Spain Travel Why Spain is Great

Why Spain Great #4: Your thoughts…

OK, there are a million reasons why Spain is great, and after the first three entries, I could continue this series forever… But I’m off on holiday to find even more reasons why Spain is great, and in the mean time, I wanted to wrap this series up by asking YOU why you think Spain is great.

But first of all, here are my final thoughts, a few more of the things that Make Spain Great:

1. Professional waiters who’ve been in the job for life and don’t do a bad job while simultaneously trying to charm you for tips.

2.Eating and drinking on outdoor Terrazas in summer when the air buzzes with happiness.

3.Spanish girls in summer (OK, all year round…)

4. The amazing diverstiy of landscapes from the green north to the deserts of Almeria, the mountains, plains and sierras…

5. Morcilla.

6. San Sebastian, Granada and Cadiz.

7. The fact that friendly Spanish people aren’t scared to touch your baby’s feet.

8. … or touch each other in conversation without flinching.

9. Dos besos.

10. Over to You – What would you put at number 10? Answers in the comments below please!

Defining the Spanish Spanish Culture and News Why Spain is Great

Why Spain Is Great #3: Fun Not Banned Yet (Mostly)

You know what this is all about. There is a country not far from here, where I come from, where things have gone a little bit mad.

Children in my good old UK are not allowed to have much fun anymore, lest they should hurt themselves while someone else is looking after them and courts of law get involved… they are often not allowed to run in playgrounds, and should they wish to use Blu Tack at school, they may be required to wear goggles.

In the good old days, I was allowed to take a penknife to school (the teachers only took it away from me once, to engrave my initials on it for me so I wouldn’t lose it, then they gave it back).

We played conkers (without safety glasses!), and in winter the sloping playground was sprayed with water at night to make an impromtu ice-run for the purpose of doing fun, long skidding slides down.

All banned now. No one ever got hurt when I was at school, but you know, just in case…

Adults have less fun these days where I come from too, as far as I can tell. They aren’t allowed to indulge wildly in public in many of the great pagan festivities that used to make life, well, more fun…

They have to STAND WELL BACK at exciting things like fireworks displays, once again, JUST IN CASE. They used to be allowed to get really close to the action, but now they mostly stand at A SAFE DISTANCE behind big barriers erected for their own good.

In fact the entire country where I come from is pretty much a ‘don’t do that, just in case’ culture these days as far as most of the old fun things are concerned, and much of this ‘just in case-ness’ has been enforced by silly but very strict laws.

(It seems the only thing that people are allowed to do with wild abandon and without restriction is to drink lots of alcohol… often until they are very very ill, and often while moaning a lot about all the things they can’t do anymore… This is also very very dangerous, to life, limb, and morale, but ironically it IS allowed and often encouraged as a way to RELAX… But is isn’t very relaxing when someone else that has been doing a lot of wild-abandon-drinking decides he doesn’t like the look of you and wants to kill you, and you don’t have time to retreat to A SAFE DISTANCE. This happens a lot on Friday and Saturday nights, even in nice towns, like Oxford.)

Spain isn’t like this… whereas people from the UK are advised to stand well back all the time, Spanish people like to stand very, very close to the action. Without barriers or hard hats, or security cordons, or silly laws banning fun things they’ve been doing for ever anyway.

For example, if they want to burn down very very flammable wooden statues in very tight streets, while standing very close, despite the risk that the whole city might catch fire and be destroyed forever, then that’s just fine. It happens in Valencia and is called Las Fallas.

If Spanish people (OK, OK, in this case Catalan people who are often unjustly lumped into the geographical notion of Spain for the sake of articles like this, but anyway…) want to stand on top of each other making improbably tall human pyramids, and send small children scrambling to the top of these pyramids at the risk of life and limb, then that’s fine too. They do that in Tarragona alot.

And I can’t say I approve of it anymore, but if Spanish people want to run around in front of half-tonne bulls which could easily trample them to death, then go for it! You can literally grab the poor bloody bull by the horns if you want.

Why is all the above allowed in Spain when you wouldn’t have a chance in hell of getting any of those fun plans past a UK town council these days?

Because people in Spain still believe in letting each other decide how to get their kicks. They still believe in doing crazy things that have been going on for generations, just because, well, that’s what’s been going on for generations, and history is more interesting than health and safety.

Mostly though, I think they just like to feel alive, and their government is often OK with that.

But let’s face it, all this irresponsible free-will-to-act-as-they-please may not last forever.

