Newsletter June 2012
Popular destinations in Spain

Typical Spanish

Types of humour in Spain

Is there such a thing as a "Spanish humour"? Answering this question can be a complicated matter since there is very little bibliography on the subject (either this or that some keen reader has taken from the library the books about this before us). Let’s say that, in order to elaborate the text that you are about to read, we have asked around, researched and finally followed our instinct… and we have come up with a curious classification. Of course, this isn’t official at all and there may well be (and there are) many disagreements. Let’s say that, once we pooled all the theories together, this is the division that raised less controversy.

Thus, we have divided the Spanish territory in several "humoristic" provinces: the North, the Basque, the Navarre-Aragon region, the Mediterranean, the Central and the South.

Let’s start with the northern humour, the predominant type in Galicia, Cantabria and Asturias. One could say that this type is similar to British humour: a mix of irony and composure in a way that one can be the target of a joke without even realizing it. That does not mean that the northerner doesn’t make fun of himself, too. Examples of this type of humour can be traced in the performances of Moncho Borrajo or in Luis Piedrahita’s monologues.

Moncho Borrajo
Pepe GOtera y Otilio

The Basque humour is peculiar and, often not understood outside its area. It is based on the Basque cultural difference from the rest of the world. The TV show "Vaya semanita" is paradigmatic of this type of humour, where there’s an abundance of sketches where the Basque try to adapt to a certain element of Spanish reality. For example: What would happen if a youngster from Bilbao, modern and urban, took his grandfather, a member of a traditional Basque gastronomic society, to a fast food restaurant?

In Navarre and Aragon there is a type of humour similar to the Basque, but with a particular feature: the repetitive use of an apparently provincial and innocent character who, involved in a complicated situation, turns out to be smarter than those trying to fool him. Also a remarkable feature is the use of the so called somarda: a curious concept that designates the capacity to laugh at things using sayings or commentaries with a certain dose of cynicism and unsociability. A representative humorist of the earlier could be Paco Martínez Soria, while a good example of somorda, though he didn’t dedicate himself to humour, would be the writer, politician and musician José Antonio Labordeta.

In what we have called "Mediterranean humour" we include Cataluña, Valencia and the Balearic Islands. It is one of the best well known outside our frontiers, maybe because it presents very evident features: the use of stereotyped characters (many times imitations of celebrities) that have to face different situations that normally end in a surreal way, normally with a satirical intention (the group of comedians "El Tricicle" or the theatre company "Els Joglars" fit into this group). These characters usually serve as extras for a standup comedian, like Andreu Buenafuente in Cataluña and Joan Monleón in Valencia.

We change now from a well known humoristic style to a newcomer in the humour world. We are talking about the "central humour", characteristic of regions such as Castilla La Mancha, Castilla León, Madrid and some parts of Extremadura and Murcia. We say it is a newcomer because it has recently become more popular through the work of José Mota or the cast of the TV show "Muchachada Nui" (curiously enough, they are all natural from La Mancha). This variety of humour is defined by the decontextualization of the rural world. A pair of examples: in a sketch from "La hora de José Mota", another TV show, a farmer who is dressed in the typical farming clothes claims he has a PhD obtained at the Sorbonne University; also in that show we can see a superhero called "El tío de la vara" who instead of carrying out his superhero duties in a bid city like New York, he metes out justice in village of La Mancha. The opposite can also work: in "Muchachada Nui" the actors did some very peculiar imitations of celebrities like Björk o Chuck Norris making them speak like any person from the provinces, or turning an American news program into a chronicle of an attack on China… with a melon bombing!

El Tio de la vara
Chiquito de la Calzada

We will lastly speak of the best well known type, the southern type. It belongs to Andalusia and certain parts of Extremadura. The southern humour can turn any anecdote into a joke through elements like an exaggerated narration, a peculiar accent, emphasizing certain parts of the speech, or the answer to a comment with a fast and sharp jest; that is, the humour lies in the "art" at the time of telling a story. Though sometimes an Andalusian humorist can recur to creating a character, as "Los Morancos" do, the most common thing is that the southern artist uses only a microphone. An example that combines the creation of a character with a peculiar style when telling a joke is the comedian called "Chiquito de la Calzada". One could say that it is also southern humour the one that is practiced in the Canary Islands, because it is also based on the way of telling or "embellishing" a story; nevertheless, the Canarian humorist does it in a more calm and laid-back way.

