Culture and spanish language - March 2012

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Spanish Culture March 2012
Popular destinations in Spain

Typical Spanish


Advice on how to do business with a Spaniard

Many people may think they know how to negotiate, and the business world is alien to the Spanish (we drag along our many years worth of topics about ‘fiesta’ and our relaxed way of life), but we have to take into account that among the richest people in the world are the founder of the fashion store chain ZARA; the president of financial group Santander; and the owner of a football club such as Real Madrid, so we can do business if we know what it is.

Because of this it is probable that one day you will have to sit before an executive of our country and talk business. Will you be prepared when this day arises? Of course you will! Nevertheless we are going to give you some practical business advice and protocol on how to cope with it. Of course nothing is written in stone (a Spanish boss over 50 has little to do with a fresh batch of men and women from specialised business schools with international university degrees), but we hope that what we will tell you will be of some help.

Although famous for their spontaneity, Spanish businessmen leave little to improvisation: meetings with them have to be organised days in advance, you even have to confirm them.

A false myth is that concerning Spanish informality and punctuality. Perhaps between friends it’s ok to arrive half an hour late, but in the business world delays of any longer than 10 minutes are not acceptable.

The business atmosphere can appear informal, but we would say that the more appropriate adjective to use would be “relaxed”: the chat could contain a few jokes or could even be friendly whereas in other situations the main topic (the business) is not taken lightly.

Once you have reached an agreement about a project it is very common for the Spanish businessman to demonstrate his interest from time to time by calling you in order to show enthusiasm in the state of affairs.

Cerrar contrato
Iker Casillas

It is also difficult to find a Spaniard between 2 and 4pm of any day because commonly this is the time for lunch. Spanish bosses can however also arrange business lunches. The atmosphere of these is generally friendly but they continue to discuss important details about the project or activity. Many businesses are known to have been founded over a friendly lunch and substantial agreements settled over a good dessert.

And which restaurant should we choose in the case of having to invite a Spanish executive to a ‘business lunch’? It is recommended that you find out the tastes of the person; but in general terms we can say that executives over 50 prefer spit roasts and seafood restaurants whereas younger types are more into modern and prestigious restaurants that serve healthy food.

Recently ‘Informal negotiations’ have also become popular that can possibly take place in a sporty atmosphere: playing golf, tennis, paddle tennis…we would say that for many ‘new generation businessmen’ these kinds of activities have replaced business lunches.

With respect to protocol there is a fundamental theme: to be careful. We have already said that Spaniards are friendly and relaxed when discussing negotiations. However we also have a well-developed sense of honour and pride which can be wounded with, admittedly, ease. It is important to take care with comments and evade certain topics such as politics, the territorial situation (especially comparisons between large cities) or, currently, the theme of bullfighting. You must remember that we have spent years fighting against these subjects and it isn’t a very good idea to bring to the surface for example, although a joke, the topic of ‘toro, España ¡y olé!’ (‘Bull, Spain and olé!’).

It is also certain that this sense of honour also has a positive side. For many Spanish businesses saying the word is as good as signing the contract.

We’re not boasting about knowing the psyche of Spanish businessmen and women perfectly (we repeat that this is only a guide) this text is worthy of pressing the point that even if we don’t appear serious, in business and work we achieve the best possible.

Featured City

Constitución Cádiz

Cádiz (bicentenary of 'La Pepa')

This year, 2012, we celebrate 200 years since the birth of ‘La Pepa’ in Cadiz. And no, we’re not talking about a person, but of the first Spanish constitution. It was named ‘Pepa’ because it was promulgated on the 19th of March, the day of San José (and as you know the name ‘Pepe’ is short for ‘José’).

We are not going to recount the whole history of the Napoleonic invasions or the political evolution of Spain during these years. It’s suffice to say that in this period Cádiz was the last redoubt of a Spanish government that wanted to affront a new century leaving many of its ghosts behind and being reborn from the ashes left behind by the French bombs like a strong and modern nation.

Already much time has past since then and the government, politics and society has given their lives many times. But Cádiz never forgets its role as the city that was once the capital of the New Spain. So throughout this year it has found itself bowled over in the celebration of its major contribution to history.

So throughout this month you will be able to see exhibitions, go to conferences, assist with concerts and dance shows (one of their main events is the special show created by Sara Baras) and even participate in competitions dedicated to remembering the constitution and that particular period of time.

