Eating out in another country can be a stressful battle of matching your expectations against local customs. This is only made worse in a place where you don’t speak the language. Getting water with meals can be particularly challenging, as many other cultures have very different norms surrounding water at restaurants. So, what about in Spain? What should you expect while trying to wet your whistle in España?
Can you ask for tap water in a restaurant in Spain? This mostly depends on what region of the country you’re in. In Madrid, the tap water is very tasty and it’s very normal to order it. Just don’t expect it to be free or come with ice everywhere you go.
Ordering a glass of tap water can be more complicated than it seems in a country like Spain. The water is very different in different parts of the country. Customs around how to ask for tap water and what to expect when you get your glass are also different from the US. Let’s make sure you know everything you need to know to properly quench your thirst in Spain’s heat.
What Part of the Country are You In?
Spain is a developed country with EU regulations surrounding tap water. The water is very nearly universally safe to drink. Although some visitors experience minor stomach aches as a result of drinking the water, It is unlikely that you will be anywhere where you will have to worry about water cleanliness. This being said, there are certain areas of the country where you definitely want to avoid the tap water.
The tap water in Madrid comes from natural springs and is among the purest and best-tasting tap water sources in the world. The citizens of Madrid are immensely proud of their tap water, and it is very normal to order it in a restaurant without inviting any strange looks.
In other parts of the country, particularly along the eastern coast in places such as Barcelona, the tap water has a very unpleasant taste. Even the people who live in these areas do not drink the tap water. Don’t try to power through; you will not get used to it. People here will treat you very strangely if you try to order tap water, and wait staff may even try to talk you out of it.
How to Order
If you want a glass of water, which will usually be free, ask for un vaso de agua del grifo (a glass of tap water) If you simply ask for water or a glass of water, you may not get what you’re looking for.
If you simply ask for water, many restaurants will not give you a glass of tap water like you’re used to. They are likely to bring you a glass bottle of water, which will cost you a few Euros. You’re likely to get asked whether or not you would like it with carbonation. Some places that don’t carry bottles of water may bring you a bottle of wine, thinking it’s the next best thing. This will obviously put you back a few Euros.
In Madrid, where tap water is more of the norm, this is less likely to be a big deal. In fact, if you’d like a bottle of water, you’ll probably have to ask for mineral water.
What to Expect from Your Glass
Once you’ve successfully ordered a glass of water, your experience may differ from how water is served in American restaurants. It’s important to recognize that these are cultural differences, and these things aren’t generally viewed as strange or rude by people in the country.
You’re travelling to another country to experience a different culture and customs. Embrace the differences. You’ll enjoy yourself more, and you’re less likely to viewed as a snobby tourist.
You, Will, Need to Order It
In most American restaurants, the waiter will bring out glasses of water before guests have even placed their orders. This is not the norm in Spain. Drinks, including water, are ordered. You’ll need to actually ask for water. Once you’ve asked for it, they’ll most likely accommodate you.
The Restaurant Could Refuse
While most restaurants in the Madrid area will serve tap water, they are not legally mandated to. There are restaurants which will outright deny a request for tap water. These establishments are trying to boost sales of bottled water or booze.
If this happens to you, there isn’t much you can do about it. Trying to argue with a waiter is unlikely to get you what you want. Go without or shell out a couple of Euros for a bottle. You’re touring a beautiful and amazing country. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Iced beverages are a very American custom and strange to many Europeans. You are unlikely to get ice in your tap water, and ice may not be available even upon request. This doesn’t mean that you can’t ask, but don’t be surprised if they give you a strange expression or flat out tell you that ice isn’t an option.
Again, this is a part of the experience. Take the chance to really soak up the customs of another culture rather than getting annoyed.
Taste Will Vary
We’ve already covered the regional differences in water quality as far as taste is concerned, but it bears repeating: there is a massive difference in taste from place to place. The tap water in Madrid may be the most amazing water you’ve tasted in your entire life. Drink from the tap in Barcelona, and you’re likely to wind up gagging. Be aware of where you are in the country before ordering tap water.
Most places that serve tap water in Spain will offer it for free. However, it isn’t unheard of to have to pay a small amount even for a glass of tap water. This may be especially true in touristy areas of Madrid, where restaurant owners may be trying to capitalize on the city’s reputation for crystal clear tap water.
Just like if you get refused water, there isn’t much you can do about this. Roll with the punches and don’t bother making a fuss over a simple glass of tap water.
While it doesn’t affect everyone, some Americans who try Spanish tap water report experiencing minor stomach pain. This isn’t terribly surprising. While the water is safe to drink, there is a different balance of minerals and a different sanitizing process. This can cause minor changes in the makeup of the water, which can create reactions in stomachs unaccustomed to the differences.
If you’re on a longer trip, you may be able to adapt to the foreign water. If you’re visiting for less than a week and experience stomach problems, you don’t need to worry about e coli or cholera, but you may want to avoid the tap for the remainder of your trip.
If you’re in the Madrid area of Spain, you absolutely can ask for tap water. Other areas may be hit or miss and avoid the tap along the east coast of the country. You’ll need to ask specifically for tap water and should expect that you probably won’t get ice. Keep in mind that a glass of tap water isn’t expected with every meal and understand that there may be complications, such as an additional charge.
The best advice we can give is to just enjoy the chance to experience another culture. Even if you can’t get exactly what you’re used to, that’s all part of the fun anyway. Happy hydrating!
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