Of course this is not a definitive classification, and is by no means official. Everything is revisable, rectifiable and questionable. Furthermore, we haven’t listed the masters of Spanish humour like Eugenio (Cataluña), Gila (Madrid), Tip y Coll (Valencia and La Mancha), Martes y Trece (Madrid-La Mancha duo with elements that resemble the Catalan satire), who deserve a study that would need several books. Let’s say that the fun is that you find something else about them in books or even watching some of their performances on YouTube. You will see that all this humour stuff is taken very seriously in Spain.

Featured City

The Rastro (Madrid): All year round

"I am going to the Rastro to exchange the stickers of your collection, of your Indiana Jones album". That is how the main character in the 1986 song "Indiana" by the Madrid band "Hombres G" planned to take revenge on his girlfriend, now in love with the archaeologist. This came to say that, apart from being a common practice, changing the photos in the Madrid Rastro guaranteed that the hero of the whip would disappear from the couple’s life… because everything can be sold, bought or changed in this Madrid flea market.

But, what can be said here that you don’t know already? I am sure that during your stay in Madrid you have dedicated at least one Sunday to wander around this world-famous market (if the large crowds allow you to) similar to the Marche aux Puces St-Ouen of Paris or the Portobello market in London.

It is so popular that any open air flea market taking place in the capital is known as "rastro" or "rastrillo". The people of Madrid are not shocked by this name, but we acknowledge that the visitor might be confused, since the word "rastro" in Spanish literally means "sign, trace that remains of something". The association of term and market started in 1740 when several half clandestine stalls were placed at Ribera de Curtidores street, a very recognizable place because of the blood traces that the meat transporters left when they visited the slaughterhouses nearby.

Rastro Madrid
Madrid Rastro

The number of stalls grew, in part, because of its location (very close to the city’s center) and in part due to lack of regulation of their activity. The market expanded so much that in 1811 it was necessary to give permits to the sellers with the intention of regulating and legalizing their activities, limiting the size of the market and –rumor has it- collecting taxes of a growing and prosperous commercial activity that had been untouched by the cruel goddess of Treasury until that moment.

Though some predicted the end of the Rastro after the government interference, its fame grew and, little by little, it was turning into an institution of Madrid. In 1861 the chronicler Ramón Mesoneros Romanos (to many, the dean of the historians specialized in Madrid) describes it in his book "Old Madrid" in which we highlight this quote: "There is where the least favored classes, the day laborers and the craftsmen provide themselves of different merchandises (…) on the stalls of the secondhand dealers, packed with tools, locks, pans, candles, clocks, chains and other knickknacks." A humble market for humble people, in the end.

Maybe because of this identification with the "poor", a curious event took place in 1875: barely 400 meters away from the Rastro the famous "Mercado de la Cebada" was inaugurated, a more modern and senior wholesale food market. By the twists and turns of life, the Mercado de la Cebada will be turned into a park and a shopping mall while the Rastro remains faithful to its principles. Neither its location nor its philosophy have changed… maybe it has become slightly more glamorous due to mentions in novels, essays, articles, films and songs about it. It has also become known as a place in which anything can be found, a place in which any goods are sold and bought, no matter how crazy they may be. It virtually is a market version of Jorge Luis Borges’ "Babel’s Library".

So, Traveler, if you are willing to find anything from an old coin to a bull-shaped fan, make sure you save a Sunday morning to visit Madrid’s Rastro.

Famous Person

Judit Mascó

For a whole generation of Spaniards, the name after the sentence "the famous Spanish top model" is Judit Mascó. Her slender image, her fair skin, blonde hair and green eyes may seem to move away from the "typical Spanish beauty" archetype, to bring her closer to what we know as a "European beauty". In fact, her career wonder years were the 90’s, the years of the Olympic Games in Barcelona and the Universal Exhibition in Seville, when Spain seemed to steer away from its clichés and be just one more European country.

Judit Mascó

Apart from this fast and philosophical note on the "supranational and European Community theory of beauty" we must state that Judit Mascó is one of the most admired and highly regarded models inside and outside of our country. Now at 42 (no one would say she’s that age!) she still shines away from the fashion world, although this may sound paradoxical.

Judit Mascó was born in Barcelona in a middle class erudite family (her father was a school director). From a very young age, he shows artistic tendencies (she studied piano), but what really calls her parents’ attention is the fact that instead of playing with dolls she preferred to parade around the house dressed up in her mother’s clothes. With the years her vocation grows stronger: at age 13 she appears in the commercial ad for an ice-cream brand. Her intervention barely lasts for a few seconds, but the truth is that she attracted attention.

