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8 Things About Spain That I, A Spaniard, Thought Should Be Explained To Americans

Let me SPLAIN you a couple of things.

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1. Semana Santa (Easter).

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You may have seen this on Mission Impossible 2. It’s that weird celebration where some people – not everybody, by the way; just a group who call themselves nazarenos – dress kind of like the KKK. But they started doing this literally hundreds of years ago, so no connection whatsoever.

Anyway, schools close for like a week and there are a couple of bank holidays, but it’s not really THAT big outside of Andalucía (although it is absolutely a thing in places like Aragón or Extremadura). Some people march with crosses, statues and so on – most of the people go on holidays.


What you think it is: Some weird-ass, scary, racist ritual.

What it actually is: Some weird-ass, scary, non-racist ritual.

2. Paella.

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Quick: think about paella. Got it? Cool. That’s definitely not paella. Seriously. Does it have seafood? Not paella. Does it have some kind of fish? Not fucking paella. Do you know what’s on a traditional paella? Chicken and rabbit. I. Shit. You. Not.

Well, to be honest, there’s a huge debate in Spain about what exactly constitutes a paella (I mean, there’s even a debate about what constitutes Spain, so, you know). Oh, by the way, paella is actually the pan where the dish is cooked (but nobody calls it that, everybody says paellera).


What you think it is: Yellow rice served with anything.

What it actually is: An ongoing debate. And a pan.

3. Toreo (Bullfighting).

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It’s a Spanish tradition, but not one most Spanish people are proud of. Some cities are banning it, and some villages are changing any festivals where animals are involved. Some are not, though, and you’ll find people that like bullfighting and even consider it an art.

So, especially between young people, it’s not the best way to start a conversation.


What you think it is: A tradition.

What it actually is: A tradition a lot of people don’t like.

4. Jamón (Ham).

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Yes, you are also wrong about good ol' jamón. But not in a bad way. To begin, unfortunately, we eat it less often than you think (and way less often than we’d like to). Yes, it’s typical. No, it’s not that cheap. The kind of ham that you had in a random restaurant when you came here? Yeah, that’s the cheap stuff.

I know what you’re thinking: «but it was delicious». I know. So imagine how awesome quality jamón ibérico must be. The problem is that you only get to eat it on special occasions, such as weddings, Christmas dinners, and so on. Bummer.


What you think it is: A delicious meal.

What it actually is: A meal even more delicious than you thought. Like you have no idea.


5. Sevillanas and flamenco.

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Nobody knows how to dance this. Most people from Andalucía might, but the rest of Spain? Not a fucking clue. We know the thing you do with the hands, though, but that’s it. And only because it resembles picking up an apple from a tree, eating it, and dumping it.

Same with flamenco, by the way. Yeah, we all know what it is, we’ve all listened to it, but that’s the extent of our knowledge. Those fancy places where you can see flamenco dancers? They are for tourists.


What you think it is: Something every person from Spain knows how to dance and/or sing.

What it actually is: Something nobody in Spain knows how to dance and/or sing.

6. Tapas.

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This is a tough one, but here it goes: Free tapas are more of a myth than you think. They do exist and they are really free in some places, but not all of Spain is a tapas paradise.

For example, both Madrid and Barcelona might disappoint with their free tapas. Madrid does have lots of places with free tapas, but in many places they range from underwhelming stupid chips to non-existent. And Barcelona? No free tapas for you there, sorry.

But wait! Not all hope is lost. If you find a good tapas spot, it’ll be worth your trip to Spain. If they’re not free, they will at least be cheap and the food here is amazing, so that’s something.


What you think it is: Free dinner with your drinks.

What it actually is: Lousy (free) chips with your drinks. Or cheap amazing food.

7. The weather.

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Sun? Check. Warmth? Check. Rainy, windy, snowy, shitty weather? You bet your ass. I’m not gonna lie, as I write this, on Oct. 26, the temperature in Madrid is 20 degrees and it’s expected to go up to 26 during the day. That’s 78.8 degrees on that nonsensical scale Americans use. But you can also expect freezing temperatures during the winter pretty much everywhere in Spain.

And let’s not forget about the heat either! This year we had our record: 47.3 degrees (117.14). That’s half the temperature water boils at.


What you think it is: Year-round sun.

What it actually is: We’ve got seasons too.