I’m back. And today we’re going to talk about some of the top Spanish stereotypes…
Along with my verdict as to whether they’re true or not.
There are a lot of common stereotypes about Spain and Spanish people out there.
What should we make of them?
Well, I’ve been living in Spain full-time for about two decades now, so I’ve got my opinions. So read on!
My usual caveat is that I’m not a sociologist, and this isn’t a textbook. It’s just my opinion as an expat in Spain, observing Spanish people for around half my life now.
Of course, if your kneejerk response to the title is something like “but all stereotypes are bad!” then you’re missing the point. Stereotypes are one of the first (and most important) ways our brains make sense of the world. Without generalizing, we’d simply be unable to navigate the constant uncertainty.
For example, I’m sure you know some Spanish people who consider themselves different than all other Spanish people – just like I could say, “Well, I’m not really your typical American.”
And maybe it’s true. But without making some sort of generalization, it’s hard to talk about Spanish or German or Italian people at all.
Every person is a world, as they say.
(Actually, in English we don’t say that. But in Spanish they do. Cada persona es un mundo. And I’m not sure I believe it, anyway. But hey. They say it.)
So with that long series of caveats behind us, let’s see some of these Spanish stereotypes.
Here’s the first one…
Spanish Stereotype: people are lazy
I think this one comes from the idea that people in Spain spend a lot of time out in the countryside, often sleeping the siesta under an olive tree.
And I suppose that stereotype might be true for some people in rural areas.
If you’re an agricultural worker and you start picking grapes at dawn, then you might just end up sleeping the siesta under tree at some point during the day.
But if you work at an office in Madrid or Barcelona, you probably do nothing of the kind. You end up eating a sandwich at your desk, or at most go out for a menú del día before getting back to work.
Big cities make it hard to get home for lunch and an hour-long nap. In smaller towns, the situation might be different. And if you’re a shopkeeper who closes from 2 to 5 in the afternoon, you can probably fit a little nap in. But there are a lot of people who don’t fit those stereotypes.
And are Spanish people lazy? I don’t really see it.
My verdict: not true.
Spaniards are eating paella all the time
Spanish people definitely have strong opinions about paella. Just ask Jamie Oliver, who almost started a whole diplomatic incident when he suggested putting chorizo in a paella a few years ago.
I was once told that it’s not real paella unless it’s got rabbit organs in it. Others say it’s gotta be made with seawater, fresh from the Mediterranean, or it doesn’t count.
But it’s not like they eat it every day.
It is true that a lot of families get together on Sundays for a long paella lunch. And restaurants where you can eat paella and its many variations abound.
Do yourself a favor if you’re travelling through: find a real “arrocería” with good reviews on Google Maps or TripAdvisor. Don’t go to whatever place on Plaza Mayor with pictures of the food out front: they’ll just serve you some frozen tourist-trap bullshit.
And don’t be afraid to spend a bit more. It’ll be worth it.
My verdict: partly true.
Spaniards are passionate lovers
This one is pretty prevalent, probably because a long history of Hollywood films about Zorro.
But are the Spanish really passionate lovers?
Well, lemme tell you… I’ve had some of the worst sex ever with Spanish girls. Nah, scratch that: all the worst sex ever with Spanish girls.
“Burning your sheets in a vacant lot” bad. “Sitting on the bottom of your shower sobbing after she leaves” bad.
You know what I mean.
Now, of course, I hear you saying, “But Mr Chorizo, you’re a balding bearded ginger. You must mean ‘sex with your right hand while looking at Rosalía’s Instagram profile’. Surely no Spanish woman would ever want you!”
And you’re probably right – not about Rosalía, but in principle. My statistical sample isn’t large enough to make some huge generalization about all 23 million españolas out there.
But let me tell you: to me, the stereotype of passionate Spanish lovers seems overblown.
