As a study destination, Spain is one of the most popular in Europe, attracting over 75,000 international students per year. Many temporary residents in the country – students included – are attracted to Spain by the promise of sun, sea, and siestas, and of course, they stay for its wonderful culture and people.
Besides the alluring promise of a Mediterranean lifestyle, there are many sides to Spain that you only begin to get to know when you live there. If you’re new to studying in Spain, swot up on these fascinating facts that will have you feeling like a local in no time.
Spain is a Kingdom
The country that we know today as Spain is a Kingdom, or, rather, a collection of individual kingdoms. Before the 1400s, the region was actually comprised of various regions that all had unique languages – if you thought learning Spanish was hard enough, try having to learn multiple languages from the Middle Ages!
The unification of Spain was a lengthy process that spanned decades, but a huge catalyst in bringing together the provinces and kingdoms into the country we love today was the marriage of Isabel of Castile and Fernando of Aragon in 1469.
Weird and Wonderful Fiestas
If there’s one thing the Spanish know how to do it’s throwing a fiesta! You’ll find a celebration in every village, town, and city throughout the country. While the larger festivals of Pamplona and Valencia have become world-famous, little is known outside the country of the more obscure local parties.
In Lleida, for example, there’s the annual snail festival – a unique gastronomic experience – while for something a little more palatable, O’Grove and Sueca hold seafood and paella festivals. There’s even an annual tomato fiesta, La Tomatina in Buñol, where you can pelt tomatoes at your friends and neighbors in the spirit of celebration.
Card games, like in much of Western Europe, are widely popular in Spain, but the country has a strong historical link to one game in particular – Blackjack. It’s one of the most popular casino games in existence, but its exact origins are still very much the subject of debate. While the centuries-old Blackjack in all its variants is played across the world today, many historians believe the game first originated in 17th Century Spain.
The image of the passionate Spaniard punctuating an animated conversation with flamboyant hand gestures may be a stereotype, however, it does have its roots in reality. When you spend time in Spain you’ll notice that it’s not uncommon for locals to communicate with their hands as much as their words and far from being simply hand-waving for emphasis, there’s actually a whole array of gestures with very specific meanings.
This Spanish “sign language” is definitely something you should familiarise yourself with as a student in the country, as you’ll be able to express everything from asking your friends if they’d like to go for a drink to clarifying how broke you are.
Spain’s Liquid Gold
Like much of the rest of the world, you probably assume that the world’s largest producer of olive oil is Italy. After all, what could be more quintessentially Italian than this multi-purpose ‘liquid gold’? Spaniards know better, however. The epicenter of olive oil production happens right here on your doorstep, with 43.8% of the world’s produce originating in the country. Jaén, in the region of Andalucia, is where most of the country’s olive oil production takes place.
As for the Italians go, well they’re net importers, not producers, so most of the ‘Italian’ olive oil on supermarket shelves in Europe is actually produced under the Spanish sunshine.
Lost for words
As articulate and vocal as Spaniards are, surprisingly the national anthem features absolutely no words at all. Yes, Spain’s Marcha Real is one of only four national anthems in the world that don’t have any lyrics. There are even several variations of the anthem still in existence, but according to the Royal Decree of 1997, the symphonic version has a duration of 52 seconds and should be played in B-flat major.