She won’t be too long until she takes her first steps on the catwalk. And it happens by mere coincidence: knowing that Judit has appeared in a commercial, a friend of her mother asks her to fill in for a model that couldn’t show up for the fundraising fashion show that she is organizing. Several "head-hunters" that attended the show take good note and offer their business cards to the youngster, who ends up signing with the prestigious (at the time it was a newly created agency) Francina International Modeling Agency to perfect her style.

At age 15 she does her first serious works in Milan and New York for prestigious brands like Armani, Dolce&Gabanna, Valentino, Max Mara, Carolina Herrera or Escada. She also appears on the cover of many famous fashion magazines. Actually, it is a cover what gives her international recognition: the very well known swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated (that many Spanish fans know as the yellow swimsuit cover).


That sportive image, but also sexy, was borne in mind by the organizing Committee of the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992, that turned the model into their "official image". Three years later, she announces her retirement from the catwalk, though she would keep taking part in the Pasarela Cibeles and Pasarela Gaudí, two of the most important fashion-related events in Spain. From then on, she has appeared in several commercial campaigns, starred in movies, hosted TV shows, written articles for various publications, and edited books on the fashion world and her personal experiences. It is also representative her work in support of different humanitarian organizations such as Oxfam. These activities have granted her the "Protagonistas" award due to her philanthropic labor.

Model, mother, and "flag woman" (the meaning of this last expression will be clarified in our Vocabulary section), Judit Mascó has turned into a benchmark for success for many young models that want to set the Spanish standards to their highest.

Spanish recipe

Drunk cake

You don’t have to pull your hairs out to know what this typical recipe is about. There is even a "fast" way of preparing it: take a bun that’s already made, and soak it with a mix of water, liquor and sugar. There’s even a simpler way of getting a drunk cake: going to the bakery. But since we know that you like to take on challenges, we are going to suggest you the "complicated" recipe… just in case you feel bored at the kitchen one day.

You will need two egg yolks and three egg whites, six teaspoons of flour, three teaspoons of sugar, a teaspoon of baking powder for the cake, and a glass of water, a cup of sugar and your favourite liquor (preferably a sweet on) for the syrup.

Bizcocho borracho

Before anything else, turn on the oven to 180º so that it preheats while you get to work. Whisk the egg yolks and the egg whites together with the sugar until you get a foaming mix. On a side, mix the flour with the baking powder and add this mix to the previous one little by little, until you get a pastry, which you will later put in a baking tin previously greased with butter. Put it in the oven and let it cook for 45 minutes or until the pastry is spongy and brown, and let it cool down.

Now is the time for the special detail that sets the difference, the bath of glory… in liquor. Boil the water and add sugar to it, stirring the mix until the sugar dissolves. After that, add the liquor and boil for four minutes. Let it cool and then pour the syrup on the cake… but be careful: you don’t need to completely drown it in syrup, and it shouldn’t be dry either. But, wait, why are we saying this? You will surely get an excellent sample!

Furthermore, you will have a unique recipe, because no two drunk cakes are ever the same. Firstly, because each cook pours the liquor of his choice (anisette, sweet wine, brandy, apple liquor…); and secondly because one can soak the cake with a different quantity of liquor or sugar in the syrup, and thirdly because… every guest has a different sense of taste!

Popular saying

"Ande yo caliente, ríase la gente" ("You can’t please everybody")

Though it may seem hard to relieve, we have encountered a saying that brings up controversy. Although it is true that these are often unimportant bar discussions... but there definitely are some polemic things, and us, iun the end, have to tell you what it means because sooner or later you will find someone who will use this sentence in a conversation with you. The big question is: is this an egotistical sentence, or one that says that we must remain true to who we are independently of what people say?

Imagine that on a cold day you go out into the street with a blue sweater with a huge embroidered yellow sun (the typical tacky present from our grandma). The sweater is horrible looking, so people laugh at us on our way. But we don’t care about it because we feel warm and cozy in it, and we know that those who laugh are starting to freeze and will soon have a cold. That is the image the saying refers to.

But interpretations may vary: for some, it is a negative sentence because it comes to tell us that we have to think in an egotistical way to obtain something for our own benefit, without hearing any advises; for others, though, it means that we shouldn’t fear other people’s laughs or commentaries when we know that what we are doing will be good for us. What do you think?

