What stereotypes exist of Spanish people and Spain? Which ones did you have before you moved here and met some Spaniards?
(Remember: these are stereotypes of Spain, not what I actually think!)
A couple of weeks ago one of the things a client asked me for was a really general view of British (foreign) held stereotypes of Spain and Spanish people. This is what we came up with, can you think of any more?
Here’s the list of stereotypes we talked about, and below that are the answers I gave to my client, based on 10 years of living in Spain and speaking Spanish to the level of a professional translator…
Spanish stereotypes: the initial list
- Tortilla, sun, sea, sand, bullfighting, flamenco, salsa, Shakira, Ricky Martin, Benidorm, Barcelona, paella, sangría, chorizo (of course!!), wine and tapas;
- I often mix my perception of Spain with some vague idea I might have about Mexico (which I have never visited either); a place where donkeys walk along big dusty roads alongside lots of people in very big hats;
- Spanish people are the same as Latin people, right?
- Spanish people are very lazy and I like the idea of the siesta, even though I don’t really understand it;
- I don’t know many Spanish people, not even when I come to Spain, The waiter doesn’t speak English very well and in the shops people are very rude; I’m the client but it seems like I’ve offended them by entering their shop;
- I don’t understand most Spanish customs and I’m not particularly interested in learning about them; while we’re at it, I don’t really want to learn Spanish either;
- Spanish people are very rude; they all shout at each other and argue instead of talking;
- People here drink a lot of coffee and have no idea how to make a cup of tea properly;
- Spanish people have weird timetables which mean I can’t go to the shops when I want to;
- The beers are very small, they don’t serve them right and they never fill up the wine glasses properly;
- Spain is a very popular destination for British criminals on the run;
- If I’m young (or want to be) this is what I want from Spain: fiesta, Mallorca, Benidorm, Torrevieja, 10 beers for half what I would pay in England, loads of pills in Ibiza watching the sun come up from Café del Mar; Then there’s Benicassim, which is great because loads of British groups play;
- Cigarettes are a lot cheaper in Spain but people smoke some strange brands.
(Note: before everybody starts saying Ricky Martin comes from Puerto Rico and Mexico isn’t Spain, I know! The idea was to try and jot down all the typical things that foreigners think and mix up about Spain.)
Spanish stereotypes: my views
This is what I would say about the stereotypes I mentioned.
- Spanish people eat lots of tortilla: Spanish people eat quite a lot of tortilla. You can ask for it in about 75% of bar-restaurants that you go to, as long as they serve Spanish food (and are not an Italian, Chinese or other restaurant, or only serve drinks). It is sometimes made with a little onion as well as the potatoes and in some towns in the north they make interesting double tortillas with a tasty filling. A good great tortilla is one of the staples of every Spanish mother’s cooking inventory and everybody’s mum always makes the tastiest one. Tortilla is definitely very tasty and worth getting to know properly. Tortilla is not something that people eat every day though, or at every meal, and not everybody likes it.
- Spain is sun, sea and sand: depends on the part of Spain. There are beautiful parts of the north of Spain which could easily be in Wales or England due to the greeness and quantity of rainfall and cloud. There are big differences between the north of Spain, the south and Mediterranean coast. In the north and many parts of the Spanish countryside which are inland, in winter it can get very, very cold. Here in Murcia, it’s sunny, clear blue skies just about all day every day, all year round. Clouds rarely appear. Rain appears even less frequently. From May until November, it’s very hot and it will try and rain a couple of times during the summer. Between November and February it can feel like it’s cold but it’s relative: if you hop on a flight from rainy Manchester and turn up in the middle of January in Murcia, your body thermometer will think it’s very warm. There are, indeed, many beautiful beaches in Spain. You shouldn’t think this is all of Spain, however, not even half. There are hundreds thousands of beautiful places to visit all over Spain, whether it’s sunny, raining or covered with snow. And it’s even more fun if you get to know the people, traditions and history of the places you visit.
- All Spaniards are bullfighters or go every week to a bullfight: of course not. Bullfighting is half sport, half art, half barbarity, depending on who you ask. Bullfights are normally held in ferias or festival periods. It is incredibly complicated and understanding bullfighting (whether you’re Spanish or foreign) requires time. The business of bullfighting moves a lot of money. It reaches across social classes. It’s been around for ages and is not going anywhere. Many Spanish people compare it to the recently banned English ’sport’ of fox-hunting. Apart from animal rights issues, I don’t think that’s a good comparison. On a cultural level, I think bullfighting is more analagous to cricket, a thought I will explain in another post. Not everybody goes to the bulls, fewer people understand it and the only people who fight bulls are the professional bullfighters. (this assumes we’re talking about proper bullfights and not smaller bulls in the many village ferias);
- All Spaniards like flamenco (and all Spanish women know how to dance flamenco): not true. Many Spanish people hate flamenco, in fact. English people think all Spanish girls know how to dance flamenco: this is because to the untrained eye it’s very easy to move around a bit and look like you’re dancing flamenco with a few swirls of your hands and hips. There are many different types of flamenco (the dance most people associate with the flamenco stereotype is called ‘sevillanas‘). Flamenco is a whole sub-culture, composed of song, dance and instrumentals, sometimes all together and sometimes individually. It’s an art. It has more followers in the south of the country where it originates from. There is traditional flamenco and there are new waves of pop-flamenco. There are many different rhythms within flamenco and most traditional flamenco songs, lyrics, dances and instrumental solos fit into one of those subtypes. It’s incredibly difficult to tell the difference between the subtypes if you’re not practiced.
