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Spain - Introduction

Spain has changed more in the last three decades than perhaps any other European country. It has shed its rural, developing image for one that is booming with tourism, construction and people who are proud of their traditions and progress. Catholicism remains the dominant religion, though Spain is more secularthan in the past. Some have said that Spain’s relaxed style comes from centuries of occupation by various civilizations, many of which fought viciously for theland. Why get uptight about something in the here and now, the logic goes, when so much has already happened, and everything works out in the end?

Spain is a country where contrast is found everywhere and in everything. Most obvious are the contrasts between "old" and "new." Old traditions were exposed to the modern world as Spain emerged from decades of isolation. Some observers comment that Spain experienced an identity crisis in the midst of this transition. For certain, however, today's Spanish culture is a true re?ection of her contrasts. Spanish manners are different. Chivahy is not dead here. Great effort is expended todemonstrate maximum courtesy and respect toward acquaintances. Spanish status symbols are different. Spaniards are very status conscious. Self-esteem and pride in one's own driving skills mandate the degree of risk taking on the highway. Personal egos are at stake when entering a Spanish highway; to be overtaken by another vehicle is to become "a person of lesser consequence."

Spanish holidays are different. Of course, they are all sacred to Spaniards. Whether the holiday taker is devout has no real bearing on the sanctity of a religious holiday. The Spanish try to arrange for holidays to fall on Thursdays so that they can "take a puente"; that is, automatically "bridge" the day off through Friday to the weekend. The entire month of August is a holiday in Spain, since that is wheneveryone goes to the playa (beach) or the Sierra (mountains).

Spanish language is different. It's still Spanish, but not the "South of the border" variety which Americans anticipate. Here it is called "Castillian" Spanish or Castellana and there is great variety in dialects and accents. For example, in southern regions the "s" acquires a "th" sound. The letter “z” is also pronounced as “th” – thus, the airport town of “Jerez” sounds like “Hereth.” A popular myth holds that an ancient king suffered a speech impediment and decreed tha this subjects were to speak with a lisp.

To say that there is such a thing as Spanish food would be considered by many to be incorrect. After all, so broad and so distinct are the regional elements that make up the country’s gastronomic landscape that ‘Spanish foods’ (plural) might be a much more apt term. In any case, here’s a quick introduction to Spanish drinks and food.

It goes without saying that what is typical in one area is as likely to be hard to come by in another. So it is at least with what in many people’s eyes would constitute a staple of Spanish dishes: the Spanish paella. This humble rice dish (generally served with either seafood or meat) has come to constitute – along perhaps with Flamenco and bullfighting – a cliché of Spanish tourism. But while a serving of paella is easy to find in Valencia (the spiritual home of paella valenciana), Barcelona and coastal areas, generally, if you wander into a small neighbourhood bar in Castile and Leon and ask for a plate of it, your request is likely to be met with something approaching incredulity. Read more about Spanish paella.

In the middle of Spain (most notably in Castile and Leon) heavy meat dishes and stews (cocidos) are likely to be more the order of the day; in the northwest of the country, Galicia specialises in seafood – ranging from the freshest of shellfish to the classic ‘pulpo a la Gallega’. In the Basque Country, ‘pintxos’ – or small portions of food served canapé-style are the norm in bars; Manchego cheese, one of the greatest of Spanish food exports, comes from La Mancha, while Asturias is another of the country’s great cheese producers. Although olives, meanwhile, are grown right the way across the country, some of the very best can be found in the province of Jaen.

Another very typical Spanish dish is the Spanish tortilla. You will find further interesting information if you go on Tortilla. When talking about Spanish food, we should not forget to mention Tapas, very popular and delicious. Perhaps you would prefer to try and prepare some Spanish desserts.

As is the case everywhere, modern Spanish names are a reflection of hundreds of years of history and culture, of outside influence and changing tastes. The way that Spanish naming custom works is that a person will have not one, but two Spanish surnames. These are made up of the first surname of the father and the mother (although in recent years this is sometimes reversed as a reflection of gender equality).

When referring to or talking to someone in a normal, day-to-day sense, it would be customary to simply use their first name and their first surname (be it their mother’s or father’s). As a general rule, the Spanish name in its entirety is only made use of in legal documents or other formal or written occasions. The adoption of names differs from Spanish-speaking country to Spanish-speaking country, with many Latin American countries using a more American model.

As anyone who has spent a little time in the country knows, two names have historically dominated (as a result of the country’s strong Catholic heritage): José and María. While the former is theoretically masculine and the latter feminine, it’s often the case that they are combined – with José María and María José both being extremely popular Spanish names.

Beyond that a variety of other religious names have always been popular – particularly amongst women; examples include Inmaculada, Concepción, Pilar and Encarnación. Saints names, too, have tended to predominate with some of the most popular being Juan, Ignacio and Francisco (Spanish boy names) and Teresa, Lucía and Monica (Spanish girls names).

Although these traditional religious-based names have become a little less popular in recent years (as the country follows the rest of Western Europe in becoming a little more secularised), the list of most popular Spanish names in recent years has still been dominated by religious/Saints’ names. Common recent examples include Santiago and Sebastián (for boys) and Sofia and Camila (for girls). In Galicia, the Basque Country and Catalonia, especially, names differ according to the different respective languages spoken. In each case, however, they do tend to have very similar onomastic roots – as you’d expect. As such, common Catalan names like Antoni, Francesc (or Cesc), Josep (or Pep), are all regional variations on their Castilian counterparts, Antonio, Francisco and José.

In addition to the shortening of names – Francisco becoming Paco and Ignacio becoming Nacho – in Spain, there’s a long tradition of the giving of nicknames. After all, one of Spain’s most famous historical figures, Miguel de Cervantes, was referred to as ‘El Manco de Lepanto’ (or the ‘One-armed Man from Lepanto’) after he lost his arm in a naval battle!

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