Unlike other adages, the origin of this one can be easily dated: between the XVI and XVII centuries. Many specialists think that this expression is a verse taken from a poem by Luis de Góngora titled "Ándeme yo caliente y ríase la gente". In the lines following the poem the author tells us that, as long as he can live at ease, he doesn’t care about what thepowerful do to him, or about the injustices that life can bring. We can’t say if it is a grumpy state of intentions or a denunciation stated with irony… what matters to us is that those words are already a part of the Spanish popular wisdom.

Though it may also well be that the saying was prior to Gongora’s poem, and he just mentioned a well-known saying. Each can choose the theory they like best for the next bar discussion.


Commonly used words from the bullfight world:

Aside from controversy and what tourist offices tell us, we have to admit that bullfighting is a part of the Spanish culture. A proof of it is the great amount of bullfighting-related terms that have made their way to our everyday language. Here’s a list with some terms that you probably heard from a Spanish friend, whether or not they are bullfighting fans.

  • Alimón: it may sound more like a fruit, but when two bullfighters perform "al alimón" what they are doing is sharing the cape –capote- (each one takes one end) and passing it over the bull. In the everyday language it means doing something together with somebody else, generally obtaining good results.
  • Bandera: when you say a bull is "de bandera" ("flag bull") means that the animal is brave, noble and demeanor. It sounds a bit sexist, but in Spain it is common to hear the expression "flag woman" to refer to an outstandingly beautiful, elegant and strong of character woman.
  • Banderilla: they are the eye-catching thin sticks that a secondary to the bullfighter drives into the bull’s back by pairs (one in each hand), with the intention of enraging it. That is also the name for a popular vinegary snack that results from sticking different types of pickles on the same stick like a skewer. As with many other things, the Spanish people are divided between those who love this gastronomic specialty, and those who despise it.
  • Bragado(literally "with knickers"): a "bragado" bull is the one whose crotch is clearer than the rest of its body, while a "bragada" person is a person of firm and strong determination. Bearing in mind the Spanish habit of emphasizing the crotch as the body part where courage lies, we believe no further explanation on how the terms relate is necessary.
  • Cabestro: what happens when the bull that’s on the bullring isn’t fierce and seems apathetic? Some docile oxen –tamer and rougher animals- are released to redirect the bull back into the corral. They are the so called cabestros. Also a rough, clumsy and simple man receives this name.
  • Capote: as we all know, the capote is the main bullfighter’s tool; that cape that is orange on one side and pinkish red on the other. It is not only used to bullfight; when the bullfighter is in danger the capote helps its colleagues to distract the bull while he stands back up or is taken into infirmary. It us then said that the crew are "throwing a capote" to the maestro. The same way, then, when we help a friend who is in a desperate situation we are also "throwing him a capote".
  • Estocada: when the bullfighter becomes a matador and takes his sword, the bull’s end is near and everyone holds their breath. This is a dramatic moment, as is also dramatic the moment in which a person is permanently damaged by the intentioned action of someone else in front of others. Whether it is in front of friends, workmates, or fiancés, we are talking about a metaphoric "estocada" (it literally translates as thrust).
  • Faena: that’s the name given to the collection of passes, moves and different actions that the bullfighter executes on the bull. If we look at it from the bullfighter’s point of view, a "faena" is also a task to accomplish. If, on the contrary, we look at it through the bull’s eyes, a "faena" is a dirty trick played on us, which will most probably turn out bad for us.
  • Lidiar: it means "fighting the bull, enraging and dodging its attacks up until bringing death to it". Given the epic of its definition it is normal that this word is also used when someone faces a complicated problem, goes into lawsuits, or even when someone has to deal with bureaucracy.
  • Muleta: if you have ever watched a bullfight you probably saw that the matador, aside from the sword ("estoque"), he carries a small red cape. That is the "muleta" (literally crutch), that helps distracting the bull and making him lower his head to give him the thrust. Nowadays it is an expression that has fallen into disuse, but not so long ago it used to be common to hear that someone "was given a muletazo" when he was a victim of a deception or a scam.
  • Picarse(literally "to get annoyed"): Have you seen those horsemen that carry a pike during the bullfights? They are the picadors, and their task is to sic the bull by stabbing it. This activity has given a name to the funny behaviour that makes us respond furiously to a provocation that’s carried out with the sole intention of bothering us.
  • Puntilla(literally "dagger"): considered by many an ignoble tool, the puntilla is a short dagger with a broad blade that is used to do away with the bull, which has stoically resisted every attempt to get killed. It is a sad ending for the animal, and its use means the shame of the bullfighter, because it is understood that he didn’t do his work right if he needs to resort to it. In this sense, "giving someone the puntilla" means to defeat him in a humiliating way or putting a bungling end to a job.
  • Descabello(literally "delivering the coup de grace"): this word is not filed alphabetically because, in order to be understood, needs the reference of words like "estocada", "puntilla" and "faena". To be accurate, the "descabello" is the final estocada given to the bull if the faena turns out good; or the strike given with the puntilla if the faena has turned out bad. In any case, it is a strike on the bull’s neck, and that means its death. Applied to the everyday life, a descabello is that circumstance that, for example, ends someone professional career or a couple’s relationship, always when the strike has been painful, and struck by someone else.
  • Puyazo: a "puya" is the iron tip of the picador’s lance. It seems to be an object that causes great pain, right? Well, a "puya" can also be a deliberate comment -generally filled with sarcasm- that annoys or hurts us. So a puyazo is… well, you can figure it out yourselves.
  • Quite: it comes from the verb "quitar" (to take out), and consists in liberating the bullfighter from a danger when the bull attacks him. Let’s say that a quite is what the seconds do when they "throw a capote". For this reason, "being at the quite" means being ready and prepared to rapidly assist someone or come in their help.
  • Tercio(literally "third"): the time of the lidia is divided into three parts (third of lances, third of banderillas, and killing third), each of them with its own characteristics and differences. Then, when in a conversation we hear "let’s change the tercio" it means that the present subject is dead, and that we want to change the direction of the get-together.
  • Torear(literally "to bullfight"): the verb that sums up everything that the bullfighter does throughout the bullfight. Nonetheless, in everyday language "torear" means "taking the piss out of someone" and "exhausting someone by constantly distracting them".