- Spanish people are good at that salsa dance: nope, not at all. Many Spanish people go to salsa and other dance classes though, just like people in other countries. Most Spanish blokes have two left feet just like most English blokes and most Spanish girls love at least trying to dance a lot. Salsa was created in New York and the influences were all Caribbean and Latin American.
- Is Shakira Spanish? Nope, she’s from Colombia.
- and Ricky Martin? no, he’s from Puerto Rico.
- Everybody eats paella in Spain. No, of course not. Everybody enjoys a good one though. It’s very difficult to make well. There are many variants on what a foreigner might think is paella but which is actually a different type of rice dish.
- All Spaniards drink sangría. No, Spanish people sometimes drink sangría. The most popular drinks at meals are wine, beer and water. Here in Murcia there is a great Murcian version made with peaches and sugar.
- Spanish food is tapas. Some Spanish food is tapas. The idea of tapas being free is mainly a southern thing (especially in places like Granada, where you buy a beer and basically eat for free if you go to the right places). There are hundreds of different types of tapas. Apart from tapas, there is some fantastic Spanish food which is nothing to do with tapas. Every region has its own specialities. Spain could easily be a gourmet’s paradise but don’t limit your ideas of Spanish food to tapas and paella.
- Mexico, donkeys, dusty roads and big hats: no, no, no. These are ridiculous cartoon assumptions that foreigners mix up with Spain from watching Speedy Gonzalez. There are of course, a few dusty roads and a few Mexicans in Spain, although I have never seen a Mexican on a dusty road. I have yet to see anybody wearing a big hat (apart from English tourists on tourist beaches and in airport waiting lounges);
- Spanish people are the same as Latin American people: no. They speak the same language (with differences) and of course have historical and cultural roots, but don’t mix them up: many different national cultures which all share (apart from indigenoues Latin American communities) certain common features (language, history, religion). Although this would be very debatable, a comparison with the idea of the British Commonwealth or the more general concept of ‘the English speaking world’ would not be a bad one.
- Spanish people are very lazy: no. Spanish people work some of the longest hours in Europe (although have lower productivity levels) and one of the biggest problems here is lack of sleep due to noise, timetables and a general desire to live life to the full as much as possible. The work timetable combined with the daily-chores timetable combined with a well-filled social life means that many people don’t sleep as much as they would like to. In the south in the summer (and in many other parts of the country), it’s very, very hot and between about one o’clock and seven or eight in the evening, there’s not much point in trying to do anything, espcially after lunch: it’s too hot. Life shifts a few hours at night and takes a break during the day.
- The waiter doesn’t speak English very well: of course not. The idea that everybody does or should speak English is a myth. Waiters in many countries know enough to bring you a beer and, on the other end of the jobs scale, people working in multinational companies tend to have very good English if their job involves communicating with English speakers. Learning a language properly takes years of continuous effort and practice.
- Spanish people are very rude and loud: this is something that many foreigners will notice on arriving in Spain. It’s a tricky one: the noise level is definitely higher and people shout a lot when they should be speaking normally. It doesn’t however, mean that people are being rude. It’s just the way it is most of the time. This item needs its own post.
- Spanish people drink a lot of coffee. Yes, lots and lots. If you like coffee, you’ll like Spain. In Murcia, they have great coffees. In Madrid, the coffees aren’t as good as in Murcia.
- Spanish people don’t know how to make a cup of tea. True. Not a clue, unless they’ve lived in England and taken a liking to tea.
- Spanish people have wierd timetables. Spanish people have a different timetable to most of the rest of Europe, althought with shifts in globalisation, this is changing in big cities like Madrid and Barcelona. Most things related to timetable differences are related to the weather and heat in the summer. The traditional Spanish timetable is: morning until 14h00, midday/lunchtime 14h00-17h00, afternoon from 17h00 until 21h00, followed by dinner.
- Spanish beers are very small. Yes they are, compared to English pints, but this is absolutely the best way to drink them in the summer when it’s very hot or as a refreshing slurp in winter. Imagine trying to enjoy a few pints of stout in 45ºC heat, or mixing Guiness with seafood.
- Ibiza, parties, Benicassim and Spanish music: Spain has some great parties. There is also some great Spanish music.