It’s September and most people are back at work and school, so let’s get stuck into your Spanish classes with Part One of my A-Z of Spain!
A is for August
The hallowed holiday month of August sees very little work done in Spain. With summer temperatures peaking, August is the time when Spaniards start complaining about the heat and go on holiday, en masse. All of the summer months should be considered perfectly suitable for summer holidays, right? Sorry, no. In Spain, it’s August that’s exclusively reserved for holidays. Your boss may even put pressure on you to take most of your holiday allowance in this special month. Offices across the country turn into desolate wastelands. Make sure you get important business or paperwork done before then. Otherwise you risk receiving month-old out-of-office messages. This holiday period is such an institution that a colleague looked at me in disbelief when I told him I was going to a friend’s wedding in August. “How selfish!”, he responded “Having to attend a wedding in August will spoil all your holiday plans”. So you’ve heard it here first, folks. Don’t invite your Spanish colleagues to an August wedding if you don’t want to ruin their sacred vacaciones.
B is for Beer
Spain is famous around the world for its excellent wine. But you’d be surprised to find out just how popular beer is here. La cerveza is the go-to drink for all occasions: at the beach, after work, you name it. It’s all about the cañas. In contrast to hearty British pints or hefty German Masse (more on them later), beer in Spain is usually served in smaller measures. The quarter-liter-bottle cañas make excellent sense, too, when you consider the hot weather. Smaller beers don’t get warm in the Spanish sun. This is very important as people like it ice-cold here. When describing the room-temperature ales we drink in the UK, I have been met with both shock and disgust in Spain.
Some popular brands: Mahou in Madrid, Barcelona-brewed Estrella, and of course the ubiquitous San Miguel. I’ve also seen lots of people quaffing cheap, pseudo-German beers called Finkelfürzen and Bremgürbler (okay I’m making those up). Now I’ve never seen such brands inside the land of the Reinheitsgebot, but they sure market themselves as famous German beers here. Personally, I strongly recommend trying Malquerida, the unloved one. This is a refreshing and fruity beer created by Ferran and Albert Adrià, the Spanish chef brothers of El Bulli fame. Honestly, one of the yummiest beers around.
C is for café con leche
Basically, coffee with milk. This is the hot beverage of choice in Spain. Like a latte but with less milk, coffees here are a lot smaller than what we’re used to in the UK, but much cheaper, too. The going rate for a coffee in Spain is between €1.20 to €2, and more only if it’s a speciality coffee or it’s sold in a terrifically hipster café. So here in Spain it’s really affordable to get your daily caffeine fix. Aside from your regular café con leche you can ask for a cortado, an espresso cut with a little bit of milk, or the lonely café solo (espresso). Really, though, “there’s nothing quite like a relaxing cup of café con leché”, as Madrid’s ex-mayor Ana Botella asserted in the city’s 2012 bid for the Olympics, in this viral video:
D is for Dressing for the Season (even if it pains you)
People here definitely dress for the season and not for the weather. It’s approaching October and no self-respecting Spaniard would be seen dead wearing sandals once autumn arrives, even if it’s 20 °C. Similarly, even in May when it’s warm and sunny enough for any Brit to go the beach, true Spaniards will not be sporting shorts. In a futile attempt to look less of a clueless foreign guiri I’ve tried dressing for the season, too, but ultimately come to the conclusion it’s not for me. If I start wearing jeans and a jumper in October in Spain I turn into a red-faced, sweaty mess. My freckles give me away, anyway. Plus, I love summer clothes. I will wear them until the bitter end, even if it marks me out as a Northern lass.
E is for Earrings for babies
I recently found out that when baby girls are born in Spain, in addition to the trauma of having just been pushed out into the world, they immediately get their ears pierced.I’ve never heard of this being done in the UK and it shocked me to the core. I had to plead with my parents to let me get my ears pierced when I was 10. But here it seems Spanish babies don’t have a choice. In fact, you had better tell the hospital if you don’t want your daughter’s ears pierced or they’ll assume you do. Why? For convenience, because the child will probably want their ears pierced as an adult anyway? What about the pain? Or is it a way of telling a baby girl from a baby boy? I’m not sure how I feel about it myself. The jury remains out on this one.
F is for Fiesta
One of the many things Spain knows how to do well is party. For a start, Spain has 14 public holidays a year, one of the most generous allowances in Europe. Then of course there are the terrific Fiestas Mayores that each neighbourhood celebrates, and don’t even get me started on Christmas, when many children receive gifts not on one but on three days.
