Cultural Norms and Customs in Spain and the Americas
Traveling to Spain for the first time was an eye-opening experience for me. Not only was it my first time traveling alone, but it was also my first time being in another country without my family. I was not sure what to expect from this experience, which I would now describe as life changing. I always rolled my eyes at people who said “study abroad changed my life” or “study abroad changed me as a person.” Now I am proud to be one of those people. The amount of rich culture I was immediately immersed into was and is still unbelievable to me. Being a person of Pakistani descent who was born and raised in the United States of America, the concept of being multicultural is very familiar to me. Interested in studying different cultures, I decided to analyze the similarities and differences in the cultural norms of Spain and the Americas. Not only did my research for this project help me gain a deeper understanding of Spanish culture, but it also made me appreciate all the similarities and differences between the culture that I have experienced my entire life and the one I was introduced to this summer.
Acceptance of All Sexual Orientations (Chueca)
The neighborhood of Chueca, located in the center of Madrid, is famously known as Madrid’s gay neighborhood. It is inclusive of all sexual orientations making it a great place to have fun and hang out in. This barrio, or neighborhood, whose streets are adorned with big and small pride flags, welcomes all to experience its liveliness and culture. Similarly, the U.S. has many gay neighborhoods throughout different states. I do see a difference in the acceptance of different sexualities in Spain and the Americas. All across Spain people are just as accepting of different sexual orientations as they are in Chueca. It is different in the Americas because many places and its people condemn and criticize those who are not like them, making it difficult for people of the LGBTQ community to feel accepted. It was not until 2005 that Spain legalized same-sex marriage, which is way earlier than the United States where it only recently became legal in 2015. The Americas have been on their way, slowly but surely, of becoming more accepting of different sexual orientations. Legalizing same-sex marriages and developing gay neighborhoods where people feel comfortable and at home are a great sign of this.
In the United States, animal fighting such as cockfighting, dogfighting, and hog-dog fighting is illegal whether it is hosted as a sport, for entertainment, or for betting because of how inhumane it is. Since it is illegal and can be charged as a felony offense in many states, the fights are held very secretly in private locations just like other illegal underground activity.
On the other hand, bullfighting is one of the most popular sports in Spain that thousands of people attend daily from locals to tourists. Open 7 days a week for people to attend, the enormous bullrings where the fights take place seat thousands of people who are eager to see the fight whether it’s their first time or 50th time watching.
The oldest bullring in Spain is the Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería located in the city of Sevilla. The heart of Sevillano culture, bullfighting is said to be one of the main attractions where Sevilla’s culture can be seen. In April, an annual fair is held by the city of Sevilla called the Feria de Abril that goes on for a week. During this week, the bullfights are packed and as a result, create a completely different atmosphere and experience that is unlike any other. Since I was not in Spain until June, I unfortunately did not get to experience watching a bullfight during its peak.
Bullfighting is opposed by animal activists everywhere as they hold protests against this Spanish sport. In May of 2018, more than 40,000 people rallied in Madrid for a ban to be placed on the popular sport. Some cities in Spain have banned the sport calling it cruel and inhumane, including all the provinces in Catalonia and the Canary Islands. The European Union has been trying to ban bullfighting in all of Spain for years but has had no success. What I find interesting is that the first bullfight that was held in Spain can be traced back to 1158 in honor of King Alfonso VIII for his crowning as king. Bullfighting undoubtedly continues to remain a huge part of the country’s culture and heritage.
I’m torn between the different views people have about it after watching the bullfight for myself in Madrid’s Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas. I do believe it is animal cruelty, the way they make the bull suffer and I most definitely teared up watching the bull in pain. But at the end of the day, I understand that it is a big part of the Sevillano culture and the Spanish culture as a whole and even though I do not agree with it, I do respect it.
Public Nudity (Barcelona)
In Spain, it is normal for men and women to be topless or completely nude at public beaches. However, nudism in public places other than the beach is still a very controversial topic. The Supreme Court of Spain ruled that nudism is not a fundamental right; therefore, towns that want to ban it have the right to do so. The town of Castell-Platja d’Aro, which is north of Barcelona, has banned nudity on its beaches and has imposed a fine for those who break the rule.
