Handbook of Spanish Popular Culture

Handbook of Spanish Popular Culture

Handbook of Spanish Popular Culture

Handbook of Spanish Popular Culture


Spanish popular culture is one of the richest in the world. The absence of an efficient ruling class has allowed the people to stamp their personality on all major aspects of the country's life. This book describes the peculiar Spanish feeling for death and tragedy in popular religious practices, music and the bullfight; the "fiesta sense of life," so foreign to the work ethic of other Western countries; the oral tradition that has managed to survive into the post-industrial age with its creative use of slang, proverbs and obscenity; popular literature, the press, radio, television and the movies. A familiarity with Spanish popular culture is essential to understanding Spain.


I speak French to men, Italian to women, Spanish to God and German to my horse.

--Attributed to Emperor Charles V

Spain has one of the last oral cultures in the Western world. It is dying there and in most other places. Yet it is so ancient and rooted in the Peninsula that it will be around for a long time. For the last twenty-five years it has been changing faster than ever before. Language is such a basic part of Spanish popular culture that it must be the starting point for this book.

If you go into a bar or café around 8 o'clock in the evening, when the night is still tender in Spain, you might be surprised by the noise. The locale may be full of people standing at the bar, talking, drinking and eating tapas, or appetizers, before supper. Even if there are not many people, there will probably be a clamor. Spaniards love to talk and talk loudly. They love to get right up next to you and talk in your face, so close that many foreigners feel uncomfortable. To Anglo-Saxons, who often think that raising the voice is a sign of rudeness, Spaniards seem to be angry. More likely they are simply talking to friends in the stentorian tone they use at home, at work and in the street. The sociologist Amando de Miguel says:

A normal conversation between Spaniards resembles a situation in which somebody needs to convince someone who does not want to be convinced easily and is not even listening. This is the reason for the loud voice, the emphatic tone . . . the exaggerated gestures, the tendency to move so close that the speakers touch or exchange each other's breath. These are all maneuvers to hold the attention of an interlocutor who does everything in his power not to listen.

As Julio Caro Baroja told me in an interview, "In Spain there are many mouths and few ears." It is a pity that so many Spaniards do not listen to each other; often they have a lot to say and they take pride in saying it well. Some, in all social classes . . .

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