A Brief Introduction to Spanish Culture, Traditions, and Beliefs
¿Conoces España? Spain has been a prominent country in world history for centuries. However, most people’s knowledge of Spanish culture and history is limited to what they learned about the conquistadors in history class.
Spain has an incredibly rich and diverse culture. Want to learn more? Let’s discover what the Spanish culture includes! We’ll cover everything from food to customs and traditions!
Spain: An Overview
Spain has played a crucial role in history for the last several centuries. Not only is it the birthplace of the world’s second most spoken language, but it also boasts a fascinating and multi-ethnic culture.
While the vast majority (90%) of Spaniards speak Spanish (or Castilian as they call it in Spain), three other languages are also prominent. Some people speak Spanish as their second language since their mother tongue is Catalan, Galician, or Basque.
Of the nearly 47 million Spanish citizens, 75% are Castilian and 16% are Catalan. The remaining two groups, Galician and Basque, make up about 9% of the population.
These ethnic groups and languages give Spain its diverse culture. Each of the country’s 17 regions has its own unique culture and geography. However, you can find rich history throughout the land. Tourists flock to the ancient castles, Roman structures, and medieval masterpieces, as well as the modern cities full of colorful art, music, and dance.
Similar to the government in the United Kingdom, Spain is ruled by a constitutional monarchy. The current king is Felipe VI. He and his wife, Letizia of Spain, have two daughters.
Fun facts about Spain
- The Spanish have the second-highest life expectancy rate in the world; the average person lives 83 years
- Spain is the second-largest country in the European Union
- 47 million people live in Spain, making it the country with the fifth-largest population in Europe
- Spain has 47 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Not all Spaniards speak Spanish
- Spain produces almost half of the world’s olive oil
- Dinner is not served until 9 p.m. at the earliest
- Siestas are an important part of each afternoon
- To celebrate the New Year, Spaniards eat a grape with family every time the bell tolls. Each of the 12 grapes represents a lucky month in the year to come.
Spanish Culture: Society
Spanish food is famous around the world for its delicious Medeterranean dishes.
The most well-known dish is paella, which has a rice base with a mix of meat, seafood, or vegetables. Saffron gives this crowd-pleaser its characteristic deep yellow color.
If you have ever talked to a Spaniard or someone who has gone to Spain, they probably raved about the tapas. However, tapas aren’t a specific dish but rather a style of eating.
You can have a wide variety of food served in the tapas form, which just means lots of small food portions for sharing with your friends. One delicious tapas option is patatas bravas, or “fierce potatoes.” They are spicy fried potatoes that come with ketchup, garlic mayonnaise, or paprika sauce.
If you enjoy hot soup, you might be surprised by the cold gazpacho from Andalucia. It is a tomato-based soup with peppers, olive oil, garlic, and bread. People eat it chilled in the heat of summer.
And, we can’t forget the famous tortilla! However, the Spanish tortilla looks nothing like the flour or corn tortillas you use to make tacos. In Spain, the tortilla is also called a Spanish omelet. The basic ingredients are potatoes and eggs, but you can also find tortillas with sausage, onions, olives, and peppers.
Other traditional Spanish foods include:
- Pimientos de Padrón – a type of pepper from Padrón, Spain
- Fideuá – a seafood dish like paella with noodles
- Jamón – ham
- Croquetas – fried pieces of leftover vegetables and meat combined with a bechamel sauce
- Albondigas – meatballs
- Migas – meaning crumbs, it is a mixture of water, bread, garlic, olive olive and paprika
- Bacalao – dried, salted codfish
- Fabada – bean stew
- Leche frita – fried milk, flour, and sugar
- Churros – fried-dough pastry
Spanish culture is full of incredible artists who have made a name for themselves worldwide.
The most famous Spanish artists include Picasso, Dali, and Goya. Their work has inspired people around the world to look at art in a new way.
If you have studied the Spanish language, you may have heard of Don Quixote. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra wrote this book over 400 years ago, and it’s still a classic, well-loved story.
