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Understanding the Spanish Culture
- February 20, 2021
- Posted by: elanwp
- Category: Spanish Blogs
UNDERSTANDING THE SPANISH CULTURE
Spain’s powerful empire began when Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas in 1492 which led to the colonisation of most of South and Central America, Mexico, parts of the Caribbean and much of what is now the USA.
During the 16th and 17th Centuries the Spanish lost command of the seas to England and subsequently struggled to embrace the industrial and mercantile revolutions taking place over the next century. Spain subsequently began to lag behind Britain, France and Germany both politically and economically.
The country suffered enormous hardship during the civil war which raged between 1936 and 1939 and resulted in thirty six years of military dictatorship by General Francisco Bahamonde (Franco). It was not until 1975, following the death of Franco, that Spain was able to establish a peaceful and democratic society which saw a rapid growth in modernisation and the economy.
They joined the European Union in 1986 and became a world-wide leader in freedom and human rights.
In 2008, Spain suffered a catastrophic economic recession but has begun recovery showing three years of GDP growth above the EU average. Although their unemployment record has fallen it remains high particularly among the young people of Spain.
At least 90% of the population speak Castilian Spanish as a first or second language. About 17% of the population speak Catalan, 7% speak Galician and 2% speak Basque.
The country is composed of 17 autonomous regions (administratively called comunidades autónomas or autonomous communities), including Andalusia, Catalonia, Galicia, the Basque Country (Euskal Herria), and the Canary and Balearic Islands, as well as two autonomous cities (Ceuta and Melilla) and small islands off the coast of Morocco collectively known as Places of Sovereignty. Spanish regions have their own cultures and some have their own official languages as well, including Catalan, Galician, Basque and Valencian. Spaniards identify strongly with their home region and even with their specific province of origin. Foreign visitors should be sensitive to this and demonstrate respect for the different cultures.
The vast majority of Spaniards are Christian Catholics, although nowadays more than 26% of the population identifies as atheist or non-believer. Less than 2% of the population follows a religion other than Catholicism.
The importance of Christian traditions in Spanish culture is visible in most aspects of daily life, from street names to local celebrations, city monuments, or the fact that most shops are generally closed on Sundays (only during the Christmas shopping season do shops tend to stay open the entire weekend).
In restaurants and supermarkets in some provincial towns and small cities of Spain, it is not easy to find suitable Kosher or Halal food or dishes without pork inside (serrano ham, also known as jamón ibérico, is considered a national culinary treasure).
Unlike other Christian countries, it is important to know that in Spain, it is not on December 25th (Christmas Day) when children receive presents from Santa Claus or family members exchange gifts. Instead, it is believed that the Three Kings bring good children their Christmas gifts on the Biblical Day of the Magi (Epiphany, January 6th). In fact, every year on the evening of January 5th, almost all towns and cities in Spain celebrate with spectacular street parades commemorating the arrival of the Three Kings with gifts for the families.
Although predominantly conservative, Spanish society has always shown radical contrasts. While in many ways it remains a traditional society, particularly regarding religion, minorities, and the status of women, in other areas the country has led progressive changes over recent decades. For example, it was one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriages in 2005 and is considered one of the most LGBTQ-friendly (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer/Questioning) countries in the world today.
Personal character and integrity are highly valued traits, as is modesty. The family, both nuclear and extended, is the central social unit in Spain. Like many collectivist cultures, Spanish society deeply values group affiliation – to a family, an organization, or a community. However, this does not extend to ideas of greater social responsibility; Spaniards can also exhibit a fierce individualism and are distrustful of the government and authority.
Spaniards hold formal education in high regard, and they may openly inquire about your education. At the same time, do not boast of your education; many Spaniards believe those who attended a quality school did so through nepotism.
Fútbol (soccer) is by far the most popular sport in Spain, bordering on a national religion. The season runs from mid-August to the beginning of June. Tennis and Formula One have also become important mass entertainment, thanks to the popularity of Rafa Nadal and Fernando Alonso. Golf is very popular among businessmen, and Spain is host to a number of luxury golf resorts.
Local and regional festivities play an important role in Spanish life, and they represent strong elements of pride and a sense of identity for each community. There are hundreds of different, popular fiestas (same word for holiday and party) all year round and throughout the different parts of Spain, and locals take them very seriously. From the Christmas’ Three Kings parades in every town of the country to the most diverse ferias (fairs and festivals) and popular celebrations, such as the traditional San Fermín bull runs in Pamplona or the Tomatina tomato festival in Buñol, Valencia, Spain’s calendar is full of celebrations and social diversion.