As I fast approach my twentieth year living in Spanish territory I can safely say that I would not have got where I am today without immersing myself in the Spanish language and Culture. Within Spain alone you can observe diverse cultures and traditions as well as various dialects and subsets of the Spanish Language such as Basque and Catalan; but with a firm command of Spanish under your belt, you can experience a whole host of South American countries too.
After Mandarin Chinese and English, Spanish is the third most widely spoken language and more importantly it will help you communicate all over the globe. Whereas you may choose to book a package holiday to the Spanish Costas and eat only in British eateries, I can confirm that what you really need to do is explore the “Real Spain” or indeed countries where Spanish is spoken. Many expats make the mistake to immerse themselves solely within a small community, and it is sad to say that many will spend decades on the Costas without ever having a proper conversation with a Spaniard.
So, deckchairs and cut price beer aside, just why should you visit Spain?
Spain in itself boasts a huge and varied number of cultures and experiences, and with temperate climbs throughout the whole year in the southern part of the country you can really get to grips with their fiestas and generally upbeat way of life. Whether you want to try “papas locas” in Tenerife, or discover the home of Salvador Dali in Figueres, immersing yourself in the Spanish language and culture will make your whole trip not just more fun but more meaningful too.
Having lived on the Spanish mainland for nearly two decades and recently “immigrating” south to Tenerife, I can safely say that the only way to really enjoy living in Spain is to live as a Spaniard. If you come to Spain with any other mindset, the fact that buses are rarely on time or there are frequent power cuts will soon begin to grate on your patience. From “fast” moving cities of Girona in Catalunya to the laid back Andalusians, Spanish life is more laid back, whichever way you look at it. Three hour lunch breaks with copious amounts of wine are not just a rumour, they are true, and your repairman will indeed turn up “manaña” (if you are lucky). To clarify, if I had to list ten reasons to immerse myself in the Spanish Language and Culture, I would say (in no particular order):
- To make myself understood
- To earn the respect of the locals
- To appreciate festival, fiestas, and celebrations
- To get to know the locals and converse with them about their life
- To feel confident in traveling off the beaten track where Spanish will be the only language spoken
- To explore the culture and understand the history of the country and its people
- To be able to cope with everyday situations from asking for directions to paying a fine or buying a bus ticket
- To feel at home whilst abroad or in your “new” home
- To be able to relax safe in the knowledge that the food and wine I am being served really are the typical dishes of the region
- To enhance my overall experience of such a wonderfully diverse country
Being understood and being able to hold a small conversation in Spanish will make your trip less stressful and overall more enjoyable. Locals will appreciate your effort and ensure that you feel welcome in their community. This level of Spanish can be achieved by attending a night class or by practising simple conversation with a willing partner or friend. With a basic grasp of the language and a handy phrase book in close reach, it is time to step into a world of the unknown and one that is miles away from package resorts and cabaret entertainment.
Immerse yourself in the culture for an all round experience
Before booking a trip to Spain, check out the local history of the area as well as just the weather. The northern parts of Spain can indeed be cool in winter, most especially inland; so go prepared and organize your trip accordingly. By researching before your trip, you can familiarize yourself not only with public holidays but also with local fiestas and festivals. Be prepared for some noisy events and lack of sleep; but all in the name of a good cause. Spanish take full advantage of their rain free months, some of my favorite festivals to date being:
- The running of the bulls in Pamplona
- The tomato throwing festival in August in Valencia
- San Andres in Northern Tenerife ( this festival includes children waiving off evil spirits with tin cans on strings, hand made cart races or the running of drums down steep hills, and the roasting of chestnuts on open fires)
- Carnival ( the time of carnival will depend on the individual area you visit, Tenerife carnival being said by many to be second only to Rio De Janeiro )
- The Reyes ( the three kings will parade the streets on the 5th of January, throwing sweets for the children to collect)Festa dels Gegants ( Catalunya)
To appreciate fiestas, you need to dip into the culture of Spain. Otherwise you may not even notice that there is a national holiday, until you try to go to the bank and find it closed. Beware, that Spaniards will often take a whole long weekend off for a local fiesta, this being known as a “Puente” and singers and dancers will perform live in the streets until the early hours, young children and old people alike, mingling in harmony and just having fun.
Spain and its history are something you can only truly discover when you immerse yourself in the Spanish language and culture to enhance your trip. Unless your ideal holiday is one lying by the pool, brush up on some essential phrases, research the local traditions of the area you will visit, and prepare yourself for a trip that will not just be a holiday but will be one of the life experiences that you will always remember.
Post Written by Angela