Far more speed traps on the roads in Spain these days. British people have been moaning about that for years, and I’m sure they are right… it’s a sign, one of those nanny-state things…

Few years back the citizens of a small town in Aragon were told that they couldn’t drop a live goat out of their church tower once a year anymore. Great news for goats, I’m delighted, but again, it could be a sign… Things might start getting BANNED a lot…

But for now, Spanish people seem to have quite a bit more freedom when it comes down to doing mad-crazy-dangerous things just for the fun of it, and that is to be commended (as good ideas go, that one’s dying out). It is just one more of the things that Makes Spain Great.


Spanish Food and Drink Why Spain is Great

Why Spain is Great #2 – The Desire To Share

Prawns, gambas, food in Spain

Let’s stick with eating and drinking, and look at another reason why Spain is great/the Spanish are great.

There is something wonderful about going out to a bar or restaurant with friends, and ordering a few different plates of ‘raciones‘. Like a larger version of tapas, raciones, as you probably know, are just a big plate of only one thing – jamon, calamares, cheese, gambas (pictured above)…. and the idea is to order a few of these and share them.

Everyone picks a bit from one plate, a bit from another, and keeps eating until there’s no need to order any more as everyone is full and contented.

I’ve known non-Spaniards, including myself at the beginning of my time in Spain, to be perplexed by this, even to feel exceedingly anxious in fact at this whole concept – some people just want to have their own plate of food without anyone else attacking it… that way you know just how much you are getting, and no-one is going to start stealing it from you!

How nice it is when you get over that attitude, and really really start to share, without a single worry about whether the person sitting opposite you is going to have one more croqueta than you, one more bit of finest jamon… I have to confess that even now, the selfish Brit in me still has his eye on that last croqueta, occasionally feeling pained to see it open to the table… It’s something I’m working hard on!

But the sharing doesn’t stop with the actual food, it carries on into that nightmare of nightmares in many cultures… the division of the bill.

Amongst the Spaniards I have met, one of two things will happen.

1) There is an almighty argument about who should have the pleasure of paying the entire amount, to invitar everyone else – this can go on for up to 5 or 10 minutes, getting fairly aggressive, until one party gives way, and either the bill is paid by just one of the party who is delighted to treat the rest, or…:

2) The bill is shared equally amongst those present, no matter what anyone had to eat or drink! There is none of the famous ‘who had the prawns’ careful analysis of every single thing that every single person ate, it’s just “it’s 40 Euros, there’s four of us, so 10 each” – end of story.

Occasionally someone will arrive very late and eat much less, in which case they’ll be either be paid for by everyone else, or will put in a token amount, but the rest will always be split, evenly, without a hint of fuss. It is a quite enormous relief and saves an untold amount of stress.

So here’s to complete, relaxed, contented sharing! Food, bills, wine, good times… just another reason why Spain is so extraordinarily great!

Defining the Spanish Spanish Culture and News Spanish Food and Drink Why Spain is Great

Why Spain is Great #1 – Honesty in Spanish Bars

Tapas, Pintxos, San Sebastian, Basque Country

I was recently asked just what was so great about Spain, so I’ve decided to dedicate a mini-series this summer to answering just that question. First up, the honesty system…

It never ceases to amaze your average Brit that you can walk into most bars in Spain, order as much as you like to eat and drink, and pay nothing until you are about to leave when, quite often, the barman will ask you to remind him what you had!

Clearly there is massive room for abuse here. Had 5 cañas one night but only want to admit to 4? The worn out guy in the sweat-stained shirt who’s been working since 7 am isn’t going to notice… but as far as I know, this system is rarely exploited.

The most amazing example I’ve seen of the honesty system in practice was in San Sebastian.

You walk into a bar there and find the bar top covered in plate after plate of incredible tapas, or pintxos as they are known up there (see photo above), help yourself to as many as you like, and then casually inform the barman (who hasn’t been taking a blind bit of notice of your eating habits) just how much you’ve had. You then pay him and leave.

Can you imagine how much that system would be abused in other parts of the world if suddenly introduced over night? Yet in Spain this has been going for years. The bar owners trust the customers, and the customers basically act honestly in return…

…Except for those that feast outrageously then ‘do a runner’, or a simpa as it’s known in Spanish, but that’s a tale for another time… All in all, the honesty system is without doubt one of those things that puts the ‘great’ into Spain. Would you dare to abuse it?