Spanish Culture and Customs

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It’s only when you live in a country you discover its charming peculiarities - having lived in 3 very different countries I can honestly say each has traditions and customs that foreigners might find hard to understand. Here in Catalunya in northeast Spain, people share some Spanish customs but they also have some entirely of their own.
 

  • El Tió de Nadal...well, this is a really Catalan Christmas tradition. It is in fact a log, (large or small) which represents a character in Catalan mythology but is also to be found in Aragon. The log has 4 thin wooden legs and a smiley face and it sports a little red sock style hat. From 8th December, the log is given little things “to eat” and is covered with a red blanket to keep it warm. On Christmas Eve the family encourage the log to “shit”...please excuse the language … by beating it with sticks and singing Christmas songs. Children are the required to leave the room and go to pray that El Tió brings lots of presents while the parents place small items such as chocolates, sweets and little toys under the blanket. These are then distributed to the delight of the children. I have to say, for me it is a very strange custom but I have become used to seeing little smiling logs everywhere.
     
  • The ART of Queuing is considered to be a forte of the British, but in fact the Spanish are experts and have their own way of waiting to be served. They may not form an orderly line and people will often wander off to chat to someone, but when a new person come is in, they always ask “quien es el ultimo?” or “who is the last person?” This way everyone knows who is before them and there is rarely any queue barging. This courtesy is used less and less with the introduction of ticket machines - hopefully it won’t disappear altogether.
     
  • “Adios” means “goodbye” and “hello•”! This can be confusing when you come to live in Spain. Most non Spaniards will know “adios” is “goodbye”, but don't be surprised when you see people you know in the street who acknowledge you with an “adios.” Really they are saying “I know who you are but I am in a hurry and don’t have time to chat now.” “Adios” is a much quicker method of saying all of that!
     
  • The Spanish, in common with the French and other southern European nationals buy fresh bread every day, usually a barra or pistola which are baguettes. Bread is a very important part of every meal. It is interesting that the British tend to eat bread at breakfast and in between meals (sandwiches, rolls, etc) but not usually with the meal itself.
     
  • When we talk about Spanish culture, we have to mention bullfighting. This is not for the faint hearted and whether one might consider it to be morally wrong or not, it is very much part of Spanish life. The Bull itself is an endemic part of Spain, being revered by the ancient Iberians in prehistoric eras. Later, Greek and Roman influences brought about large scale spectacles with bulls and it is thought that bullfighting evolved from these.
     
  • Family and family meals are an important part of culture throughout Spain. It is normal for all members to sit down and eat together once a day and those who live too far away will normally return home at the weekends to join in. Weekend family get togethers can last for hours and serve to bring together the different generations.
     
  • GRAPES on the strike of midnight on New Year’s Eve. A fun Spanish custom and not easy to perform, is to swallow 12 grapes, one on each strike of the clock at midnight on 31st December to see in the New Year. Participants are presented with a small bag containing 12 seedless grapes - it is said that this idea was thought up by the grape producers who wanted to sell more of their crop. Whatever the origin, it is very amusing trying to down all 12 in time - not many people manage to do it.
     
  • La Siesta is more than just a custom, it is a necessary part of the Spanish day, particularly in summer when it is extremely hot outside and life northern Europeans would spend out of the home in the afternoons is impossible in Spain. The whole Spanish day runs later than a British one and in the south you can go shopping at 11.00 pm or wander out to a tapas bar or restaurant at midnight. Contrary to what many believe, the actual siesta should be no more than a catnap of around 20 minutes for maximum benefit.
     
  • Kissing and shaking hands. The Spanish don’t go in for kissing quite as much as the French, though women who know each other will kiss on each cheek, from left to right. It is quite normal for men to embrace each other and pat each other’s shoulder. Whatever the situation, you should always shake hands when being introduced to someone or meeting someone you know.
     
  • Christmas Eve or “Noche Buena” is when the Spanish traditionally eat their main Christmas meal before going to Midnight Mass, after which they go into the streets and  play music on guitars and drums. There is a saying…”Esta noche es Noche Buena, Y no es noche de dormir” which means “Tonight is a good night and not meant for sleeping.”

Further reading for Living In Spain

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Finding work

There are a number of ways that UK expats can fund their lifestyle in Spain.

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Social life in Spain

Find out as much as you can about your new community and find new friends.

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Heathcare

Arrange health insurance and locate your new local hospitals and practices.

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Education in Spain

Emigrating with school-age children? Learn more about schooling in your local area.

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