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Observations from Spain

Posted on 23rd November, 2022

For this post, Observations from Spain, I took inspiration from Haverford Downs and decided to document my holiday observations whilst in Spain.  There are many differences between the UK and Spain in terms of health, safety and environmental legislation and I thought it would be interesting to look at a few whilst on holiday.

It was a damp miserable early morning at Newcastle airport whilst I waited for my flight to Alicante.  However, the flight was on time and, due to the 160 mph tail wind, I arrived in Spain 50 minutes earlier than scheduled greeted by clear blue skies and sunshine. 

Following Brexit, I always have concerns about passport control, but I was amazed at how efficient the checks were and breezed through the controls in 5 minutes – if only UK border control was so efficient! 


It is only a short 15 minute drive from the airport to my apartment and the road network is very good and not as congested as in the UK.  The obvious difference here in Spain is that they drive on the wrong side of the road as Michael Caine once famously noted about continental driving.  The other traffic issue that totally confuses the Brits is roundabouts. 

The first roundabout in Spain was built in 1976, but according to the Axa insurance company two out of every three Spanish drivers still do not know how to use them properly. According to the Spanish Directorate-General for Traffic (DGT), between 2015 and 2019 there were 45,000 accidents at roundabouts, in which 317 people died and 58,000 were injured. Even as an experienced driver I approach every roundabout in Spain with fear!

What confuses most people is the way in which most cars seem to drive all the way around Spanish roundabouts in the outside lane. Unfortunately, this causes some of those who do not, consternation as they try to make their exit only to find it is blocked by a car happily coasting its way around on the outside.

The Spanish equivalent of the Highway Code certainly makes it sound that this is the correct approach:

“When there is more than one lane on a roundabout, you will normally travel around the roundabout in the right hand lane – the outside of the roundabout.

The inside lane is only for overtaking.” So if you are in the inside lane and want to exit?

Under no circumstances should a driver cut the source of other vehicles using the roundabout in order to exit from it.”

Instead, you should continue travelling around the roundabout until you are able to exit safely. So, you may feel guilty travelling all the way around the roundabout in the outside lane, but you are, in fact, doing it right! 

Dealing with roundabouts is often further complicated when most drivers rarely use indicators so there is a certain amount of guess work when entering a roundabout whilst other vehicles are using it.

Fire Safety

Having successfully navigated the difficulties of roundabouts, I arrive safely at my apartment, and it is time for some lunch.  The small village where I am staying fortunately has a handful of cafes and restaurants to choose from.  I select a restaurant I have visited previously and am greeted by the waiter and shown to a table.  The food in Spain is always excellent and the menu often reflects what is available that day, so you know you are getting fresh produce. 

The restaurant, like other commercial and public buildings, is required to have firefighting equipment as is the case in the UK.  However, I am intrigued that fire extinguishers are always mounted on the wall about five or six feet off the ground.  In the UK extinguishers are either wall mounted at waist height or placed in stands on the floor to make it easier to lift them. 

After first noticing this different I asked a Spanish friend who runs a business in the village why the extinguishers are always so high up the wall?  He responded with quite a logical response; “so that everyone can see where they are!” Ah, yes that makes sense I suppose but as I eat my lunch, I hope that firefighting skills will not be tested as my waiter is only five foot tall and I doubt he could lift the extinguisher off the wall hook.

Electrical Safety

The Spanish have a pretty casual approach to electrical safety which I first encountered in Gran Canaria many years ago.  Whilst on holiday in an apartment I got an electric shock whenever I touched the side of the oven when preparing meals.  I requested a visit from the reception staff to discuss this dangerous situation.  Upon arrival of a member of staff, I explained that I kept getting an electric shock and this was dangerous.  He looked at me then provided a solution; I was to make sure that I wore rubber soled shoes whenever I was cooking.

My apartment in the village has similar electrical issues which would be considered wrong in the UK but are perfectly normal here in Spain.  The washing machine is plugged into an electrical socket positioned directly below the water taps in the kitchen and I have electrical sockets in the bathroom which would not be permitted back in the UK.

Risk Management

In the UK we are quite risk averse and will often prohibit activities if we feel the risk is too high which is probably the right approach.  Things are a bit different in Spain and I have often been surprised at the activities which take place including those organised by official bodies. 

Observations from Spain

The Fogueres de Sant Joan Festivals are one of the most important events in Alicante. This festival has its origins in the tradition of burning useless objects with the arrival of the summer solstice.  This is the most important celebration for locals and visitors, beginning on the 20th of June and lasting until the 29th. It is a festival dedicated to fire, including events such as the proclamation (The Pregón), the setting up of the bonfires (the Plantà), the procession of the effigies (Cabalgata del Ninot), parades and processions in different neighbourhoods of the city.  The main event on the 24th of June, the feast day of Saint John Baptist, includes large satirical statues made of cardboard and wood being set alight at different locations right across the city.

I have attended the event on a number of occasions over the years and it is very popular.  The largest statue is found in the town hall square which is the first to be set alight followed by the other hundred or so spread across the city.  The Bomberos (Spanish fire brigade) are always in attendance to douse the building walls with water to prevent them catching alight and the crowd often gets soaked as well.  With such a large fire so close to buildings this would never be allowed back home but everyone enjoys it.

Waste Management

In Spain, residents have to take the household waste to collection containers which are placed at various locations in each neighbourhood, there is no collection service from the house like in the UK.  Recycling is encouraged and even in the small village I am staying in there are containers for glass, small electrical devices, cardboard and paper as well as batteries.  The only downside to having these collection areas is they very in terms of quality.  Whilst some are well kept, and managed others resemble fly tipping sites.  Collections are made pretty much daily in Spain so even if waste is stored next to the container rather than in it, the waste will not be there longer than 24 hours. 

Like most people in the UK, I have two waste bins provided by the council, one for general waste the other for recycling with collections on alternate weeks.  In Spain, my habits are different, and I drop off small bags of rubbish each day at the collection points so that it does not build up in the apartment.


It may appear strange that the regulatory rules in Spain are so different that the UK considering we were part of the European Union for such a long time.  It is often believed that most of the UK’s safety legislation originated from the EU but the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, which did so much to reduce fatalities and workplace accidents, is actually a domestic law.

When working for the Environment Agency some years ago, I met a number of regulators from across Europe and we discussed the differences in regulation between the UK and on the continent.  When discussing the difficulties in enacting some recent EU rules, one of my continental colleagues laughed and said, “of course the problem with the British is that they actually observe the rules”.  Perhaps that is why we left the EU, but that is a whole other story!

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