Also you will be able to enjoy special tours arranged so that visitors to the city understand in detail how life was in the city during the ‘La Pepa’ period and its turbulent political life.

The special events take place and it is impossible to describe them. The best way to experience them is to go directly to the city itself and be part of its history. We ask visitors to pay attention though because it’s possible that you could come across the spirit (we are not going to use the word ‘ghost’ because this isn’t about a horror movie) of one of its writers, inspired by the recognition of their work 200 years later.

That only leaves us to say something already said at the time by thousands of people of Cadiz convinced that they are representatives of liberty, equality and a new order…¡Viva La Pepa!

Famous Person

Joaquín Cortés

Practically everybody recognises the name of this dancer. What they may not recognise so well is his style of dance, is it flamenco? Fusion? Dance inspired by his andalusian roots with combined with his own style? Controversy has always surrounded the shows of Joaquín Cortes’: there are many that admire him and argue that he has revitalised flamenco, adapting it to new demands, cultures and even technologies; and others who say that he has converted ‘the art’ into a mainstream show that lacks personality.

What one cannot negate is his dedication this month and the fact that he is a ‘thoroughbred’ artist. His parents were already in show business and you could say that since his birth, in Córdoba where he lived until 1969, he knew all about the stage. It’s hardly surprising that at as young as 12 he already knew that he was going to be a dancer. Because of this he went to live in Madrid where at the time he would have more of an advantage to make contact with experimental art as well as more classic flamenco bars.

In 1984, at 15, he became part of the National Spanish Ballet Company, continuing at the same time as a soloist dancer. During this time he travelled the world as part of different productions and worked with people such as the likes of Maya Plisétskaya.

Joaquín Cortés
Joaquín Cortés

With a considerable amount of significant experience on his shoulders, in 1992 he made the leap and created his own company, the ‘Joaquín Cortés Ballet Flamenco’. During this year he became well-known amongst the public after appearing in the music video of famous group ‘Mecano’ corresponding to their flamenco sounding song ‘Una rosa es una rosa’ (‘A rose is a rose’).

3 years later he became a worldwide celebrity thanks to the success of his production ‘Pasión Gitana’. This staging, a spectacle where it was shown, counted on another attraction: Giorgio Armani designed the costumes. It was clear that Joaquín knew how to appeal to his public (at that time flamenco, properly modernised to keep up with a ‘chic’ tone, had become fashionable among the modern intellectual classes) and the million people that turned up to see him during his world tour gave him faith.

Cortés reached a level of fame unknown until then: he appeared on television programs all over the world, he danced for the best film directors during the presentation of the Oscars, he claimed cinema directors such as Saura or Almodóvar himself and even inspired a model of car, the SEAT passion (in whose publicity the dancer appeared dancing with the car).

With so much work it is no surprise that the year 2000 quickly crept up. And he welcomed it with a new project not connected to dance: Joaquín appeared in the film ‘Gitano’ as the leading actor. However neither the film nor his performance received significant recognition. Many came to the conclusion that Joaquín had already landed himself ‘en la sopa’ (‘in the soup’).

The artist reacted in time and before the decline in interest in his shows in Spain he decided to throw himself into an international career. His following productions were successfully premiered in London, Mexico, Milan…and formed part of productions by Jennifer Lopez and Alicia Keys, among others.

Work and the stage have never left him. You could say that he has more experience than other artists his age (in fact in 2010 he was awarded the ‘Medalla de Oro de las Bellas Artes’ (‘Gold Medal of Fine Arts’) for his 25 years in the business). So despite his controversial or small ‘pure’ job you have to recognise that he has limitless passion…and that, say what they will, he was one of the artists who brought flamenco back to the big international stage. This means a lot, and I mean a lot.

Of course, something curious to note…did you know that Joaquín Cortés inspired a videogame character? We’re talking about Vamp from ‘Metal Gear Solid 2’. Strange where these famous flamenco dancers get to.

Spanish Recipe



According to history fritters were the favourite sweets of the Arabs who lodged in Granada. The truth is that we understand them being described (fritters, of course) as sweet dough which is fried until it becomes golden and is then dipped into boiling honey. For those with a sweet-tooth, this is ecstasy.

What is certain is that the recipe has changed very little (the basic recipe is easy and we will provide it below); but distinct varieties do exist depending on the region. For example: in Valencia they add pumpkin to the dough; in Catalonia they fill them with cream; in Madrid they call them ‘wind fritters´, which gives you an idea as to their filling (that is to say, air); in Andalucía they add sugar to them before throwing them into the frying pan... not to mention that in every home, mothers and grandmothers have their own distinct way of preparing them.

