I often see questions about whether it’s OK to walk the Camino with no Spanish or whether it’s a good idea to learn some before your Camino.
The answers range from “no need, a smile is enough” to “the more your learn, the richer your experience will be”.
As you can imagine, I don’t agree with the first group. If that’s how they want to do their Camino, that fine. It’s their Camino. And their loss too.
The most common reasons people give to learn at least some basic Spanish:
- it’s the polite thing to do and it makes the locals more receptive to your needs. True.
- it reduces the chances of feeling frustrated when you need to communicate and you can’t. Also true.
- it also reduces the chances of of feeling lonely and isolated if you happen to have no English speakers around you. Again, true.
Let me add another reason. It is not mentioned so frequently, but it’s equally important, in my opinion.
- you learn so much about Spain and broaden your mind.
You’re going to spend some time in the country. A few días (days) at least. A few semanas (weeks) in many cases.
And you don’t learn anything about the country you’re walking through?
A silly example:
I can’t believe how many people think these are mausoleums… or chicken coops!
They’re called hórreos and they were used to store mainly maíz (corn), but other food too.
They vary a little depending on the region. But they are all elevated from the ground to keep the crops dry and to keep rodents out.
More serious examples
I’ve witnessed this many times:
People post on social media about their Camino. They share pictures, as well as their general comment about a number of things.
The kind of stuff I read sometimes… let’s just say there’s a lot of eye-rolling and head-shaking coming from me.
You can tell that these people came to Spain with a mochila full of stereotypes and preconceived ideas. Everything they see, they interpret it through those stereotypes and misconceptions.
They speak no Spanish.
They don’t talk to any locals.
So, they go back home with the same incorrect beliefs they had when they started.
They learn nothing about Spain. Their wrong beliefs are reinforced.
Let me give you a couple of examples.
People with no Spanish at all
Not too long ago, I started following someone’s daily posts on a Facebook group about their Camino Portugués. The reason I started following was the captions of some of the pictures: any resemblance to reality was pure coincidence.
Clearly, these people had this idea of Spain as a deeply Catholic, very traditional country. And that’s how they saw it.
A random building was, in their eyes, a church.
A mural, in a fishing village, depicting fishing scenes, was a religious painting.
A person begging outside an iglesia (church) was someone dressed in traditional clothes.
A couple of other things they said, I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about.
According to their own comments, these people did not speak a word of Spanish, they didn’t interact with any locals, other than to try to get food and accommodation. They completed their pilgrimage and went back home having learned nothing about Spain. A missed opportunity.
People who know better than you
But there’s another type of pilgrim that totally baffles me. The one who arrives with their mochila full of stereotypes and misconception… and refuses to accept that they are wrong.
A couple of weeks ago I had to make a huge effort to not be rude to someone on social media. This person shared their thoughts about their recent Camino experience.
Among other things, they said that supermercados (supermarkets) in Spain have small puertas (doors) to protect the front of the building because ‘these people have lived with civil war in their country up until recent times’.
I replied that the Spanish civil war ended more than 80 years ago (it took place between 1936 and 1939) and that the size of supermarket doors have nothing to do with it.
Well, apparently I know nothing about my own country. This person went on to give me a lecture on Spanish history.
I ‘learned’ that we were having civil wars in Spain up until the mid 70s. Maybe we weren’t as affected in my area, that’s why I don’t know. Really?
I don’t claim to know everything about Spain. I know I don’t. But not knowing if I’m living in a civil war?
Excuse me while I roll my eyes again.
And I won’t get into the siesta comments because I get very triggered by those and I could be ranting here forever. If you want to know more about the truth behind siesta, you can check this other article I wrote a while back.
But can anyone truly believe we sleep up to 7 hours in the middle of the say? A recent post I saw reminded people that ‘most towns have siesta from around 12.30pm to 5 or 7pm’. I love my sleep but seriously?
So, please, don’t be like these people and don’t waste the opportunity to immerse yourself in the Spanish culture. You don’t need to be super fluent. But make at least an effort. You will be rewarded for it.
Today’s Spanish words
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Excellent post! I agree that as pilgrims, immersion is one of the great benefits.
The one thing that made me laugh on the Frances though, was the local hostelier telling me that Canadians and Americans prefer cold red wine and that’s why they serve it that way. Lol. We don’t!
The impression we get over here is that Americans love to put loads of ice in their drinks. Maybe that’s where the cold red wine thing comes from… I don’t know.