While much of Spain’s architecture dates back several centuries, a more recent architect, Antoni Gaudí, made an incredible mark on Madrid and Barcelona. Born in the late 19th century, Guadi designed beautiful, whimsical structures that are still beloved today.
When it comes to Spanish music, iconic Flamenco guitar music and dancing draw interest from around the world. Other popular genres include zarzuela and the fandango.
Spanish Culture: Customs and Etiquette
While you may expect everyone to kiss on the cheek to greet each other, a handshake is more common among strangers or casual acquaintances. With more familiarity, you can expect a warmer greeting.
Between female friends, for example, a double kiss is socially acceptable and common. Male friends may give a hug with the handshake or warmly pat the other person’s arm.
In some formal settings, you may hear people introducing each other as Don or Doña. These titles roughly translate to “Mr.” and “Mrs.” but come before the first name, not the surname.
Speaking of names, the idea of middle names doesn’t exist in Spain. Each person typically has two first names.
When someone introduces themselves, they will often give both of their first names. However, you don’t have to call them by both names. Some people prefer them both together, while others prefer either just the first or the second name. You may even hear different people calling them various versions of their name!
The two first names are followed by two last names, the first one from the father and the second from the mother. Some women choose not to change their last name when they get married in order to carry on both parents’ names.
In the Spanish culture, you are expected to bring a gift when someone invites you to their house for dinner. Like in the United States, this can be anything from wine to flowers. If you choose flowers, make sure to get an odd number of them, but not 13 because it is unlucky! Also, avoid white lilies, red roses, and chrysanthemums. Don’t forget to bring regalitos (little gifts) for any children in the home, as well.
If you receive a present, open it immediately so you don’t offend the giver.
Be careful to stay away from taboo conversation topics, such as religion, bullfighting, and your business success.
Don’t make the “OK” sign with your hand! In Spain, it is a vulgar gesture.
Finally, don’t sit down in someone’s house or office until you are invited to take a seat.
Spanish Culture: Traditions and Celebrations
With a rich history comes diverse celebrations. One of the most prominent Spanish celebrations is Semana Santa, or Holy Week. Celebrated during Easter week, elaborate parades and spectacles fill the streets.
While you may associate Carnival with Brazil, Spain actually holds the second-largest celebration in the world every February. They celebrate the holiday in Santa Cruz, the capital of the Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The two weeks of Carnival are full of dancing, music, elaborate outfits, and Ash Wednesday traditions.
For a completely unique celebration, visit Buñol, a Valencian town. Near the end of August, the townspeople gather to celebrate La Tomatina by having a tomato fight. Everyone enjoys throwing and smashing each other with tomatoes, resulting in a glorious red mess.
More incredible holidays include:
- Día de los reyes magos
- Saint Fermin and the running of the bulls
- Festa major de Gràcia
- The Fallas of Valencia
- La Feria de Sevilla
- Cristianos y Moros
Spanish Culture: Beliefs
Religion is a major part of Spanish culture. Everywhere you go, you will see cathedrals, religious processions, and sacred jewelry or apparel.
The majority of Spaniards are Catholic, but that number is decreasing each year. While it used to be about 90%, the percentage of Catholics is down to 68.5%. More people are becoming irreligious (16.8%) and atheist (9.6%) each year. Other religions make up a small fraction of the population.
Nevertheless, Catholic holidays and traditions are still popular throughout the country.
Family is a crucial part of Spanish culture. Years ago, the nuclear and extended family would live together under one roof, strengthening the familial bond.
While the family is still a vital part of the culture, most families no longer live with their extended relatives. In fact, the average family size has been steadily decreasing. Nevertheless, kids are still taught the traditional values of respect and obedience, especially for the elders.
In the families, traditional male and female roles are changing, and now both parents take more equal roles in parenting and general responsibilities. With drastic changes over the past few decades, Spanish women have become more independent and more likely to pursue their own career.
School for the children officially begins at age six and goes to 16. However, some families choose to put their children in preschool. Once the kids have finished studying, they can go on to high school, start working, or get vocational training.
What Do You Think about Spanish Culture?
We want to hear from you! Comment below with your favorite part of Spanish culture, or something that you’ve experienced first-hand in Spain!
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