For members


Why does the birthday person pay for everyone’s food and drinks in Spain?

One of the traditions that foreigners in Spain don’t get is why the birthday boy or girl is expected to pay for friends' meals and drinks when they go out to celebrate. What's the protocol for this habit?

birthday traditions spain pay
Even if you have to foot the bill, remember that your friends have come to celebrate your birthday, and don't forget all the free eats you'll get in future. Photo: Profivideos/Pixabay

So it’s your cumpleaños (birthday in Spanish) and you want to celebrate it a lo grande (in style) with your friends in Spain.

On most occasions this involves going out for a meal and drinks, as house parties aren’t as common in Spain as in other countries, let alone surprise birthday parties organised by friends.

You book a table at a great restaurant and invite six or so of your best mates. The tapas roll and so do the drinks, but when the waiter brings out the bill, your friends aren’t as quick to take out their wallets, if at all. 

You may be slightly bemused by this if you’re new to Spain, but you’ll soon learn this lesson. 

Whereas in countries such as the UK or the US it’s the guests who split the bill to pay for their meal and the food and drink of the person whose birthday it is, in Spain it’s the cumpleañero/a (birthday boy/girl) who is expected to invitar a todos (pay for everyone). 

READ ALSO: Eleven ways your socialising habits change when you live in Spain

We’ve done extensive research in the hope of being able to find out how this tradition came about. 

Could it be traced back to Ancient Rome as in the case of ear pulling (another Spanish birthday tradition that many kids and teens endure from their older siblings and relatives)?

Unfortunately, there is no record of why the birthday person pays in Spain. 

But fear not, there are benefits to this sometimes costly tradition. 

If you’ve invited your friends for a birthday meal and/or drinks, they will or should know to bring you a birthday present. 

It could be that they either all chip in to get you one big present (most commonly) or that they get you gifts individually.

These are all unwritten rules of course, but it would be a bit much for them to expect that you pay for them to enjoy a nice meal out when it’s your birthday and that you get absolutely nothing in return from them. 

READ ALSO: The many ways Spaniards refer to your face if you’re being cheeky

The other silver lining to draw is that you could well expect to get a free meal or drinks from everyone that you invite when it’s their birthday and time to pay up. All those free eats will surely cover the cost of what you splashed out on your cumple (birthday).

But if the prospect of splurging and not getting much in return worries you – perhaps you’re unfamiliar with how your friends ‘do’ birthdays – consider one of these options.

 birthday pay food spain

It’s best to embrace the Spanish birthday payment tradition, even though some foreigners find it unfair.

Instead of a birthday meal, invite your friends to birthday drinks. This should keep the expense lower, especially at a run-of-the-mill bar. If it’s at a nightclub, rounds are paid for at the bar immediately rather than the bill stacking up for a final payment, so after one or two rounds, one of your friends should offer to pay, especially if they turned up giftless.

If you still want to have a meal out with los amigos (friends) but are worried about how much it’ll cost you, consider picking a well-priced bar or restaurant with a terrace where you go to the waiter and order tapas for everyone rather than à la carte individual portions, obviously still allowing them to pick their own drinks. 

There are also quite a few restaurants with birthday deals which may allow you to cut costs or get some freebies. 

But overall it’s best to embrace this Spanish tradition which initially seems unfair to many foreigners. 

You’ll come across as generous, fully integrated into Spanish society and don’t worry, because over time the expense evens out.

And if you don’t get the same treatment you offered on your birthday when it’s your friends’ turn to organise and pay for their celebrations, then plan your next birthday party in Spain differently.

Park bench, a six-pack of Mercadona beers and a muffin for a birthday cake, perhaps?


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For members


12 sure-fire ways to offend a Spaniard

From ordering the wrong drinks with tapas to calling one of their official languages a dialect, these are just two of the ways you may inadvertently offend a Spaniard.

12 sure-fire ways to offend a Spaniard

Readers’ responses 

Not making an effort to speak the language 

Many readers commented on the fact that Spaniards will often get offended if you “don’t even try and make an effort to speak Spanish” or another local language like Catalan, and just simply expect that everyone will be able to speak English. While we all know that learning another language can be challenging for some, if you’re living in Spain it’s important that you try and locals will really appreciate your efforts if you do. 

Ordering the wrong drinks with tapas

There are certain drinks that go with tapas in Spain, this could be wine, beer, soft drinks. But never coffee or spirits, some of The Local’s readership pointed out. As one reader put it, “don’t order a café con leche with your ensaladilla rusa“. 

Disrespecting Spanishness

In general, Spaniards don’t get offended very easily and will often even make fun of themselves, but when it’s a foreigner having a go at Spanish people or their culture then it’s a whole different matter. One Italian reader married to a Spaniard said that this patriotic reaction can happen “even if you point out something they complain about every day of their life while among friends”.

“Referring to Mexicans as Spanish, not Spanish-speaking”, “telling Spanish people they don’t look Spanish”, calling them “the Spanish rather than Spaniards” are some of the other observations readers contributed.

It’s also best to stay clear of Spanish stereotypes such saying that Spaniards are lazy, they all have siestas, dance flamenco and have a lisp, for starters because these clichés are far removed from the truth. 