In contrast, it is prohibited in the majority of states in the U.S. by state law for women to show their nipples and men to show their genitalia in a public place including beaches unless it is specifically a nude beach. This just goes to show how open-minded and liberal Spain is for allowing people to show off their sexuality, but the Americas are more conservative when it comes to matters like these. It is also clear that it is culturally normal for both men and women to have a lot more sexual freedom in terms of nudity in Spain than those living in the Americas. While it is culturally normal to be nude at most of the beaches in Spain and not be judged for it, it is culturally abnormal to do the same in the Americas. This certainly shows that many Americans are not as accepting as they try to make themselves out to be.
My first experience seeing a topless woman at the beach in Spain was in Barcelona at Playa de la Barceloneta. I noticed a woman walking towards me with no bikini top on and her nude breasts showing, which was very unexpected and caught me off guard. Shortly after, I sat down on the sand and looked around and that is when I noticed there were more women laying down without tops on. Seeing that first topless woman made me feel pretty uncomfortable, but as I saw more and more women dressed similarly, I started to feel less and less uneasy. I would not go as far as to say that by the end of the day I was completely comfortable with the nudity, but I can say that I was more accepting of it. I pondered on why I felt so uncomfortable and I came to the conclusion that it was because I was not used to public nudity. When we took a day trip to Sitges and went to the beach, I saw topless women again, but this time I was expecting it so it did not catch me by surprise and because of that, I did not feel any sort of discomfort. That day I realized that I was getting accustomed to the culture and the nudity was growing on me.
Shopping and Dining (El Born and Malasaña)
El Born, what I consider the Wynwood of Barcelona, is the place to be at nighttime whether you are a tourist or a local. The artisanal bars, wide range of diverse restaurants, and chic boutiques attract mostly the young crowd.
The barrio of Malasaña in Madrid is quite similar to Barcelona’s El Born. This trendy neighborhood is home to great restaurants, bars, and stores. The difference between the boutiques in El Born and the stores in Malasaña is pretty big. The boutiques in El Born are not chain stores; however, well-known brand names like Lush, Superdry, North Face, and many more line the street of Malasaña.
The culture in the Americas as well as Spain is to drink and dine and shopping just adds the cherry on top. El Born is not only known for its nightlife, but also for its culture in the day time. Just as one can visit the art exhibits in Wynwood during the day, one can visit the Picasso Museum or state of the art modernisme concert hall and opera house, the Palau de la Música in El Born. In Malasaña, tourists can visit the Museo de Historia de Madrid, Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporáneo, or the Plaza del Dos de Mayo, the heart of the barrio. These cultural hotspots, El Born and Malasaña, stay busy day and night, as people eat tapas and enjoy their day. Overall, it is very interesting that the barrio of El Born and Malasaña, both in completely different cities in Spain, are very similar to other popular cities and neighborhoods in the Americas where people can just go out to have a good time with friends.
Tipping, even though not mandatory, is a huge custom in the Americas and is much expected by those providing the service. It is completely normal in America to tip someone who carried out a service for you and quite frowned upon when one is not left. Waiters, for the most part, earn way below the minimum wage and therefore really need tips to make ends meet. For this reason, many people tip well at restaurants. Matter of fact, if there are 5 or more people dining together, usually a 15% tip is automatically added to the total amount on the bill. There is not one time that I can think of where I did not leave a tip after eating at a restaurant or getting my nails done, no matter how bad the service was. Tipping is not common at all in Spain. Since it is not generally normal for people to tip, the people who provide the service do not expect one. When they are tipped, you can expect to find them surprised and very happy.
I think it should be a custom in Spain to tip just like it is in the Americas. I noticed that people tend not to tip in Spain even after great service because they feel that they do not have to since it is not a custom. If people started tipping these hardworking people that deserve tips for their excellent service, others would follow and do the same.
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“A Closer Look at Dogfighting.” ASPCA, www.aspca.org/animal-cruelty/dogfighting/closer-look-dogfighting.
“Animal Fighting Facts.” Animal Legal Defense Fund, aldf.org/article/animal-fighting-facts/.
Bohannan, Britt. “Spain and Sexuality.” Expatica, 28 Feb. 2019, www.expatica.com/es/about/culture-history/sexuality-107367/.
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