What images come to mind when you think of Spain? Flamenco dancing, tapas, parties into the wee hours? Or maybe a glass of sangria followed by an afternoon siesta?
Every country has its fair share of stereotypes and Spain is no exception. After living in Madrid for more than a year, I’ve learned which stereotypes are slight misconceptions, and which are just simply not true.
Yes, Spaniards love to party, but they also work equally hard (and often for little pay). Tapas are deliciously varied across the country, but the best paella can only be found in Valencia.
Is Spain really a land of sunshine and bullfighting?
Read on as I debunk six common myths about Spain.
Spaniards love siestas
“Fiesta and siesta,” a cab driver once said to my mom and dad as they arrived in Madrid for the first time, his words echoing a popular stereotype of Spain as a land of parties and naps.
While they do know how to party, the tradition of an afternoon nap or siesta is mostly a thing of the past. In fact, Spaniards work longer hours than some of their European counterparts.
Tinto de verano , NOT sangria
While Madrileños may enjoy a long lunch break, observing siesta hours where local businesses close during the afternoon is more common in smaller towns, especially in warmer regions of the country.
But don´t call it a siesta—most Spaniards don’t actually nap during this time.
Sangria is the national drink
Sangria may be a popular Spanish drink in the U.S., but in Spain it’s often seen as a drink for tourists. Locals trade the sugary sangria for tinto de verano or summer wine.
Tinto de verano is simpler than sangria and combines red wine with gaseosa, or lemon soda. But hey, they also drink other weird stuff like coke with wine and vermouth on tap, so if you want to order that pitcher of sangria, no judgment here.
Spanish is the only spoken language
You might be surprised to find street signs in Barcelona written in the regional language of Catalan instead of Spanish. While Spain’s official language is Spanish (or castellano), there are several regional languages spoken around the country, including Galician and Basque.
These languages have a troubled history in Spain; today they’re a source of great pride for these regions.
It’s a rare, but beautiful occasion when it snows in the center of Madrid, Spain. View from my apartment in Malasaña .
It’s always warm and sunny
When planning a trip to Spain, you probably picture warm, sunny days and beautiful beaches. While largely true compared to other European countries, the climate varies quite a bit throughout the country.
Northern regions like Galicia and Cantabria are known for rainy weather, contributing to their lush, green landscapes. Madrid, located in the center of the country, has fairly mild winters, but sees its fair share of rain and even an occasional snowy day.
Spaniards also tend to dress for the season despite the actual weather. If it’s 70 degrees in October, expect to see Madrileños in fall attire—aka jeans and scarves.
Spanish men are tall, dark, and handsome
Dark and handsome maybe, but tall? Not so much.
Spanish men tend to be shorter on average than American men. The average Spanish man is 5 feet 7 inches compared to an average height of 5 feet 9 inches in the U.S. It might seem like a small difference, but I’ve learned to ditch the heels for a first date with a Spanish man (I’m 5 feet 6 inches tall).
Another common misconception is that Spanish men are very forward and aggressive when it comes to pursuing women, a quality often associated with Latin men. (People regularly mistake Spain for a Latin country, but that’s a discussion for another day.) Spanish men are actually quite shy when it comes to meeting up or making the first move.
Maestranza bullring in Sevilla, Spain
Bullfighting is a popular attraction
Although an honored tradition, bullfighting has become increasingly controversial in Spain. Some oppose the practice due to its cruelty to animals—the goal of a bullfight is, after all, to kill the bull—and many have never been to one. Certain regions have even made moves in recent years to ban the practice.
That being said, many festivals known for the practice are still held around the country. One of the most well-known, the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, is still alive and well, with tens of thousands of participants each year.
(If you want to see a bullring, I recommend visiting when there´s no match; I loved seeing the impressive Maestranza in Sevilla, the oldest bullring in Spain.)
Were you surprised by any of these misconceptions about Spain? Are there any that I missed? Let me know in the comments!