Comparing Spain to other countries

‘Spain is different’ or so the famous slogan goes, so there’s no point comparing it to your home country. As one reader put “incessantly comparing Spain to the UK and complaining that Spain doesn’t measure up or expecting all laws in Spain to be the same as the UK,” is sure to offend some people.

The fact that a number of foreign readers suggested that a way to offend Spaniards would be to “use indicators and roundabouts correctly” highlights how some people have a tendency to compare Spain to their home country in a critical manner.

Un-Spanish table manners

Spaniards are proud of their cuisine, so they understandably like eating to be done according to their set of rules. Condiments for example are not really a thing – unless you’re at a burger bar. As one Spanish reader put it, “I’d say we’re not easily offended in general. Maybe putting ketchup anywhere else than on your fries,” then adding other foodie faux pas such as “eating sandwich bread instead of real bread with your meals” and “the absence of olive oil”.

Readers also added that “you shouldn’t ask for salt and pepper with your food or vinegar for your chips”, that you’ll get weird looks if “you eat while you walk”.

Complaining about how Spaniards perceive time

Ernest Hemingway famously said “There is no night life in Spain. They stay up late but they get up late. That is not night life. That is delaying the day”.

And anyone who’s lived in Spain knows that the clocks run differently for Spaniards, from the times people eat, to the time they arrive somewhere and even the way they refer to the time.

“Organising to go out for dinner too early”, “disturbing people during siesta time”, “referring to 6pm as the evening instead of the afternoon” or “having a go at someone for being late” are all ways that readers have suggested can rub Spaniards up the wrong way. 

Cured meat crimes

Spaniards love their cold meats, from all the jamones to the chorizos, fuet, cecina, lomos, the list is endless. So attempting to “fry a slice of Jamón de Jabugo” or “referring to chorizo as pepperoni” would also be considered crimes against ‘h(a)manity’ and offend the locals, according to our readers. 

Remember when British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver tweeted a recipe for paella that included chorizo? Spaniards were so appalled at his suggestion that he suffered a lot of backlash on social media and the Guardian newspaper even wrote “Jamie Oliver’s paella brings fractured Spain together … against him“.

Oh, and telling them that jamón is bad for their health is unlikely to go down well. Spaniards just don’t want to hear it. Back in 2015, there was an uproar when the World Health Organisation warned that carcinogens were present in certain types of meat, including jamón. Then in 2021, Spanish Consumer Affairs Minister Alberto Garzón caused much anger across the country when he urged Spaniards to eat less red meat like jamón to protect their health, as well as the future of the planet.

The Local’s suggestions

Mislabelling languages and dialects

Here’s a divisive topic among Spaniards, so it’s best avoided. Spain in fact has five official languages: Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Basque and Aranese, and yes there are indeed actual languages and not dialects. So suggesting to a Catalan that their language is merely a dialect of Spanish is a sure-fire way to get an earful and cause a lot of upset.

It’s also best to not talk about Valencian and Mallorquín. Valencian may be a dialect of Catalan but never refer to the language as Catalan, always Valenciano, especially if talking to proud Valencians. The same goes for other dialects of Catalan such as Mallorquín, which is spoken on the Balearic Island of Mallorca.

READ ALSO: Seven things you should never say to a Catalan person

Bringing up Franco or the Civil War

It’s fair to say that the wounds left behind by Franco’s 36-year dictatorship and the bloody Civil War that preceded it haven’t healed yet, with even new laws being brought out to this day to deal with this troubled past. People on both sides lost family members, some families supported Franco’s regime and others abhorred it (even to this day), so with such a prickly subject it’s best to stay clear from the topic as there’s a high chance you could bring up uncomfortable memories and put your foot in it. 

Cheering for the wrong football team

Spaniards take football very seriously. It’s not just young men who are football fans here, no, you’ll find everyone from grandmas to little kids get swept up in the football fever. Be careful when you’re travelling around Spain though that you’re not out in a bar cheering for the other team. You’ll definitely be given dirty looks and some stern words if you’re cheering for Real Madrid in a bar in Barcelona for example. Or even rooting for Barça in an Espanyol bar (Barcelona’s other football team), or Real in an Atleti bar in Madrid.

READ ALSO – The good, the bad and the ugly: What are the regional stereotypes across Spain? 

Failing to be impressed by their mother’s/grandmother’s cooking

Ask any Spaniard where they ate the best croquetas, tortilla de patatas or paella and most likely they’ll say at their mama or abuela makes Spain’s best. Implying that someone’s mum’s food isn’t as good as what you had at the local tapas bar last week, is definitely not going to win you any friends. In fact, avoid mentioning anything remotely critical about their mothers or other family members, full stop.

Talking about independence movements or politics 

One quick way to make an enemy is Spain is to bring up independence movements, especially in Catalonia or in the Basque Country. Don’t presume to know all about the situation and never reveal what side you’re on before you know how the person you’re talking to feels about it. It is a topic that has divided regions and cities for many years. And it’s also best to avoid talking about Gibraltar. 

READ ALSO: 13 mistakes tourists in Spain are bound to make