Monday, June 20, 2011

What IS Spain?

I've been thinking lately about how little Americans, in general, know about Spain. Maybe I just hang around with really stupid people, but it seems like a lot of Americans make the mistake of thinking Spain is Mexico., it isn't. 
This is Spain. It is in E-U-R-O-P-E. It borders France and Portugal. Maybe you haven't heard a lot about it in your modern European history classes, and I can tell you why: Franco. 

Now, you'll probably be asking yourself "Who's Franco?" He was a dictator. Kind of like Hitler or Stalin, except in Spain. He attempted to take over the country in the 1930s, instigating the Spanish Civil War, and eventually winning with the help of people like Hitler (and when I say people like Hitler, I mean...Hitler). After that, the country was stuck with his regime of things like censorship, imprisonment of rebels (like people who wanted to have free thinking, who supported the arts, you name it), concentration camps...for a further thirty years, until Franco died in the 1970s. Because of all of this, Spain was a pretty stagnant country for much of the 20th century. When I was there last time, you could still see remnants of Franco's regime on the country, especially because I was in the Basque Country, where Franco enforced a law that the Basques could not speak their native language (Basque, or Euskera), and had to only communicate in Spanish. 

So the point of this super-condensed history lesson is that Spain has become one of the least-well-known Western European countries. Well, it has become slightly more newsworthy in the two years since I was there last, because of the high rate of unemployment and the fact that they are dragging down the Euro (along with countries like Greece), and of course the fact that they won the World Cup last year (aupa!). Still, I feel that a small cultural lesson is needed.

Spain is not Mexico. They do not eat spicy food there, or any food that we think of as Mexican. They do eat something called a tortilla, but it looks like this:
Really, it is an omelette. And Spanish people are not brown, because there is no indigenous blood in them. They are Mediterranean-looking, dark hair and dark eyes and rather short, but white. As in Caucasian. They do speak Spanish (obviously), but it's not exactly the same as Mexican (or any Latin American country) Spanish. They do not listen to mariachi bands (well, ok, sometimes they do but it's not native to their culture), but they (well, some of them anyway) do listen to flamenco. 

I'm sure there are more things that could be said about this, but hopefully the point has been made. I know this will not prevent people from asking me how I will enjoy all the spicy food in Spain, but at least I tried. 

Up next time: OK So Now That You Know What Spain Is, Let Me Tell You About Northern vs. Southern Spain. See you then. 


  1. what about siesta? sombreros? burros? burritos? dos equis? pinata?

    "Mexico Or Spain" would be a pretty good quiz show category I think.

  2. Love this post! After living in both Mexico and Spain it is one of my pet peeves when people confuse them. No. Just no. Also quality 1 paragraph explanation of Franco, the Civil War and "people like Hitler." ;)

  3. Thanks! I was a little worried that I might get called out for oversimplifying re: Franco...but I really didn't want to get TOO bogged down in the entire history of the country!