Spain is a lot like Italy. I’ve been to Spanish speaking countries before. I spent a week in El Salvador the summer of 2015. I’ve also made brief stops in parts of Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica and Guatemala. Spain is very different, particularly with the language. Just like with British and American English, the Atlantic Ocean has been an incredibly efficient buffer zone. It’s allowed the same language to develop in two completely different cultures, free of influence from the other. As expected, discrepancies abound. The main way to identify someone from Spain is by the famous Castilian accent, in which the letters Z (before all vowels) and C (before E and I) are pronounced with a “th” sound – meaning the word “zapato” actually sounds like “thapato.” Like its distinct language, Spain’s uniqueness is almost entirely due to it’s location. It’s the only country to have Spanish as the official language but not be apart of Latin America. As a member of the European Union, Spain shares more than just its borders with
the rest of Europe. From the art, to the food, to the fashion and culture the Barcelona I saw has more in common with Rome or Paris than Mexico City. Similarly, Mexico and America owe each other plenty. For Americans more familiar with our neighbor down south, here’s a few common differences:
- Spain is more industrialized than Mexico, and the rule of law is stronger there. Mexico is still in some ways a developing country, and beset with problems of violent crime, and powerful drug cartels. Spain’s problems are mostly economic these days.
- Mexican Spanish has many more English words in it, as well as words that come from indigenous populations living in the Americas before the Europeans arrived, than Spanish from Spain.
- Spanish food is considered a Mediterranean cuisine, with influences from the Middle East. Saffron, honey, and tons of garlic and olive oil are used extensively. In Mexico, beans and tortillas make up the foundations of the diet, and are consumed much more often then they are in Spain.
- A lot of Mexican food can be eaten with your hands, like burritos and tacos. In Spain, meals are usually eaten with a knife, spoon and fork.
- The population of Mexico is mostly mestizo, although there are many different ethnicities living inside of the country. Most Spaniards can trace their ancestry to the Mediterranean or Northern Europe, but of course immigration from other parts of the world has changed the mix some.
- In Spain, for the most part, people speak a lot faster than they do Mexico, and faster than Latinos in general.
We spent the last two weeks of our trip in Spain. July 2 to the 7 we stayed in Terrassa, about 30 miles north of Barcelona. The next week and a half we stayed in the city. We flew out early Monday, July 17 at 1 in the morning. Spain reminded me a lot of Italy partly because of the colors. The buildings were sandy brown, light pink and tan. Much of the architecture shares the same baroque style as the Italians. Even further back, the Romans built some of their most outstanding monuments in Spain (known then as Hispania). The weather in both Spain and Italy was dry, hot and sunny, cooling down only slightly at night. Gelato shops were a common sight on every corner. Also the general feeling or vibe of both Barcelona and Rome was the same. I’d describe it as a bustling, summer oasis. Both cities are like giant outdoor museums, with Rome’s ancient ruins and Gaudi’s colorful designs dotted all around Barcelona. But unlike Rome, Barcelona sits between green, sloping mountains and azure ocean waters. Barcelona is less dry and more vibrant. It’s a pulsing, living being. Unlike Rome, which can sometimes feel like an ancient ruin more than a modern city. The beaches in Barca are always packed, even on cloudy days. At nights the city doesn’t come alive until well past sundown. It’s a well known party city for college kids and the reason is clear. Many bars don’t even open until midnight and they stay open until sunrise. My favorite part of the city was Sant Josep de la Boqueria, the fruit market. It’s just a left turn off La Rambla, the popular street for tourists to wander. Dating back to 1217 and possibly even earlier, the world famous market is a real pleasure for the senses. The market hosts around 200 stalls, each selling a different variety of tropical fruits, salted meat, exotic fish, flowers, spices and colorful, eye-catching candies. Fresh juice and cups of cut fruit seem to be the most popular snacks for tourists. Most stalls sell some variety of both. Barcelona, like Sicily caught me by surprise. By the time we got to Spain we’d been abroad for nearly two months. BothJustin and I were losing steam and it was initially hard just to force ourselves to get out and explore the city. I’m glad we did. I don’t know a person who wouldn’t love it there, I sure did.