Spain and the art of insisting

Found in a gallery near the cathedral. Photo: Annoesjka Brohm

What happens if you offer something to a Spanish person? When, for instance, you’d like to pay for drinks. Most likely you’ll end up having a conversation similar to this:

“This is my treat.”
“No, I’ll pay for the drinks myself.”
“Really, this is on me.”
“No, honestly, I’ll pay.” (money comes out)
“No, I want to pay.”
“No, no, no, you don’t have to.” (money will be pushed against your hand)
“I want to. This is my treat.”
“No, really.” (money will be left on the table or bar)
“Yes, really.” (at this point you’ll give back the money left on the table or bar and you’ll pay the full amount).
“Thank you!”

Accept by refusing

In the metro or bus I often see someone standing up for an elderly person. He or she always accept by first refusing this nice gesture. Only when seated, the person smiles and will mutter a “thank you”.


In Spain, I’ve learned, this is the correct way to accept that somebody is doing something nice for you. In fact, saying “thank you” immediately is considered to be hugely rude. To me, being Dutch and all, this is really weird. It’s a bit rude, even: you’re offering something and the other one is threatening to refuse your ‘gift’.

Cranky Dutch

I even believe that if you pull a trick like that in the Netherlands, the conversation might go like this:

“This is my treat.”
“No, I’ll pay for the drinks myself.”
“Really, this is on me.”
“No, honestly, I’ll pay.” (money comes out)
“Ok, whatever you want.” (crankily said, only paying for own drinks)

Mastering the art

It’s the Spanish art of insisting. I think I’m slowly beginning to understand it, but I’m far, far away from mastering it. I just never know how many times I need to say “no” before I can say “thank you”. When will the “no” become rude or annoying? Or won’t it ever? Questions the Spanish even can’t answer.

Keep insisting

I found that the art of insisting sometimes also goes the other way around. Say, for instance, you’re asking for a favour of your landlord. There is a good chance that the first answer you’ll get will be “no”.
Don’t panic, though. The art of insisting requires that you’ll explain that you’re not just asking this; you’ve gone through other solutions and you really need this favour.
Don’t be surprised if you’ll still hear a “no”. You need to insist. When on the phone, you might even have to call back to ask again.
But, here’s the tricky part. It doesn’t always work.

No exact science

The art of insisting is, unfortunately, no exact science. It’s there to confuse and to embarrass the non-Spanish. It is.
Really. I’m sure of it. Honestly. Not lying.
It probably isn’t.

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