Spaniards think France is ‘superior’…and so do the French 

Both Spanish and French people believe France has a stronger economy and exerts more power and influence on the global stage, a study by a prestigious Spanish think tank has found, but they also agree the quality of life in Spain is better.  

Spaniards think France is 'superior'...and so do the French 
France's President Emmanuel Macron greets Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (L) at Versailles in March. France and Spain have put past rivalries behind them, but their views about each other's countries vary, a new study reveals. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

Neighbours Spain and France have for centuries been rivals. At one stage it was focused on the expansion of their empires across the globe, in more recent times it’s been the promotion of their gastronomy, language and culture overseas.

In the 21st century, their relationship has turned into friendly competitiveness as both nations have grown closer together; they’ve even brokered a dual nationality agreement recently

But a survey by Spain’s Elcano Royal Institute for International and Strategic Studies reveals that there continues to be a sense of superiority on the part of the French towards Spain, which contrasts with Spaniards’ ingrained inferiority complex.

Citizens from both nations agree that France is better on most fronts – they have a stronger economic system, a better democracy, more developed scientific and technological industries, and more power and influence on the global stage. 

To give an example, only half of French respondents could name a Spanish brand (Zara and Seat being the best known), whereas Spaniards were quick to name Carrefour, car manufacturers Renault, Peugeot and Citroen as well as French cosmetic brands.

However, both French and Spanish people concurred, albeit to a lesser extent, that the quality of life, cultural offering and sporting level are better in Spain, with Spaniards tending to be more convinced about this than the French. 

For the study, 1,001 people from each country were asked a series of questions relating to their views on the EU, current economic and social affairs, the war in Ukraine, as well as their opinions about each other’s countries. 

Young supporters hold French and Spanish flags at the Tour de France in 2022. There’s a mutual admiration between both countries but both agree France is a bigger power on the world stage. (Photo by JEFF PACHOUD / AFP)

Asociación Diálogo (Dialogue Association), a group which promotes France-Spain relations, also took part in the research.

French tourists cross over into Spain more often than Spaniards visit France, which according to Real Instituto Elcano researcher Carmen González has helped to improve French people’s views about Spain overall, including Spanish infrastructure.

French people consider Spaniards friendly, but a majority of Spanish respondents don’t feel the same about their Gallic neighbours.

 When asked to define themselves, both French and Spanish respondents referred to their own societies as tolerant, democratic, trustworthy and traditional, whilst stressing that they have a distinct cultural identity. 

A greater percentage of Spaniards considered themselves first from their city or region rather than from Spain as a whole, whereas French people identify first with being French. On the other hand, two thirds of Spanish respondents are happy to be identified as European, whereas only 42 percent of French respondents have a positive view of belonging to the EU.

Seventy-nine percent of Spaniards also defined their country as emotionally-driven, whereas French people believed they were more split between emotion and rationality. 

Around 60 percent of respondents from both countries agreed that a strong bilateral relationship between Spain and France is important, whether it be in the fight against terrorism, energy, economic ties or tourism.

Whatever their differences, it’s clear that French and Spaniards have put past rivalries behind them and have a mutual admiration for each other’s countries. 

READ ALSO: “Africa starts at the Pyrenees” – Eight memorable quotes by historical figures who hated or loved Spain 

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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