8 Common Myths and Misconceptions about Spain

How Americans Stereotype the World (this is not my creation)

Like every country in the world, Spain has its fair share of myths, false stereotypes and misconceptions. Some of them are crazy and hard to believe, but others do contain a hint of truth:

1. Everyone in Spain takes siestas

Passed out after a long day in Barcelona, 2012

In the U.S., people tend to  associate Spanish people with siestas. It is generally thought that people in Spain nap everyday after work. This is an old tradition that still happens from time to time, usually among older people and in small towns. However, with new work schedules and busy lives, not many people have time for naps anymore. This is especially true in bigger cities, like Madrid and Barcelona. However, do keep in mind that many stores, restaurants, and even banks keep up with this tradition and close from 2pm-5pm.

2. Bull-fighting is very popular in Spain

Bullfight

My first and last bullfight in Madrid, 2012

Contrary to popular belief, going to bullfights is really not as common in Spain as one may think. Although you can easily book tickets to a bullfight in most Spanish cities, bullfighting does not seem to have the same passionate following as soccer, for example. With the whole region of Cataluña banning bullfighting a few years ago, less and less Spaniards are heading to the plazas de toros. I’d say that at least 70% of the Spanish people I’ve talked to here are strongly opposed to bullfights. The majority of these people are from my generation. However, if you look at the older generations, you will definitely see a stronger following. In spite of this, it still seems like bullfighting will continue to lose its popularity.

3. Flamenco is Everywhere

Flamenco show in La Cueva de la Rocío, Granada, 2012

Along with bull-fighting and siestas, flamenco is the other thing that comes to many people’s minds when they think of Spain. A popular form of folk music and dance, flamenco is from Andalucía, in southern Spain. Although it is possible to see flamenco shows or take flamenco classes throughout almost all of Spain, it does not occupy a large part of Spanish culture outside of Andalucía. The other Spanish Autonomous Communities have their own traditional music and dance. For example,  a common form of dance in Cataluña is the sardana and in Madrid, the chotis. 

In a recent conversation that I had with a friend from Madrid, J, we compared flamenco to country music and bluegrass in the United States. Throughout the country, many people listen to country music and bluegrass, but it is arguably more popular in the southern states, where it is originally from. Both types of music are forms of folk music that are often falsely attributed as the main traditional music genres in their respective countries.

4.Spaniards are lazy

A friend of a friend´s dog after a long Halloween, 2013

I have heard this one a few times in America and it seems to come from the siesta and the different work schedules that Spaniards have. This comes down to cultural differences. In America, we usually live to work, whereas most Spanish people work to live. Yes, in Spain people do tend to take more breaks during work and sit down longer to enjoy meals than we do in the U.S. But is it such a bad thing to relax and enjoy our lives a bit more? One thing I have learned from Spanish people and the Spanish way of life, is that we should slow down more and enjoy things. Life is short. However, due to the current economic crisis and job instability, many people, especially in Madrid, are working ridiculous hours. One of my friends typically works from 7AM to 9PM and sometimes even longer! In conclusion, there are hard-working people and lazy people everywhere.

5.There is nothing for vegetarians to eat in Spain. Only bread and wine.

vino

Wine with friends

As a 10-year vegetarian with a bottomless pit for a stomach, most people thought I would starve in Spain (or just get really drunk off of the wine). Although I have had my fair share of difficult times trying to find vegetarian food, I would not say it is impossible to live as a vegetarian or even a vegan in Spain. It’s actually quite easy and rewarding if you know the right places to look and what you can and can’t eat. With some many delicious fruits and vegetables available year-round, shopping in Spain can be a treat for vegetarians. The most difficult part of finding vegetarian food in Spain comes into play when we go to restaurants or eat at family or friends’ homes. I’ve found it to be equal to eating at restaurants or family or friends’ homes in the States. As long as I fully explain my diet, I usually end up leaving the restaurant or house very satisfied.

6. It is ALWAYS Sunny and Warm in Spain

In San Lorenzo de El Escorial, 2012

False false false! Despite all the advertisements you hear about vacations in “Sunny, warm, Spain,” not all of the country enjoys such beautiful weather. There is rain everywhere in Spain and most places endure cold weather during the winter. In some parts of Spain, you are even likely to encounter snow. Northern Spain is known for its less than perfect weather and whenever you ask people about the North, they will tell you that it always rains there. In Madrid, I’d say that it rains a lot less than where I’m from in Pennsylvania, but I still have experienced rain here quite a few times. Also, as the locals say: “siempre llueve durante Semana Santa.” (It always rains during Holy Week.) You are bound to get rained on in any part of Spain if you spend your Easter Break here. So, when you are planning a trip to Spain, make sure you bring an umbrella or a raincoat!

7. Spanish food is spicy.

Huevos rotos con patatas fritas y pimientos verde

Every year, many people come to Spain expecting to have their taste buds catch on fire. Every year, these people are disappointed and confused. Why, you may ask? They are probably confusing Spanish food with Mexican food.

Located on two different continents, Spanish food and Mexican food honestly do not have a lot in common. Truthfully, most Spanish people I´ve met do not even like Mexican food. The answer is usually that it is “too spicy.” Spanish cuisine is much milder and it thrives on comfort foods, like the tortilla española (a delicious egg, potato, and onion omelette that is a Spanish staple) and jamón ibérico (Spanish cured “Iberian” ham).

The “spiciest” thing I´ve ever eaten while I´ve been here are the pimientos de padrón. These scrumptious green peppers, which are usually served pan-fried in olive oil with salt sprinkled on top, inspired the popular saying: “pimientos de padrón, unos pican y otros no.” (Padrón peppers, some are spicy and others are not). I have nicknamed them the “mystery peppers” because you cannot tell if you will get a spicy pepper or a mild one. However, the “spicy” ones are really only mild on an American scale.

8. Spanish people don’t speak English

americandinner haha

“Sendy American Dinner” (Sandy’s American Diner?)

Compared to other European countries, the amount of people that speak English in Spain is low. According to a recent article published in the Huffington Post, only 13% of Spaniards admitted to having an advanced level of English on a survey administered by Cambridge. Historically, English was not the second language of choice for most Spaniards. Past generations had to study French. However, they did not dominate that language very well, either. Some people attribute this to long periods of isolation during Franco´s dictatorship. Many believe it is due to that fact that television and movies are always dubbed instead of just displaying subtitles. Others, such as the mother of one of my old students, claim that “Spaniards lack the necessary genes to learn languages.” I can´t say I agree with the latter.

While some of these reasons may be true, Spanish people nowadays place a lot of value on learning English. In fact, according to another Huffington Post Article, one in every four Spanish people would be willing to give up one year of sex to gain fluency in English. You can see the influence of English all over the country with American restaurants, Irish pubs, language schools, language exchange activities, and even the use of common English words in conversation. In addition to these initiatives to promote English language learning, the relatively new bilingual education program that has been implemented in many Spanish public schools has provided the younger generation a good grasp of the English language.

Despite all of these factors, I still do advise visitors and new-comers to Spain to learn a few Spanish words and phrases. Most children, teenagers, and people in their 20´s and 30´s know some English, but the majority of adults do not.

Have you ever heard any of these “myths” about Spain? Have you heard of any others?

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2 thoughts on “8 Common Myths and Misconceptions about Spain

  1. Hi,
    I agree with most of your points but most of all I agree with the point that “Spanish like bullfighting” – It is not true, most of them want to ban it (like they did in Barcelona)
    Nice article btw!
    Katy

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