Things You Should Know Before Visiting Spain
What You Should Know About Cáceres
Spain is an extremely culturally intact nation that can be intimidating to visit at first. There is a steep learning curve from the time you step out at Barajas airport, so I thought of a few things that you will need to know to have a successful trip to Spain. This article was written with Extremadura’s city of Cáceres in mind, but it is useful for any first-time or novice visitor to Spain.
Hey, its April, so I will pack shorts and flip flops, right? Wrong! Unless you really don’t care about fitting in, you should leave your summer clothes at home until, well, summer! In Cáceres and other smaller and more traditional places in España, you will see people bundled up, wearing boots, long pants, light scarves, and at least a short sleeve top, even in 70-80 degree weather until Summer officially rolls around. In 2010, this was a very enforced (by evil stares) unspoken rule. In the last few years it has eased up a bit, so that by the end of May, if weather is warm, people may wear open-toed shoes with their long jeans and light, muslin scarves. They dress according to the season, not the temperature, for the most part. My bonus mom visited Spain and brought flip flops in December. Even though it was 60 degrees and a bit chilly, but sunny, I advised her not to wear them because she would have gotten some serious stares. It’s not necessarily an “I don’t care what people think” society, and since I lived there, worked there, and was trying to be a productive and respected member of society, I had to play along with the implicit rules.
Spaniards have a lisp in most parts of Spain, meaning they make a “th” sound for Z and soft C. This occurs everywhere except for certain parts of Andalusia where they pronounce it all with an S. In other parts of Andalusia, they have a double lisp, meaning S and Z/Soft C. See these examples:
Normal Spanish Lisp: Cáceres [KA-Ther-Ace]
Andalusian Seseo: Cáceres [KA-Ser-Ace] (Like Latin American)
Andalusian Ceceo: Cáceres [KA-Ther-Athe] (what the. . .?)
In Cáceres, Badajoz, and other parts of Andalusia, people don’t pronounce particularly well. These are like the southerners in the U.S. (I am both Southern in the U.S. and Southern in Spain, so I am allowed to poke fun.) Southerners in Spain are known to omit or aspirate a final S. Making Cáceres into [KA-ther-ey) or Las mesas into [Lah Mesah]. Aspiration does not occur in the middle of a word like Mesa. That is more of a Colombian or Venezuelan trait. Aspiration may occur before a consonant, too like with the verb Estar. Tu estas could be [Tu Ehtah]. Understanding lisps and aspirations will help you understand locals when you are trying to communicate.
Factoid: The best Spanish is considered to be spoken in Castilla-Leon y Madrid.
Tip: Be prepared to hear Vale and Venga every three words in Cáceres.
La Siesta is very important and is honored in Cáceres and many other traditional parts of Spain by shutting down all business while people sleep. Stores and shops may close from 1:30pm-5:30pm, because they work a split workday from 10-1:30 and 5:30-9pm. Some schedules are starting to vary, but definitely do not count on “running out and buying a few things while everyone else rests,” because you will soon find out that Spain does not have America’s level of commercial convenience. After many frustrations, I eventually gave up and kept a small list of places that did open during nap time, namely stores at the mall and Carrefour, which is like Wal-Mart. I finally realized that nap time is a sacred and wonderful thing, and there was no reason for me to skip it in the name of rushing around and getting things done.
I’ve seen so many people go to Spain and be squeamish or downright rude about kissing the locals. Get over it! You will be kissed, and you will do some kissing, too. You do not actually have to kiss their faces, just place your cheek on theirs and make the noise, then do the other. In Spain, if you only do one kiss, the other person may swoop in for a second and accidentally kiss your face or mouth! Talk about awkward! Little children are generally permitted to give their relatives only one kiss. Adults must double kiss. Men can shake hands and hug, but men who are relatives may kiss and pat each other’s necks.
Personal Space and Relationships
Spaniards are, for the most part, a very warm and family-oriented people, which means they will not give you much space. They have no problem touching, hugging, getting two inches from you to talk, asking you personal questions, giving critiques, etc. If you are in the hospital, they will be there. If you need help, they’ll head over in the time it takes to call. If you do not live there and are not forming relationships, do not expect to be invited into someone’s home for a meal. Spaniards do not often let outsiders into their homes because they place so much emphasis on family and loyalty, that a passerby is seen as a forastero or outsider. Be extremely honored and gracious if they do invite you because it is not normal. It can be challenging to make meaningful, long-term friendships in Spain because of their piña friend system. Basically, children born in villages like ours are paired with their social group from the time they arrive, meaning they have instant friends. Outsiders may have a hard time fitting in or being wholeheartedly accepted. I joined a church for this reason, and met my three best friends and my husband there as a study abroad student in 2010, so it worked for me!
If given a gift, open it immediately and happily comment on how much you like it. If giving a gift, present it to the host or hostess of your meal or party, or the person it is intended for, as soon as you arrive. Expect them to open it immediately. If you are in Spain for Three King’s Day—which is like Christmas—and you receive a present, you should also open it immediately. Do not hold onto it for later or place it under a Christmas tree.
In Cáceres and many other Spanish cities, you will walk! Wear comfortable shoes and stretch out those muscles. Remember the sun is super hot in summer, so lather up. If you are walking around Cáceres’ old Part and are of Northern European descent, expect to be called a Guiri [Ghee-Ree, hard G like good]. This is any “whiter” person who dons trekking sandals and culottes, visors, and walking sticks, and generally gets redder than a lobster. Don’t worry, it’s not derogatory at all. It’s a term of endearment; after all, Cáceres and many other Spanish cities live on tourism, and without visitors, some families would not have an income.
I hope you have benefited from this brief overview of things to know before visiting Spain, specifically Cáceres, Extremadura. If you have already visited once, come back and see us again soon. One visit is not enough!
Traveling to Cáceres. . .
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© 2018 Audrey Lancho