G is for Guiri (pronounced ghee-ree)
This is like ‘foreigner’, but a very specific type of foreigner. A guiri is a non-Spanish speaker from a Northern European country, or also a word used for places and things. For instance, that really authentic-looking tapas place you just found, with the legs of jamón dangling from the ceiling? Yeah, totally guiri. That bum bag you just bought, yes, sorry, that’s super guiri, too. In summary, anything which makes you look like a tourist, or anywhere/anything designed with mainly tourists in mind, is guiri. Although sometimes used as an insult, with its connotations of some clueless idiot who has no knowledge or interest in Spain, guiri is often used in a neutral, matter-of-fact way for someone or something that doesn’t look like a local. I’m the stereotypical guiri, with my pale skin, love of summer clothes when it’s cool and penchant for sangria at all times of the year. Oh, well, there’s also my cringe-worthy love for Enrique Iglesias and his ilk..
H is for Horario intensivo
What the rest of the world calls normal working hours. This ‘intensive timetable’ refers to the practise of starting the day earlier and having a reduced lunch break in order to finish work earlier. This is most commonly implemented in the summer months, especially August. In my case, this meant my usual office hours from 10am – 8pm (with a two-hour lunch break) were compressed into 9am – 6pm. As you can see, a more normal-looking working schedule. We could do with more of this.
I is for Islands
One of the many fantastic things about Spain is that it has a wealth of beautiful islands. You can enjoy nature (and wild parties) on the gorgeous Balearic islands of Ibiza, Mallorca or Menorca, or, further out, the volcanic Canary islands off the coast of the Sahara, like Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. Las Islas Canarias are especially interesting for their microclimates. You can visit a lush green forest, impressive sand dunes, and barren moon-like landscapes all in one day, on one island. These dramatic and diverse landscapes have made these islands set pieces in various films and every year continue to attract millions of Spanish and foreign tourists, hungry for the year-round sunshine. Las Canarias are also home to the world’s second largest carnival after Rio de Janeiro’s which takes place every February in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. If you need more reasons to visit, check out these 10 fun facts about the Canary Islands. I’ve got myself all excited now – I think I need to book a holiday!
J is for Joder (pronounced ho-der)
Spaniards generally seem to have quite a relaxed attitude to swearing. There’s a colourful range of options to choose from. To start with there’s joder ‘fuck’. ‘Coño (cunt) is less often used to insult someone than to express something like/fucking hell). Then there’s the classic hijo de puta (son of a bitch). Somewhat surprisingly, there’s also lots of religious ones, like hostia, literally, the communion bread. But the Spanish use it more like “bloody hell”. Of course, there’s also combos like hostia puta (holy fuck) or me cago en la hostia (I shit on the communion bread),or even me cago en la leche (I shit in the milk). Surely there’s few other languages with more poop- and religion-related swear words!
K is for kisses
In Spain it’s customary to greet people with two air-kisses, one on each cheek. Okay, that’s if the two people are female. Actually, no, it can be a male and a female too. But you don’t do this much really in professional settings. Apart from the times when you do. Oh, it’s a minefield. Here’s the stuff I’ve done wrong: do it in the wrong setting, or neglect to offer the kisses when they are required and leave someone hanging in the air, lips pursed. When I taught English I’d go to give a private class in a client’s house. Both the child I’m there to teach and the parents answer the door. Do I do the kisses? Wait, I’m there for professional reasons. Yes, but I come to their house every week. If I do the kisses should I kiss the child or the parents first? So do I just kiss the child? Can’t make the child feel unloved if it’s waiting for its beso, can I? If any readers could advise on proper kissing etiquette, please let me know in the comments. You’d think I’d have it down by now, but even after four years of living here, I still feel a bit of an awkward Brit.
L is for loooooong days
Before coming to Spain I had never experienced such sleep deprivation. The main reason for this is that the traditional working day is so long. Although lots of companies are adjusting their timetables to the rest of Europe, it’s still quite common for lunch breaks to last two or even three hours. It sounds good to have a long, leisurely lunch, in theory. It does give you time to eat the habitual three-course meal for lunch (more on that later). But it also means that most people don’t finish work until about 7 or 8 pm. So prime time TV doesn’t start until 10pm at the earliest, just after you’ve eaten dinner. Which means you go to sleep at silly o’clock every night.
Incidentally, given its location, Spain should be on GMT. But Spain’s late dictator Franco turned the clocks forward in solidarity with his allies, Nazi Germany. The unusual working hours have other roots in the to the 1936-1939 civil war, when people had to work two or more jobs just to make ends meet. The country’s chronic sleep deprivation is attested to is a 2013 study, which revealed that Spaniards sleep 53 minutes less than the average European. So don’t think they’re lazy because they’re taking a siesta, they’re just catching up on their sleep.
On that note, I’ll leave you for now, folks.
I hope you’ve enjoyed part one of my A-Z of Spain. Check back next week for Part 2!
Sending you sunshine and positivity from Barcelona.
I still haven’t started writing next week’s post. Does anyone have any suggestions for the remaining letter M-Z?