understand such a simple request.

There are many Eastern Europeans (Polish, Albanian, etc.) working 'off the books' in Tourist destinations in Spain.

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Old May 29th, 2007, 08:27 AM
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Ackislander, your post is simply obnoxious.
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Old May 29th, 2007, 08:45 AM
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Nedsireland, how can it be the way she dressed or her attitude when others have said the same thing? Were they all badly dressed and had a poor attitude? I wouldn't think so.

I also found Spaniards to be indifferent at times. My DH speaks a bit of Spanish and I don't speak any, but we tried to address them in Spanish.

A trend I've noticed in this thread is that those who spoke Spanish got treated well. One thing I remarked in Spain was that many Spaniards in the tourism industry (restaurants, hotels, bars) made practically no effort to speak English to us after we said "no hablamos espanol". One incident in particular at a hotel in Jerez, our sink was dirty with human hair and I went down to the desk twice and asked them in my very limited Spanish to clean it up. The deskman replied to me in Spanish. After no one came (a couple of hours after I asked), I got really p.o'd and went down and was very firm in English. The deskman replied in English and someone was sent up right away.
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Old May 29th, 2007, 08:54 AM
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I am deeply sorry to have offended you, Josele. I assume that the part of my post to which you objected was the statement about the effects of Spain's military dictatorship, which only ended in 1975. I think that Spain has made astonishing political, economic and cultural progess in the last 30 years. I have visited your country, for which I feel great respect, with pleasure and hope to visit again frequently.
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Old May 29th, 2007, 09:10 AM
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Gee, I am really surprised to hear your comments as we have been in Europe touring the last 9 months with many months in Spain and have found the Spanish over all the most welcoming and helpful in all of Europe.

I find them a LOT more helpful than similar staff in the U.S., so I am wondering if you have just run into bad luck.

We did have two minor unhelpful people ( one in a hotel in Madrid and one in Valencia) but almost all of our experiences have been so warm and positive.

We have found Spanish trains soooo much better, easier and helpful than their equivilents in France or else where.

We were recently in Barcelona for three weeks and got exceptional service. We had exceptional service and warmth in our village where we wintered ( a touristed white village).

I have not really experienced the Macho factor in Spain and have no trouble handling people when I am on my own there. I feel very comfortable in Spain even tho I do not speak much Spanish.

So sorry to hear your experience, but I really think it is the exception..or at least in our experience.

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Old May 29th, 2007, 10:06 AM
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I'm very sorry you felt so bad during your trip...but I don't know what to say, because I never have felt this way
when travelling here.
Sure people working on the tourist industry are not "permanent smile" people, and I don't think they behave better because you speak Spanish ..they do it in restaurants or bars with regular patrons, sure. For me, it's a business matter..I don't take it as something personal.
And I do like to ask for service myself, I hate when the waiter comes to my table when I haven't finished seating
I think maybe we can give better advice or help if we know the actual facts. I mean, it's difficult to give a solution to a "non lighted candle" issue .
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Old May 29th, 2007, 10:29 AM
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I have been treated badly as a single female traveler/tourist, including on business, but I don't think anyone presumed I'd want male companionship. At least not in the US, as Ack.... says. Certain Mediterranean/N African countries have a lot of very badly-behaved men who bother women a lot, and are very egotistical and obnoxious.

However, I will admit that I didn't notice any particular problems when I traveled alone in Spain a couple years ago. Nothing that made me a little tired/annoyed or that I even noted as being bad service or due to me being a single woman. I was in Seville, Madrid, Cordoba and Segovia. Never had any problems in restaurants or stores, etc. (I do speak Spanish, but am not fluent). I stayed in two very nice hotels (the 4* Intur Palacio in Madrid was one) and they were very nice to me, and everyone I noticed.

The only little things I didn't like about some of the restaurant service are customs they have which I don't like and find annoying, but it couldn't really be called bad service and had nothing to do with me being a single female (ie, the almost constant sticking of some olives and bad crackers on your table and charging you for them, when you don't ask for them nor want them). I wonder if Spanish people really want those things and want to pay for them all the time, it was such a pain to have to constantly be looking out for some stuff they were trying to make you pay for that you didn't want. The confusing thing was that this wasn't universal, but maybe 50-75 pct of restaurants did this. I just find it abrupt and uncomfortable when I have to aggressively tell a waiter the minute they come over that I do NOT want this stuff, as you don't know for sure they would have put it there (but probably would have). Actually, I do find that very rude that they give you that stuff and want you to pay for it without them asking you whether you want it. If a lot of Spanish people do want that and don't mind paying for it, fine, but I don't think servers anywhere should bring you anything that they intend to charge you for if they don't ask you first if you want it.
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Old May 29th, 2007, 12:23 PM
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It is sad to read so many complaints regarding what is lack of understanding our ways. We live in Spain and speak Spanish. When I was a tourist in New England and Washington, nobody spoke my language and made the least effort to understand my wife who speaks little english. I speak fluently, but some people's accent is hard to understand. I remember a waiter, I was trying to guess the tax included, and she kept on SHOUTING at me "six ninety-five" once and again. And I was speaking HER language.
The olives thing is very common, as well as bread. We take it for granted and don't argue about it. I eat them while I wait for the courses to come. It is called "cubierto". If you dont like it, you can ask for other thing.
And as I said before, if any of you feel badly treated, file a claim, but dont pretend everybody to speak your language.
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Old May 29th, 2007, 06:51 PM
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Let me make a few points:
- The locals were always kind and happy to provide advice and directions. My comments relate only to the service industry.
- I seemed to get a friendlier reaction when I spoke English rather than Spanish. This is surprising to me.
- Lincasanova, yes I would have enjoyed coffee with you also, I'm sure. I stayed at the Melia Ingles - it was an excellent choice. Great location, large rooms, quiet, and the staff was quite nice. Young and inexperienced but friendly and responsive. I had considered staying at the Ad Hoc, glad I didn't - too far off, as you had pointed out. Many thanks for your sound advice.
- Josele, you seem to take my coimments as a lack of understanding of your culture. Not so. I like to travel to blend in and learn and observe new ways of doing and thinking. The olives incident raised in an earlier post would not have bothered me at all: just an example of doing things differently.
- Kenderina, it's more than "business", it's about the getting to know the people where you travel. Engaging with "the locals" is one of the great pleasures of travel. It's what makes me want to go back, or not. This is why my love affair with Spain is in danger.
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Old May 29th, 2007, 06:56 PM
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Ackislander, your comments are very insightful. Thanks - food for thought, here!
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Old May 29th, 2007, 07:14 PM
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Interesting thread.