Now, you might also hypothesize that I’m not the type of intense “Latin lover” who was able to bring out the wild side of those lovely ladies. I’m certainly no Antonio-Banderas-as-Zorro. And I guess I’m not one to argue with a good hypothesis.
But this isn’t about me: it’s about Spaniards. And while it does seem to be true (at least on the internet) that Spanish people have more sex than most other countries, I can’t say I’ve discovered a huge amount about passion out here. So…
My verdict: probably untrue.
Everyone loves bullfighting and flamenco
If you want to lose a few friends – and sometimes I do – tell them you secretly love bullfighting.
Most people under 50, both Spanish and international, will become violently angry at the idea.
But hey: I secretly love bullfighting, and I’ve said it on this blog before.
Those guys (and, occasionally, gals) are willing to put their lives on the line for their art. Contemplate that next time you’re ordering home-delivered burgers so you can sit around in your jammies watching Netflix.
Also, if you’re eating burgers but can’t bear to watch an animal die in person, you’re a hypocrite.
But in my experience, about 80% of people in Spain could care less about bullfighting – or actively want it abolished.
I’ve been to a few shows through the years. And I guess it’s big in Andalucía. But once again, it’s not really mainstream among people under 50, or people north of Madrid.
More than one Spanish person has expressed frustration (to me, of all people) about the scene in Vicky Cristina Barcelona in which the American girls go to see a flamenco show in Oviedo, Asturias. “Don’t you Americans know any better?” they say. “Nobody in the north spends their time at flamenco shows!”
As if everything Woody Allen did were my fault for some reason.
Anyway, both bulls and flamenco are prominent in the literature and films about “Spain as an exotic tourist destination”. And bullfighting definitely used to be huge all over. Just ask Orwell.
But these days, it’s definitely not considered politically correct family entertainment.
And flamenco seems to be mostly tourist-oriented, at least in the northern half of Spain. You can go see a tablao here in Barcelona, but I’m pretty sure not many native Catalans do. It’s mostly for the guiris.
My verdict: not true.
Life in Spain is a non-stop party
Of course, recent years haven’t been much of a party for anyone.
But this Spanish stereotype might have some validity.
Is life in Spain a non-stop party?
What’s definitely true is that there are bars everywhere. The bar-to-person ratio in Spain is higher than anywhere else, as far as I know, and that’s one of the things people love about it.
And going back to the point about siestas, Spanish people are definitely good at staying up late. They learn from when they’re kids. When I was growing up back in Arizona, my parents would have me in bed by 7:30 or 8 in the evening – as is probably the case in most parts of northern Europe.
Here, a family with two toddlers hanging out at a bar at 11pm won’t even raise an eyebrow. And by the time those kids grow up, they’re comfortable staying out all night long – and maybe even going to work the next day on no sleep.
A culture that’s used to a lack of sleep has to do something with those extra hours, and that’s probably one of the reasons nightlife is such a big deal.
Spanish people will start dinner at 10pm or later, finish at midnight, and then go out to a disco or two… getting home on the first metro the next morning, or one of the night buses.
On the other hand, a lot of the “Spain is so fun” stuff is out there because it’s easy to sell to tourists.
Many of “the locals”, like I said, work long hours. Wages aren’t always amazing. And there are plenty of people who’d probably say that life in Spain is not quite a non-stop party.
My verdict: partly true.
Any Spanish stereotypes I’ve missed?
Looks like out of these 5 Spanish stereotypes, there are none I’d say are “completely true”.
But I guess that’s what a stereotype is, in the end.
If it were 100% true, it’d just be a fact. As it is, a generalization is just something that’s true for some people, some of the time.
Anyway, is there anything I’ve missed?
Drop me a line, right here in the comments. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.
Yours without further generalization,
P.P.S. Giles Tremlett, in his book Ghosts of Spain, has a whole chapter about flamenco. He takes it pretty seriously, and it makes for interesting reading. I may have more to say about that soon.