After so many years of travelling and living around the world, I have finally learned that there is a huge difference between spending a couple weeks somewhere on holiday and living there full time. When I first went to Spain it was indeed on holiday to Barcelona and I was enchanted. I had always wanted to go to Spain, I had studied Spanish for about 11 years and it was always a dream to visit. My week in Barcelona led to a second trip of a marvelous 10 days in Madrid, and then a fantastic 2 weeks in Seville. Shortly after my Seville trip I moved there with the goal of completing a PhD in Sociology and settling there permanently. Flamenco, the Alhambra, Moorish castles, amazing beaches, incredible nightlife, the siesta, seafood. So much to attract the world-weary traveller!
While Spain is a wonderful place to visit and probably a great place to live if you move into one of those ex-pat beach communities, ‘real’ Spain is horrible. Culturally, the Spanish are an odd mix of the small-town American mentality and Muslim culture. The Muslim aspect is not so strange because the Moors had their stronghold in Spain until the 1400’s and their presence is evident in the Spanish gene pool, their architecture, and also many of their cultural behaviours (especially in the small towns). But I never would have expected to find such close-minded and xenophobic attitudes right smack in the middle of ‘modern’ Europe.
The Spanish have a fear of outsiders and I would even go so far as to say they even hate foreigners. It is extremely rare to find foreigners who have Spanish friends in Spain. Most foreigners are forced to befriend other foreigners because the Spanish are completely unwelcoming. I think this relates somewhat to the Spanish dread of discussing issues of race. Every ethnic group in the world has had communities in Spain (African, Asian, Muslim, and other Europeans) and when you see the ethnic diversity of the Spanish people this long and varied history is physically clear. However, the Spanish do not talk about this. If you ask a dark Spaniard about his origins he will very defensively respond that he is Spanish and only Spanish, even though he clearly looks Arab or Indian even. If you ask an Asian looking Spaniard about her ancestors she will say they are Spanish, only Spanish, even though she looks Filipino. The Spanish do not talk about their colored ancestors. They are ashamed of their multi-colored history, and I think this is one of the reasons they do not like foreigners.
Spanish culture is very conservative and especially in the southern parts of the country, young women remain virgins until they marry. Spanish men expect to marry a virgin and so foreign women will serve as their pre-marital practice. Spanish girls, especially from small towns and villages, are as cloistered as nuns or young Muslim girls. They can only go out with chaperons and they have strict curfews. The strange thing is that the Paris Hilton School of Slut style of fashion is prevalent, even in these conservative towns. Imagine that! Considering how racist the Spanish are against Muslims and Arabs as a rule, it is funny how similar their cultures are. Living in Istanbul reminds me so much of living in Seville, Spain.
The Spanish are also among the most arrogant people I have ever encountered in my life, again comparable to the ignorant small-town America mentality. They truly believe that Spain is the best place in the world so why travel when they have all they need right there? Why should they learn about other cultures and people when Spain is the ultimate? This is something that makes it virtually impossible to make long-term friends with Spanish people. During my years there, I was never asked questions about all the places I lived by my Spanish acquaintances. They were happy to talk to me about their lives, their culture, etc., but they never asked me questions about the places I lived. I think they simply weren’t interested. They would introduce me as someone very worldly, like I was an exotic doll on display, and while they were happy to look at me and talk about me to others, they were not interested in learning anything from me.
People say the Spanish are a very passionate people. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them passionate since they don’t really have very much to be passionate about except for their overwhelmingly creepy nationalism and their ongoing colonial mentality. I think what people mistake for passion is actually jealousy combined with a fiercely unfounded arrogance. I have never experienced jealousy as a cultural trait before, but I think this is very typically Spanish. Especially the women. Spanish women are indeed beautiful on the outside, but incredibly ugly on the inside, and it doesn’t take all that long to find out. If you are a foreign woman hoping to make some Spanish girlfriends, forget about it. It will be easier for you to make Spanish guy friends, but they will not be interested in being your friend. They will be nice to you for reasons completely unrelated to friendship and if you set clear boundaries for the relationship that do not involve sex, you are out of a friend. I am not kidding about this, and most foreign women I knew while in Spain had this exact experience.
In all honesty, there are volumes of essays I could write on how horrible Spain and the Spanish people are, but I don’t think that would really help anyone. I will leave this by saying that Spain is a great place to visit, but if you are considering living there then think again. Unless you will be happy in an exclusively ex-pat community in Spain, don’t bother. As nice as the Spanish may seem on the surface, and likewise the country, if you are an outsider you will remain an outsider.
Spain in a nutshell: a Spaniard will be extremely gracious, friendly and open until you reach their front door and they will happily say goodbye, leaving you on their doorstep without even thinking of inviting you inside. My advice: stay on their doorstep, remain on the fringes of Spain as an ex-pat or as a visitor. This is not a place for foreigners and truth be told, it is not so great as to waste time, energy and money fighting for a place inside unless you really have no other options in the world.