Without getting caught in who, what, and why, or the passion of it all (I am sure most all have a honorable point or two to make), I noted Spain had the second largest number of tourists in the world (after france.... nearly 60 Million in 2006 alone..... that's 20% more than the entire United States with nearly 10 Million tourists from UK, and another 9 Million from France), and also second largest in volume sales (after the United States).

There has to be a better service in Spain. It is hard for me understand so many tourists going back repeatedly if the service standards suck through out. No?
Old May 29th, 2007, 07:20 PM
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I think you haven't understood my point. Of course, it's not business for you ! I meant, and it has happened to me, that waiters at restaurants and bars behave much better with their regular customers. I agree with you that interacting with locals is a big pleasure when travelling. People at work, though, are not often in the mood to "engage" with
anyone ...anywhere
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Old May 29th, 2007, 07:21 PM
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Good point, Comfy.
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Old May 29th, 2007, 07:51 PM
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I noticed that the waitstaff in many restaurants in Spain represented many other countries; Poland, Romania, Russia, Bulgaria, all fluent Spanish speaking and one I met recently spoke Spanish flawlessly. I am not at all saying these individuals were rude, or were responsible in any way for your experience. Simply that there are so many different people in Spain from so many countries.

The service in Spain is generally more matter of fact than say, that in the U.S. It may been seen as aloof by some or as more professional by others.

As for the actual rudeness I also am sorry to hear of it. There is no excuse for that. I believe some of the other posts have given some sincere and worthwhile suggestions.

I was wondering if you posted this on a general Europe forum, what might the comments be like? How were your experiences in the other countries you have visited?

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Old May 29th, 2007, 07:57 PM
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Sybil: "You must excuse him...he's from Barcelona."
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Old May 30th, 2007, 03:28 AM
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pavfec writes: "Nedsireland, how can it be the way she dressed or her attitude when others have said the same thing? Were they all badly dressed and had a poor attitude? I wouldn't think so."

"badly dressed??" I didn't write that. I wrote: 'how they dressed or their body language.'

I don't understand your use of the word 'indifferent.' And sometimes it's better to not try 'a bit' of Spanish.

pavfec continues: "A trend I've noticed in this thread is that those who spoke Spanish got treated well. One thing I remarked in Spain was that many Spaniards in the tourism industry (restaurants, hotels, bars) made practically no effort to speak English to us after we said "no hablamos espanol".

Most Spaniards don't like President George W. Bush because of the Iraq war. Some may even blame Bush for the Madrid train bombings in April, 2004. Their dislike for Bush could spill over to how they treat American tourists. This is not just for U.S. Tourists in Spain. The dislike for Bush extends throughout most of western Europe.

Take it back 60 years: Their disdain for the Bush Administration could be compared to the world's attitude toward the Franco Regime in the late 1940's. 1940's
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Old May 30th, 2007, 05:54 AM
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I must comment on Robert's remark about service in small towns. Last year I called the tourist office in Luanco (Asturias), a small town not well-known, to see if they had public transport to accomodate my daughter and son-in-law who would be staying in a condo of a friend for a few days. When I asked about a bus or train, she said "Oh, yes, it is right nearby, and if you would just come over to the office, I will show you."

The voice was so friendly and engaging and she had no idea I was many thousand miles away, and she certainly had detected some kind of accent in my Spanish.

About appearance. In Spain, I have found people to be genuinely helpful, if sometime bored in the large cities; however, I am always amazed BOTH AT HOME IN THE US and abroad to see the much more friendly service my young and very attractive daughters receive. My dad already said, "Life isn't fair." and I guess I prefer to be the plain one and my daughters the beauties.
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Old May 30th, 2007, 06:18 AM
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I traveled to Spain as a solo female traveler in November. I encountered absolutely no breakdown in service standards. In fact, I had quite a few instances of people going above and beyond to help me, including even the infamous and much maligned Iberia Air staff. One restaurant had surly older men as waiters and the two working the section in which I was seated went above and beyond to make sure I had a wonderful experience -- and I did.

I am shocked to read a comment questioning the cubierto charge in Europe (it exists in Spain and Italy to my knowledge, so is not specific to Spain) since most of us on this board are travel-savvy and should recognize it for a cultural difference to which we have to adapt. To include that as an example of poor service standards in Spain is ludicrous. Perhaps Europeans find it odd that we Americans tip 15-20% at our meals and that service isn't included already in the bill. What would you say to them if they started throwing a fit over having to do that here in the US?
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Old May 30th, 2007, 06:25 AM
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Very interesting comments. My sense is that Spain is suffering from the too-many-tourists syndrome. Maybe it's time to give them a break. I'm considering Latin America for my next trip: lots to see and learn, a chance to practice and improve my Spanish skills, and most of all, friendly people.
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