10 things you probably did not know about Spanish culture


Paella, Flamenco music and dance, bullfights, Sagrada Familia or CF Real Madrid. Spain is and has been for thousands of years, one of the cultural centers of Europe. Spain is well known for its rich cultural heritage, its beautiful landscape and its friendly people. With a wide range of cultural expressions Spain has a bunch of surprises to make of your study abroad program time a memorable experience, thus we wanted to bring together 10 things you probably did not know about Spanish Culture in order to know in full detail how and why “Spain is different!” (a well-known saying within Spaniards).

1. Spanish Language

If you opted for Spain because of you wanted to learn the Spanish language, we tell you that in terms of the number of speakers and dominance, the most prominent of the languages of Spain is Spanish (Castilian), spoken by about 99% of Spaniards as a first or second language but it is likely that according to the area you reside you will find billboards, news or even books written in other languages like Catalan (or Valencian) which is spoken by 19%, Galician by 5%, and Basque by 2% of the population. Spanish is official throughout the country; the rest of these languages have legal and co-official status in their respective communities, this is the case of Catalan and Galician, they are the main languages used by the Catalan and Galician regional governments and local administrations. A number of citizens in these areas consider their regional language as their primary language and Spanish as secondary.

2. La Siesta (meaning nap)

Since lunch is the biggest meal of the day in Spain, people are used to eating a lot at lunchtime. It has been proven that after a large meal, much of our blood goes to the stomach to help with digestion and decrease blood flowing to the brain making you feel drowsy and tired. The Mediterranean climate, characterized by warm/hot and dry summers makes Spain usually experiences high temperatures at midday making any activity at this time a real struggle. These two facts combined explain why the majority of businesses and stores close between 2 and 4 p.m. so employees can go home, eat, and take a rest or a “siesta” during the hottest part of the day. Spaniards are quite used to having the city grind to a halt for a few hours in the middle of the day, however, foreigners often find “siesta time” frustrating for finding stores closed when they might have planned on walking around or shopping. Now you know: find a calm-quiet place, lay down and enjoy your 20 or 30 minutes of “la Siesta”.

3. La Tomatina

By far, one of the most iconic festivals in Spain! Essentially it is a huge food fight, where the weapons are 150,000 tomatoes. La Tomatina takes place on the last Wednesday of August each year and attracts crowds of revelers onto the streets in the humble village of Buñol in order to get a chance to take part of this celebration. There is no official version of how La Tomatina started, but the tradition has taken place in Buñol almost since 1944. There is, among the possibilities being considered: a food fight among friends on summer vacation, unhappy fans throwing tomatoes to the artist because of a poor performance, a democratic protest against the city mayor and the simplest one a rollover truck which was charged full of tomatoes. Whatever the cause was, our folks of Buñol obviously found a mighty idea how to attract between 40,000 to 50,000 people from all over the world every year.


4. L’Oceanogràfic

The largest and best ranked aquarium in Europe is located in Valencia. With a surface of 110,000 square meters and a water capacity of 42,000,000 liters hosts around 45,000 animals of 500 different species including fish, mammals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates — among these are sharks, penguins, dolphins, sea lions, walruses, beluga whales, and more — all inhabiting nine underwater towers. Each tower is structured in two levels and represent the major ecosystems of the planet. It must be noted that all the sea water is pumped from the beach of La Malva-Rosa having passed all of the necessary requirements for quality.

5. Restaurante Botín (The oldest restaurant in the world)

The oldest restaurant in the world is located in Madrid. Botín Restaurant, which was founded in 1725, is the oldest in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records and one of the touchstones of Madrid’s traditional cuisine. Spanish people are very fond of food and Spanish cuisine is one of the biggest assets for Spanish culture when it comes to promote visiting the Kingdom of Spain. Spanish cuisine has won numerous awards and recognition over the years and even though it is not customary to tip in Spain, locals will appreciate your recognition to its majestic meals and outstanding service. The next time you are in Spain will know why Spaniards usually say “Barriga llena, corazón contento”, which translates to “A full belly and a happy heart”!

6. More tourists than locals

Being that it is the 3rd most visited country in the world (around 80 million tourists last year), here tourists outnumber locals. Spain is a destination that gives a tropical feel in Europe, this country relies heavily on tourism which accounts for 11% of its annual GDP. Spain combines the comforts of European travel along with magnificent beaches on the Atlantic and Mediterranean, historical sites and lively festivals and carnivals. The most popular cities are Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville and many UNESCO world heritage sites also see a large number of tourists. Guggenheim Museum is one of the modern architectural wonders around the world. The maximum number of visitors to Spain comes from Western European countries of UK, France, and Germany and domestic tourists also contribute a significant amount to the revenue. Malaga in Spain is one of the cities with best weather conditions in the world. It is worth to highlight that street cleaners play an important part in Spain. Sidewalks literally get swept and mopped every night.

7. 1 out of every 6 top beaches in the world are located in Spain.

Nevertheless, Spain delivers high quality facilities and accommodations, there will come a time when all you want to do is flop on some sand (preferably soft and golden) with the sound of waves breaking in your ears and a hot sun blazing overhead. Spain is worldwide recognized for their blue waters and cleanliness beaches. Spain has more than 8,000 beaches, one more tantalizing than the next. Spain beaches got it all: dazzling sand, sparkling turquoise water, and gourmet restaurants around that guarantees a good meal where fish is the specialty without distinction.

8. Ratoncito Pérez (Perez the Mouse)

Children in Spain don’t believe in the tooth fairy, instead they believe in a mouse named Ratoncito Pérez. Perez the Mouse is a popular figure in Spanish and Hispanic American cultures, originating in Madrid in 1894. As is traditional in some English-speaking countries, when a child loses a tooth it is customary for him or her to place it under the pillow, so that Ratoncito Pérez will exchange it for a gift. The tradition is almost universal in Spanish cultures, but takes different forms in different areas. He is known as “Ratoncito Pérez” in Spanish speaking countries, with the exception of some regions of Mexico, Guatemala, Peru and Chile, where he is called “el Ratón de los Dientes” (The Tooth Mouse), and in Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay and Colombia, he is known simply as “El Ratón Pérez”.


09. Tibidabo: 512 meters mountain in Barcelona

Tibidabo is a mountain overlooking Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. At 512 meters (1,680 ft), it is the tallest mountain in the Serra de Collserola. Rising sharply to the north-west, it has views over the city and the surrounding coastline. The summit of the mountain is occupied by the Sagrat Cor church (the church took 60 years to construct and is topped by a sculpture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) and adjacent Tibidabo Amusement Park (100 years old and one of the oldest in the world). Both are prominently visible from most of the city of Barcelona. Designed by Enric Sagnier. Tibidabo can be reached via the Tibidabo Funicular, which was the first of its kind in Spain, and by the Tramvia Blau or road. Definitely check it out!

10. Random facts

In Spain, people are often referred to as Don or Doña and their first name within formal occasions. Traditionally, you have two surnames in Spain: the first surname from your father, and the second from your mother. There are fewer marriages in Spain than in any other EU country, except Sweden. The majority of Spaniards are formally Roman Catholic, although different religious beliefs are accepted. Of all the interesting facts about Spain, this one is perhaps the most bizarre. On May 15th all the single women in Madrid visit the chapel called Ermita de San Isidro to prick their fingers with pins and put it in a vessel, in order to find a husband.

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