Spain has a fascinating history and an enchanting culture. Once you enter Spain, you find that life does not have to be hectic and overwhelming. Here, people take their time, appreciate the world, travel around, work, and enjoy delicious food. In fact, Spain has invested in excellent higher education institutions, attracting thousands of international students each year. Apart from a unique culture, part of what defines Spain is also its beaches, picturesque villages, eye-catching architecture, old towns and, last but not least, welcoming people.
Here’s everything you need to know about Spanish culture and traditions:
Spanish Culture and Customs
The people in Spain are very friendly and welcoming, not only to each other but also internationals. Spanish families are warm and lively; gatherings are also quite fun – you will see people talking to one another (sometimes even loudly). Extended family members visit each other during the weekends, and you will often find older people playing checkers on the sidewalks. People in the village typically live in houses, while city life is more about flats. Teenagers usually attend sporting events, go to the movies, hang out in the city square, or simply hang out with friends in cafes during their free time. It is rather simple to feel at home in Spain precisely because people are welcoming, friendly, and warm.
If Spain is known for anything – other than football, beaches, and festivals – it’s the Spanish cuisine. Traditional Spanish dishes include the famous paella (a rice dish), tortilla, gazpacho, as well as complementary tapas (that go quite well with a drink at a bar). Among common ingredients are olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, or seafood. Generally, Spain contains a wide array of culinary specialties. Spanish cuisine is one of the significant representatives of the Mediterranean diet, which is low in red meat, processed meat, and refined sugars. Other famous Spanish dishes include Pimientos de Padrón (type of pepper), Fideuá (seafood dish), Albondigas (meatballs), and Churros (fried-dough pastry), to name a few.
Festivals and celebrations are also among the many things that define Spanish culture. This country hosts numerous fantastic festivals throughout the year, bringing together thousands of locals and internationals. So naturally, people usually look forward to these ‘fiestas,’ and the ambiance is simply outstanding when the time comes.
Some of the many Spanish traditional and cultural festivals/celebrations include:
- La Tomatina (people throw tomatoes – yes, tomatoes – at each other, creating a large mass of tomato puree).
- Semana Santa (the Spanish celebration for Holy Week right before Easter).
- Las Fallas De Valencia (a traditional celebration held yearly in Valencia, in commemoration of Saint Joseph).
- Festa Major De Gracia (a cultural street fair in the village of Gracia).
Spain is known worldwide, for its artists, across several fields of art – painting, music, writing, etc. Diego Velazquez, Francisco Goya, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dali are only some of the names that have made the rounds in the world as inspiring artists. Spanish author, Miguel de Cervantes, wrote the famous classic Don Quixote around 400 years ago. Meanwhile, the famous Flamenco music and dance have their own special flair. Flamenco is a living art that has gained the attention of the world due to its uniqueness. It is characterized by hand-clapping, foot-stomping, and encouraging shouts – which are just a few of the things that make it special.
Spaniards have two surnames: the father’s paternal family name and the mother’s paternal family name. Moreover, people also have two personal names, and the second name does not always reflect the individual’s gender – the first one should, the second one doesn’t have to. Tradition has it that the first surname is the father’s family name, while the second is the mother’s family name. But this can be changed if the individual wishes to. Generally, the father’s name is used to address people, as is the person’s first name (not the second). In addition, Spanish women usually do not adopt their husband’s surnames at marriage.
6. Spanish Siesta
The Spanish siesta might just be one of the main things that define Spaniards. ‘Siesta’ is a short nap, taken in the early afternoon, after the midday meal. This is a common tradition in countries where the weather is warm, i.e., Spain. Historically, the nap was taken during the hottest hours of the day, so people who worked in farming could avoid the midday sun. This post-lunch break is common in urbanized Spain as well, although to a way smaller extent. Nevertheless, the ‘siesta’ is a fascinating part of Spanish history, and you will often find a few smaller shops closed during the midday for their afternoon rest.
Spanish Values and Community
Etiquette in Spain is probably similar to your home country. You are expected to greet people whenever you enter a store or establishment. When meeting people, such as acquaintances, a handshake is quite common. Between friends, a double kiss on the cheeks is rather common. Overall, it is simply important to be nice, regardless of the greeting form. Although it is highly important to be on time for social events, it is often okay even if you are a bit late. If you apologize, people are likely to respond with “no pasa nada” (meaning – it’s okay).
When someone invites you to their house for dinner, you are expected to bring a gift. Whether it is wine, chocolate, or flowers – you choose. People usually also get little gifts (e.g., little treats) for any children in the household.
The majority of the population in Spain is Catholic. Although the number used to be up to 90% of the population, nowadays it is somewhere just above 60% of the population. More and more people are becoming non-believers and atheists. However, religion is rather important for Spaniards. While in Spain, you will see cathedrals, sacred apparel, and religious processions anywhere you go. Catholic holidays and traditions are also highly valued and popular among the population, although the percentage of religious Spaniards has decreased. There are also other religions in Spain; however, only a small percentage of the population belongs to a religion other than Catholicism.
3. Languages and Dialects
The official language of Spain is Spanish (Castilian), which is the predominant language in almost all the autonomous communities of Spain. Moreover, six of the sixteen autonomous communities have their own co-official languages, in addition to Spanish. For example, the main ones are the autonomous regions of Basque Country, Catalonia, and Galicia, where co-official languages are Basque (euskera), Catalan (català), and Galician (galego). The Valencian community also has a co-official language known as Valencian; however, it is considered a Catalan dialect by some linguistic groups.
In addition, you can also expect to find Spaniards who speak English as a second language. In fact, in popular tourist destinations, like Barcelona or Madrid, English is widely spoken.