We are finished here with this list of terms. We don’t want to bullfight you any longer, so let’s change the third and deliver this text the coup de grace... We hope this hasn’t meant a faena to the reader.

Inefable (ineffable)

Old-fashioned Spanish commentators and showmen used to say this word when presenting an artist with a personal and definable style (we are talking about a time when the professionals of communication had a richer vocabulary than their readers/listeners; unlike now, when it’s the opposite situation). Ineffable is something that cannot be put into words. It’s not that we have suddenly felt poetical, but that is the exact definition of the word.

Ineffable is a painting that dazzles us with its strokes; also a musical piece so well interpreted that provokes us a cascade of emotions; even a person that seems very interesting and fascinating to us can be ineffable...

...and that is exactly the complication of this word, that it inevitable takes us to the realm of emotions and sensations, and some people find that corny. It is not the case that the word has changed its meaning completely from an exhaustive use; what happened is just that we have decided to stop using it unless we write a very pompous text to praise somebody or that we refer to a skeleton in the cupboard that makes his or her stage comeback. This how this strange word has become a characteristic term of a previous generation: if they say that your style in ineffable it is because they are writing your obituary or they are going to pay you a tribute after a 50 year long career.

Let’s say –with an expression heard at a literary circle- that this is one of these words that are similar to the crockery that we use on Christmas Eve: it has a certain shine and to many it looks beautiful, but most people only use it for very special occasions and are lazy to use in daily.

Extensive Spanish course in Valencia

Valencia is an exceptional city to learn Spanish at: very close to the sea, with a mild climate and a number of historical buildings than only a few cities exceed in Spain. Modern and traditional at the same time, it is not strange to walk around a medieval neighbourhood and, at the turn of a corner, coming across an avant-garde construction.

One could say that Valencia, through time, goes from the Quart towers to the City of the Arts and the Sciences. And what can one say about its eye-catching festivities and its extraordinary gastronomy? There aren’t two like Valencia’s in the whole of Spain... And of course they are wider than the Fallas and the paella.

A city for learning, a city to discover and a city in which to take advantage of one of our offers on extensive Spanish courses. Because our school in Valencia offers courses from 150 euros per week... with a free conversation class!

Not only will you improve your Spanish, you will also have the chance to practice what you have learned as you go out of class and on to a horchatería’s terrace (horchata is the typical drink of Valencia), buying buñuelos (fritters), asking the barman for a "water of Valencia". Summing up, having real fun!

A unique offer for a unique city!

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