So how can you make your own contribution to the long fritter tradition? Firstly you need to make sure that you have the basic ingredients (quantities are to serve 4 people):

  • 75g of butter
  • 500 g of flour
  • 125ml of water
  • 125ml of milk
  • 4 eggs and a pinch of salt

Then the easy part is to mix the water and milk, and leave to boil, and then add the butter, allow it to melt, then add the flour and stir the mixture over the heat for 2 minutes until it goes soft. Next, after leaving the dough to go cold, we add the eggs (without whisking) and continue to mix. When it is well mixed, we make small balls out of the dough and fry them in plenty of oil.

Now is when you add the personal touch: once they are cold, you can sprinkle them with fine sugar and fill them with whatever you like (chocolate, cream, even salad cream if you want). Make sure you do this with a baking sleeve and take care, as the fritters are fragile.

You already have a typical Spanish dish for yourself…well, no… not just for you. Given that the fried dough is very filling, and you shouldn’t really eat more than 3 in one go, make sure you have a couple of friends round when you are serving it!

Popular Saying

“Estar hecho de rabos de lagartija” (To be made from lizard tail)

At some point during their childhood, every Spanish child has heard the phrase “Estás hecho de rabos de lagartija” come from their mum’s or grandma’s mouth. Yes, you may be thinking that this sounds rather repulsive; however it is just as innocent as saying that the child in question isn’t particularly quiet, and is starting to exasperate their parents.

If you have ever been to the countryside and come across a lizard, you will understand this saying very well: If they are threatened, a lizard is able to get rid of its tail, by shaking it in an aggressive manner. It’s a sight you won’t soon forget.

If these “lizard tails” move as if they were alive, what would a being made completely out of them be like? Obviously it wouldn’t be too friendly; it would be a loud, hysterical creature. Now, compare that to your neighbour’s son, who is running around the corridor and running down the stairs shouting in such a manner that you can hear it from the confines of your own home, playing ball at 2am, making loud noises in the house… there isn’t much difference is there?

The main element that distinguishes this person or child “made from lizard’s tail” is that their nervousness and hysteria don’t have an apparent reason. You can’t apply the expression to someone, for example, who is waiting for the repair man when he is 2 hours late (this is called being “como un tigre en una jaula” - “like a tiger in a cage”) or an executive who is pacing around their office trying to think of a solution to a big problem at the last minute (“más nervioso que un pavo en nochebuena” - “more nervous than a turkey at Christmas”).

Another characteristic of this saying is that it usually applies to children. In cases where it applies to older people, it implies a certain element of childishness that can be seen as a bit of an insult: although, if a 37 year-old friend decides to get thrown out of a coffee house, pester the waiters or scratch a car with a key, then the insult is justified.

In conclusion, for the good of everyone reading this, let’s hope you never come to use this expression.


Student jargon: from “swots” to “the cool kids” moving to cramming for exams and “cheat sheets”

“This subject is so hard that I couldn’t swot up on it. If I don’t make a cheat sheet, I’m going to fail”. This is an expression that every student has used, and it means “this subject is so hard that I couldn’t study it in-depth. If I don’t cheat on the exam then I’ll be suspended” The language of Spanish students is rich in expressions such as these (and every year the list gets longer) and for this reason we think it’s important that you become familiar with some of these terms and their meanings. The only problem is that we are already old and some of these words could have a distinct meaning…or not exist anymore. So, we’ll just see how it goes.


“Dar el cambiazo”: The old tactician knows this expression to mean switching the blank exam paper with one brought from home. It goes without saying that to do this, you need to know the contents of the exam beforehand.


: This is a very sour fruit indeed, expressing very negative results in Spanish. In the student world this means a “0” (the worst mark you can get on an exam).

“Catear”: This means the same as “to get suspended”. Interestingly, the term “cate” means a slap in the face. This may be because the feeling of getting suspended is similar to that of receiving a slap in the face.

“Chapar”: This means “to work or study a lot” (to cram). Curiously “chapar” also means “to close”, maybe because the cramming student is closed off in their room?

