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How to make friends in Spain

You step off the plane ready to take on España but realise straight away you have nobody buddy up with.

How to make friends in Spain
Photo: wavebreakmedia/Depositphotos

After a few nights scouring facebook and drinking vino alone, you decide you need to get your arse in gear. Here, Sally Smith, who lives in Madrid (and has loads of friends), shares her top tips of how to make friends after moving to Spain.

Hit the Intercambios

The easiest way to make some new mates is to hit a local ‘intercambio’ or language exchange. There are dozens on offer in every town/ city as bars quickly realised how much foreigners drink. If you are of the female variety, watch out! Although there are genuine guys there, you are guaranteed to come across a few creepers who will be 50+ alcoholics (normally British or American) who hope you are too naïve to know what utter losers they are.

Join a Club

With fantastic websites like making it easier than ever to find like-minded folks who share your passion, it couldn’t be any simpler to hang out and do what you love at the same time. Meetups can be hit and miss, I often found myself sipping a caña (small beer) with only one other defeated, miserable looking stranger who had decided to turn up. Keep at it and don’t give up hope. 

You Need Old Timers and Fresh Meat

If you are planning to stay longer than four seasons, beware of a common mistake which can leave you friendless annually. Try not only to befriend one-year wonders, who come to party and depart Spain the following year, but also others who are in it for the long haul. This gives you the perfect balance of hanging out with social butterflies with new energy and excitement for the country and more stable, resentful and bitter old timers who complain about Spaniards, rising prices, the heat, and so on. Oh how I love them!

Say Yes!

Anyone who has seen the Jim Carrey film ‘Yes Man’ knows the power of being open to everything new (apart from when he shags the granny). You may meet some people who are about as entertaining as using lice shampoo, but who ask you to have a few drinks with them. Say yes! You never know who else is going to show up and this could lead to you finding some besties.  Then you can swiftly run away from the fun sponges like a fart in the wind.

Housemates: from heaven or hell

To live alone, or to not live alone? Tis a risky business moving in with random folks straight off the bat, but it could prove to be the best decision you ever made.  Many of us have made some of our best buds by living in shared apartments/ houses. The secret to success is to screen your potential new housemates well. On the one hand, you could end up sipping wine and smugly laughing at each other’s jokes on a Saturday night while cooking a beautiful dinner, on the other hand, you may have to padlock your door to ward off Pablo who lives in the bedroom next to you, which he only leaves to pick up his Dia shopping delivery or stalk you.

Watch out for the Psychopaths

The major disadvantage to making friends abroad is that you have zero point of historical reference. Even after a good Facebook stalk or Google search, you could be none the wiser to the fact that your new buddy used to kill small animals as a child. Combat this by taking your time before you get too close to people. Desperation to not be alone on Saturday night can often rush new connections. Slow it down.

Decide if you want to be Spanish or a Guiri

If your language ability only allows you to reply with a smug ‘un poco’ when someone asks you if you speak Spanish, you will probably be tempted to surround yourself with only native English speakers. This is perfectly fine if you want to just repeat your home life in a better climate. Just be careful you don’t wake up one day, a decade after moving here, and sound like a complete moron with your atrocious Spanish. Typical signs that this has happened might be; struggling to order anything beyond a sandwich or burger, nodding and smiling like a nutter when someone speaks Spanish to you (as you pray that they think you understand them) or, worst of all, being so uninteresting that you can only frequent the fake Irish pubs that have popped up around the country. Get in with the natives while you still have the chance!

Befriending the Spanish

If you opt for going native and immersing yourself in the country, language and people, it is important to remember a few things. Spanish people tend to congregate in big groups which can feel like more of a clique than in ‘Mean Girls’. Many of whom will have known each other since they were pooping in nappies and be reluctant to include newbies. My advice is to look for foreigner friendly places and groups who have travelled further in their lives than to their ‘abuela’s’ village and might already have some expats in their social network.

Realise you Need a Family

However you decide to create your friendship circle, remember that you are far away from your family, so you must build a strong network abroad. Who else is going to help you move apartments (with no car), listen to you moan about how poor you are and forgive you when you drink too much Sangria and barf on the street?

Sally Smith is a British woman in her 30s who has been living in Madrid since 2010. After finishing her degree in Psychology she moved to Spain to teach and sing in a band while undertaking an unofficial psychological study of the Spanish. Read more of her work HERE

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Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.


Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 


Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.


Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.


The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.