Topics you should avoid

Topics you should avoid

Topics you should avoid |

You’ve been dreaming for ages about walking the Camino. You’ve planned,  packed, trained… and you’re finally in Spain. Of course, you want to make the most of this amazing experience and hope that the time spent in Spain will go as smoothly as possible.

 

That can include a wide range of things, such as your flights not being delayed, not suffering any injuries or ampollas (blisters) and making meaningful connections with both fellow peregrinos and locals.

 

Some of these things are beyond your control, so we’ll not discuss them now. Others, however, you have power over.

 

It’s surprising how different things can be in another country, even one that is in theory close to ours: you say or do something that is perfectly OK in your homeland, and all of a sudden you can sense the mood changing. For the worse.

 

So, what should you do?

In order to minimise potential problems or awkward situations with Spaniards, there are certain behaviours and topics you’d better avoid.

 

Don’t criticise

As mentioned in this previous post, avoid criticising our customs; whether it’s mealtimes, siesta, bullfighting or something else. We may privately agree with you. But the fact that you, a foreigner, just came into our country and “have the nerve” to tell us how we should be doing things will not be welcome.

 

I mean, you wouldn’t like it if we went to your country and told you how to run it, would you?

 

Topics you should avoid

You should tread carefully if discussing política (politics) and religión (religion). In fact, my advice would be to stay away from those 2 as much as possible.

 

Politics is maybe an obvious subject to avoid. People can be very passionate about their political ideas and things can easily get heated when we don’t agree.

 

And I’m not just talking about current affair issues like the latest election results or the independence of Cataluña (Catalonia). Other “older” topics like the Spanish Civil War can also be very touchy and nobody will appreciate you, a foreigner, sharing your thoughts about it and “coming to teach us lessons”. That’s how most Spaniards would see it and that’s also one of the most polite replies you will get. So, stay away from it.

 

Oh! And please don’t even suggest that the Catalan, Basque and Galician languages are dialects, especially if you are talking to someone from one of those regions! They ARE languages and, in fact, they are co-official with Spanish in their respective territories. It really upsets many of us when you call them dialects.

 

Religion, on the other hand, is considered a private matter in Spain. You don’t ask someone you just met about their religious beliefs or practices. Of course, some walk the Camino for religious reasons, but some others don’t. So, unless they bring it up, I would also stay away from it. You’re just going to make people uncomfortable if you ask.

 

Bursting stereotypes

While I’m on this topic, I’d like to clarify some common misconceptions people tend to have about Spain and religion.

  • First of all, Spain has no official religion. After Franco’s dictatorship, Catholicism was abolished as the country’s official religion. Our current Constitution, adopted in 1978, establishes the right to religious freedom.

 

  • Secondly, Spain is not a deeply Catholic country, at least not in the way many foreigners think it is. According to the latest surveys, 2 thirds of Spaniards consider themselves Catholic, but only 22% of them attend church on a regular basis. Almost 30% of Spaniards identify as atheist, agnostic or non-believers.

 

You should avoid this, too

Before we finish for today, let me give you one final tip:

 

Please, don’t tell us we have a lisp because of some king or another a few centuries ago!

 

It’s not true; actually, it’s quite a ludicrous theory and all it shows is that you don’t know what a lisp is.

 

A lisp is a speech disorder characterised by  the inability to correctly pronounce the S sounds. People with a lisp typically pronounce S sounds as TH.

 

In Spain, there is a difference in pronunciation (and meaning) between the words seta (mushroom) and zeta (the letter z), or cocer (to boil) and coser (to sew), just to mention a couple of examples. Just the same way that an English speaker pronounces sink & think differently. So, if we have a lisp, I guess you do, too!

You’ve been warned. Now you know what topics you should avoid, so it’s up to you to stay out of trouble.

 

Today’s words

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¡Buen Camino!

5 things you need to know about Spain

5 things you need to know about Spain

When you travel to a foreign country it’s easy to make mistakes because we don’t know how things work over there. It’s easy to assume that everybody does things the same way we do and this can lead to difficult or embarrassing situations.

So, what are the things you need to know about Spain? There are more, but let’s start with these 5:

1. It’s not siesta time!

I read a lot of comments about siesta in Camino forums: 

“Everything was closed because it was siesta time” 

“There were no people on the streets because it was siesta time” 

It’s almost like anything unfamiliar you experience gets blamed on the siesta. Sorry to burst your stereotypes but… siesta is not really a thing in Spain. At least not the way you think it is. If you go to a shop at 3:00 or 4:00pm and it’s closed it is not because it’s siesta time. It’s because it’s lunch time. 

Yes. Lunch time. But that’s way more than the usual one hour lunch break, you may say. Well, lunch in Spain is the main meal of the day, quite often a 3-course meal. So, one hour is not enough. Also, traditionally, people would go home for lunch. Not everybody can do that these days, especially in the bigger cities, but many people still do. For more details about eating times, go to nº2.

And if you go for a walk around town at 6:00 or 7:00pm in the summertime and the place is deserted, it’s not siesta time. People could be either at the beach or pool or simply at home, staying away from el calor (the heat).

We don’t put our pyjamas on, get into bed and sleep for 2 or 3 hours in the middle of the day, as many foreigners seem to think. Most of us don’t even take siestas at all. Those who do, it’s mostly a 10-15 minute nap on the sofa. So, por favor, if you find shops closed or streets empty, don’t blame it on the siesta. 

2. Don’t criticise our meal times. Try to adapt to them instead.

As I already mentioned, lunch is the main meal of the day, quite often a 3-course meal. It is usually served between 1:30 and 3:30 or 4:00pm.

You’ll have trouble finding dinner  before 8:30pm. 

The picture shows average kitchen hours, although they may very from place to place.

Instead of complaining because dinner is too late, why don’t you try the Spanish way? Have lunch when you get to your destination for the day; shower, rest and and then you can have something light for dinner, like a drink and a tapa or two.

3. Avoid criticising Spanish customs, even those that we, Spaniards, criticise. 

This is like family: you may complain about them but when an outsider criticises them, you feel compelled to defend them. Same thing here: I may disagree with that particular custom but if you, an outsider, criticise it, I may feel forced to defend it. How would you feel if we went to your country and started criticising what you do?

“Why do you not have a proper 3-course meal for lunch?”

“Oh, so you don’t eat tortilla de patatas? That’s weird!”

“Shops close at 6:00pm? Ridiculous!”

Not nice, right? For me, one of the beauties of travelling is to get to see and experience different things, eat different foods… Embrace the difference and enjoy it!

 

4. Manners, please!

Don’t go over the top with your gracias and por favor. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t use those words, but we don’t use them half as much as in other cultures. Once or twice per conversation is fine. More than that is too much and you’re going to make the other person uncomfortable. This doesn’t mean we’re rude or don’t have manners. We just express it in different ways.

5. Yes, I’m greeting you.

We might not say please and thank you as much as you do, but we probably greet each other more, even total strangers: you go into a shop, you greet the shop assistant; go into a doctor’s waiting room, you greet the people who are already there; get into a lift with strangers, you greet them.

A simple hola is fine or, depending on the time of the day, you can also add buenos días (in the morning, until lunch time -Spanish lunch time), buenas tardes (in the evening) or buenas noches (later in the evening, from 9:00pm roughly).

 

These are just 5 basic things you need to know before you travel to Spain. There are more, especially around food, but they would make this post too long and we’ll leave them for another occasion. If, on the other hand, you would like to know whether it’s OK or not to tip and how much is appropriate, you can check this post.

 

 

Today’s words

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¡Buen Camino!