“Chuleta”: For a student, a “chuleta” is a piece of paper on which they have written a term or answers to an exam and hidden it somewhere where they can refer to it during the test. There are several theories about the origin of the term: some say that Jews ate their papers in order to hide their identity, another theory (much more credible) refers to the “chuleta” as a term that carpenters used to refer to a tool that they used to hide cracks in wood. In the same manner, a student uses a “chuleta” to paper over the cracks in their own learning.

“Empollar”: This is what a hen does when it is warming the eggs that its chicks come out of. When a student “empolla” or swots”, he studies with the same dedication as a hen looking after her eggs.

“Hueso”: They say that a “hueso” is a subject or assignment that is so dry, complicated and theoretical that you almost feel bloated. It is also said that trying to understand it is like trying to gnaw at a bone; i.e. useless.

“Ir de pira”: In some places in Spain this is the equivalent of walking out of class. Some say that they use “pira” (bonfire) because it is like “burning a class” others say that it comes from a gypsy expression that means essentially “to make oneself scarce”.


“Matracas”: A student would call maths class “matracas”. But this word means “consistent annoyance in a certain subject”. What’s more, the class is so boring; it is pretty obvious why maths is labelled this way.

“Novillos”: To miss a class or all your classes on one day, without any justification. A “novillo” is also a 3 year-old bull. Maybe it is used because an untamed fighting bull is devoted to wandering around...

“Pelársela”: In the area of Levante this expression is used to say that you have skipped a class. It’s not a term you should use in other areas other than those around Valencia. We aren’t going to say why, but we insist: it’s good to know the expression, but don’t use it.

“Pellas”: It seems that missing something you should have done has more words for it in the student vocabulary then any other kind of term. “Hacer pellas” also means to skip class, but it has a cornier component to it then the others.

“Rosco”: This is synonymous of “calabrazas”- getting suspended. It is obvious why this is: This worst mark possible is a zero and a rosco is a pudding in the shape of an “O”.

“Soplar”: This is perhaps the most elegant of all the words we have seen thus far. This may be due to it referring to the bordering on intimate moment when a friend whispers answers to you during a test.

There are many, many more. Like we said, every generation brings their own words. This can be good for the language… but it is a nightmare for those of us who decided to go into teaching.


An old song from Madrid says ‘How pure-blooded and Madrid-hearted I feel, great disgust for the tuesteses and the fox-trots’. For a long time the term ‘castizo’ has been associated with a person born into a Madrilenian family were each generation in turn was born and raised in Madrid.

However this use, despite being bad for the people of Lavapiés, is incorrect. In reality the word refers to something ‘pure, typical or genuine’. Agreed, a Madrilenian son born from Madrilenian parents whose parents were also Madrilenian is ‘castizo’; but so is the son of someone from Toledo whose parents were also born in the same place. In the same way, eating a calamari sandwich in the Plaza Mayor is ‘castizo’, but so is eating a good portion of suckling pig in Segovia.

So when did this variation of terminology occur and turn it into word which is only used in reference to the capital? The specific science is unknown, although it is likely that its use arose in the period when many families from other regions immigrated to Madrid in order to find work and improve their lives. In this case those that were Madrilenian ‘through and through’ considered the new arrivals from other villages to have no city culture. So a ‘pure-blooded’ Madrilenian knew his way around the city, had a distinguished attitude and spoke an appropriate and sophisticated language, more typical of a capital, more urbanely authentic, more, in a word, ‘castizo’.

People supposedly refered to themselves as castizos, those that weren’t from the capital already started to think that this word already implied a ‘Madrilenian’ character…and this ‘false’ meaning prevailed.

We don’t mean to say that Madrilenians have made this improper use of the term appropriate. We simply want to say that it is a term that all those who feel authentically Spanish can use. We don’t believe that any more castizos exist.

Do you have a Google account? About to discover your social network? Well just to let you know that, if you look for us, you will now also find us on Google+ and you can also search for us directly from your browser: type and you will automatically be directed to our account.

Every day we update our account with new updates. So if you want to be the first to hear about our promotions, find out new facts about Spanish culture or learn a little more about our language, you already know where to find us. And if you want, you can even add us to your favourites.

Furthermore, if you want to share any of our blog posts from Google+ you can do it quickly and easily: on the right of the content you will see a tab with ‘+1’ on a blue background. Click on it and a bubble will appear telling you that you are able to share a link to the text from you own wall, click on ‘share’…and that’s it!

Oh! And of course you can comment on any of our content: remember that this is a web network and it weaves in and out of everything.

So there you go: search for us on Google+ and enjoy Spanish.

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