Spanish Culture - 2002
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Johnson Journal

Spanish Culture 2002

Spaniards are relationship/event-oriented people, not time/results-oriented people like Americans and other Western European peoples. Upon entering a room, and again on leaving, every person must be greeted individually. Two kisses, one on each cheek, is the norm. (Men shake hands with men.) Spaniards also take quite seriously the "give my greetings to so-and-so", and will later ask you if you delivered the message.

Things move s-l-o-w-l-y, especially if it has to deal with any kind of government office, bank or skilled tradesmen (plumber, auto repair, carpenter, etc.). The workday starts around 9:00 a.m., then breaks around 11:00 for a hefty snack (what most Americans would eat for a light lunch), and again at 1:30 or 2:00 for lunch. Many people still go home for lunch, which is the main meal of the day. Work starts up again between 4:00 and 5:00, ending around 8:00. Many of the men stop by at one of the innumerable cafes/bars for hors doeuvres (called tapas in Spain), making it home for dinner around 9:00 or 10:00. Children go to school from 9:00 to 12:00/12:30 and then 2:00/3:00 to 4:00/5:00. After tenth grade, kids have to decide whether they are going to study a trade, or prepare for university, as the school tracks are very different after that. Mandatory schooling is through age 16, and many who start never continue through to the end of the university preparatory track.

The Spanish culture is fun loving, with a big emphasis on vacations and free time. Just about every Spaniard has four weeks of vacation, and three-fourths of them take it in August. The other fourth usually take theirs in July. Many businesses close down the entire month of August, and basic grocery shopping becomes a challenge in some places. The beach is the number one attraction for the summer months (the mountains are number two), and anyone who still has pale skin by mid-June is subject to the typically blunt Spaniards comments, "You dont look too good. You have to spend more time at the beach." After May, no one wears pantyhose, and during the noonday siesta, one can spot many ladies out on their terraces, sunning their legs. Pantyhose only go back on when the chilly October rains force the issue.

Spaniards speak loudly, and are quick to argue. But much of what seems to be a quite heated argument is forgotten just as quickly. It is simply their manner of communication. If someone is indeed offended by something, however, he will carry that grudge for a very long time. "Personal space" is much less in the Spanish culture than in the North American context; people here will stand very close to you when carrying on a conversation. In a group meeting or social gathering in a home, a far larger number of people will be squeezed into a small area than North Americans would ever dream of or be comfortable with. I-louses and apartments also tend to be much smaller on average than in North America.

Spaniards are typically slow to take leadership, but want very much to have a say in how things are run. It is very important in a meeting that everyone has an opportunity to speak his mind, even if he only repeats what the preceding 25 others have said. If not given that chance, he likely will be offended.

The appearance of people is very western and trendy: blue jeans for young people, suits for businessmen, dresses or skirts for women. Black and red are classic colors here, although fluorescents are popular with the youth. Shoes and purses are almost always black or dark brown, even in the summer. Glittery touches are popular on accessories, and to trim blouses, etc. Young women tend to dress rather more sensually in Spain than in North America.

On the family front the nuclear family, with the aging grandparents also in the home, is the norm. There is still somewhat of a social stigma attached to sending members of your family to the old folks home, although the practice is increasing. Children stay at home until they marry, which is increasingly later (now around 26 for the men, 23 or so for the women). Moms at home often wait hand and foot on the family: there are few other household chores. (Nearly everyone lives in apartment buildings, so there are no lawns to mow and few outside maintenance chores.) The dog must be walked several times a day, though. (Cats are considerably less popular in Spain than dogs!) Many families are under great stress and divorce is on the increase. Many young people are choosing to live together without getting married. Even with these factors, the married children spend time weekly with their parents, usually sharing a meal over the weekend.

When it comes to work, everyone who can, does, although many wives still stay at home. Teenage children are expected to work if not in school, and contribute to the family~ s income, although it can be difficult for them to find a job. Unemployment in Spain is currently at 14%, but the percentage is higher for young people, as high as 45-50% in some areas. Since young adults stay at home until they marry, they are usually expected to contribute to the income of the family unit.

As for holidays, no one can keep track of all of them. Every time you turn around there is another one, and often Spaniards arent sure just what it is for! Big ones are New Years Day, Three Kings Day (the Wise Men, Jan. 6), Easter Week, May Day, Corpus Cristi, Day of the Assumption (of Mary), Spanish Heritage Day (Columbus Day), Day of the Immaculate Conception, Christmas. In addition, each area has its own patron saints day with big festivals and outdoor parties (if it is during warm months). Birthdays arent celebrated nearly as much as one~ s saints day. Most people are named after a Catholic saint, and on that saints holy day, the person celebrates with a party or whatever. On ones birthday it is important to invite others out to coffee, dessert, or a party--you have to throw your own party!

When it comes to buying groceries, there is everything from the large US-style supermarkets to small corner groceries to the local market. Enclosed and often occupying an entire square city block, in the market there are many kinds of stands to choose from: butchers, fruit and vegetable, legumes and nuts, olives and pickles, fish and seafood, poultry and egg, and delicatessens. It is important to take your place in line at each stand, asking who is the last person. If you fail to do so, it is as if you were not even there, and they will bypass your turn! The currency is the euro, currently valued at about 1.00 to the dollar (the euro, like the dollar, also has cents).

As for food, much is fried, although in the center of the country they also like roast meat. Try a potato and onion omelet (called a tortilla in Spain, not to be confused with the Mexican variety), rice, chicken, shellfish and/or rabbit dish (paella), or a cold vegetable puree soup (gazpacho). Salad is an ever-present feature: lettuce, tomatoes, and olives, served with salt, vinegar and olive oil. Dessert is usually fruit; sweets are reserved for company or snacking. Fruit trees around are almond, walnut, olive, cherry, apricot, loquat, persimmon, peach, orange, lemon, apple, custard apple, pear and plum. (You see why we eat fruit! And that doesnt mention melons, strawberries, grapes and, of course, bananas and pineapples from the Canary Islands.)

Public transportation is well developed with buses in all cities and subway systems in three major cities. City streets are always jammed with traffic, but the innumerable taxis seem to find a way through. Parking is always at a premium, especially in Madrid and Barcelona, where it is virtually impossible to find street parking in many areas of the city. Walking is also a common means of transportation in the cities; for short trips it is often the fastest and certainly the least crowded!