Culture and spanish language - February 2012

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Spanish Culture February 2012
Popular destinations in Spain

Typical Spanish

Architecture (from manors to farmhouses)

It hasn’t been that long since Spanish school children were learning a subject called “sociales” which brought together something from the history, the geography and the culture of our country. One of the inevitable themes was the typical architecture of each region. It wasn’t anything specialised, (when you are 10 years old you don’t have the head for distinguishing a buttress from a balustrade) but it gave you an idea of how a home from one area varied from another. Allow us now to play teachers and teach you, although somewhat briefly, about the typical Spanish homes.

We’ll start with Galicia: Here, the typical building is the manor house. It is made up of a rectangular stately home around which other outbuildings such as a chapel, a warehouse or a kitchen. You will recognise it by its thick stone walls (to protect the residents from the Northern cold)

Asturias: In this area we find the typical country house. It is a curious home made with thick stone walls that usually comprise of 3 wings (main house, barn and a stable). The main house usually has 2 floors and is rounded off by a sloping roof (like the ones drawn by children)

Cantabria: This area’s typical home, the “big house”, can be said to be half-way between a country home and a palace. We still find thick stone walls, but with several windows on the frontage (so the sunlight floods in) as well as balconies, usually made from wood, which sometimes serve as porches to shelter visitors before they go inside.

Basque Country: The most recognisable property here is the country house. It is a large, tall building usually made up of 2 floors. While the lower floor is made of stone, the top floor is generally made up of brick with some wooden elements (in order to make the top floor lighter). The most obvious characteristics are the sloping roof and the entranceway, which is an arc.

Navarra: Here you will find the typical country house although there is one difference: the top floor is also made of stone.

Aragón: : It is difficult to describe a typical Aragonian property as it is considered to be something between the Basque, Navarra and Catalan design. Although what is certain is that it has its own characteristics: the use of heavier, thicker brick as well as more balconies, Arabian slate and is usually taller than 2 floors.

Catalonia: Another area famed for its country house, it has been said that Catalonia has been influenced by popular Italian architecture (remember that Catalonian ports were very important for trade coming from Italy). The shape is rectangular; it usually has 2 floors, of which the lower one (generally with a baked mud floor) is the main one in which the living areas are, and the second floor houses the storage. In coastal areas there may well be a tower (reminiscent of times in which you had to defend yourself from pirates coming ashore).


Valencia: The typical Valencian property, la Barraca, draws your attention with its large size (they usually measure 9 metres wide and 5 metres high) and its triangular shape. Furthermore, the materials used are quite unique: the house is made up of baked mud bricks and it has a thatched roof. The typical house is modest; however it is well adapted to the heat which has been made well known to the rest of Spain by Valencian writer Vicente Blasco Ibañez.

Murcia: Typically Murcian is the “work house”. Well adapted to the dry, warm weather, it has a large shaded porch for the cool air to circulate before getting to the ground floor, where you find the main living areas as well as a pantry, stable and the hutch. The upper floor is for bedroom and storage. Older work houses also had a 3rd floor similar to a tower in which you would find silk works.

Andalucía: El Cortijo is possibly the most internationally well-known kind of Spanish building. It consists of more than one building and is complete with several outbuildings (such as kitchens, barns or bedrooms) distributed around a patio. Its most recognisable feature is its remarkable whiteness (the walls are whitewashed). As the years have passed, they have become synonymous with the Andalucía of the Romantic era which authors such as the Frenchman Mérimée (creator of the myth “Carmen”) fell in love with.

Extremadura: Typical of this austere region is el chozo. It is a moderate, circular building made of stone and only has one room. Its roof can be covered in straw or and branches like pottery roves. El chozo is one of the oldest and durable homes in Spain, as well as one of the most abundant.

Castilla-León: The typical Castellan house, the albercana, is renowned for its height; it has 3 floors. The first, mad from stone and granite, serves as a pantry, and has a staircase by which you access the 2nd floor, which houses the living areas, and the 3rd floor that serves as a “sequero”, or storage. Strangely, older albercenas didn’t have chimneys: The heat alone from the animals on the 2nd floor warmed up the house, and the roof allowed the smoke from the kitchen to escape, after it had kept warm all the food stored in the sequero.

Madrid: In the older parts of Madrid still survive some corallas, old, tall buildings made from brick and surrounded by a patio. Dating from the 17th century, their construction has been prolonged until the early 20th century. They wee ideal for accommodating immigrants from the countryside (they were no more than 30 metres squared), and given the amount of people that could live in them they were called “vertical villages”.

Castilla-La Mancha: As well as with the cortijo, the Cigarral is more of a complete property than one building. Although it does differ from the Andalucian construction as it is surrounded by gardens and is essentially a recreational villa. These properties were always very stately- proof of this can be found in the fact that the minimum area of the property had to be at least 70, 000 metres squared.

The Canaries: The curious “earthly house” will perhaps remind you of the houses that appear in several plays from Eastern Spain; one floor, rectangular, made out of stone and with a flat ceiling, usually made out of wood. This type of dwelling is ideal to cool off during the worm summer months. A funny detail of the house is its little chimney… who would feel cold in the Canaries?

Baleares: We don’t know if it is because of the Mediterranean influence of because of the Greeks, however the typical Balear architecture does remind us of the Hellenic islands with its whitewashed walls, its height (most have at least 3 floors), its arcs and its pottery roofs . The buildings here have a certain je ne sais quoi about them, and we would say that a village in Menorca or Ibiza would belong in the Balearas islands.

Of course there are many typical buildings (one region could have several different kinds of home depending on the area, such as the pinariegas in Castilla or the silos toledanos) and some of them can be controversial: some “typical” buildings have only been so since the 19th century, the époque of Romanticism and go against the “popular” character of the area., with some typical buildings only being available to the wealthy residents. What is certain is that this is the subject of several books, so we invite our readers to research and find out more.

Featured City

Marbella and its carnival

If the character of Southern Spain stands out for its joyful nature, imagine what happens when the carnival comes to town. An explosion of colour and music inundates the streets and houses. Nothing is considered too much at this celebration, and Marbella is no exception.

In 2012 the city will celebrate the carnival from the 11th to the 25th of February. All these days has something distinctive about them, whether it be parades, hikes, tournaments as well as days devoted to food. Don’t forget that there are of course musical groups and comedians from all of Andalucia who, with their caustic songs, make us reflect on the society around us in a humourous light.

The carnival starts with the reading of an opening speech and the election of Dios Momo, Venus and her entourage of nymphs (a mythological version of the “kings and queens of the Carnival”). From this moment on the city is converted into a grand scene with a multitude of actors: each resident dons a disguise and laughs at the trivialities of everyday life, and gives a mocking slant on events that can be found in other areas such as races, food sampling and swimming…If there is something missing from the unconscious genius of the people of Marbella, we don’t know what it is.

Something we recommend doing is to arrive with as little information as possible. There are things to see everywhere, and you can really embark upon a journey of “carnival discovery” wherever you go in the city. So get a bit lost and enjoy yourselves.

Although bear one thing in mind: as a spectacle it plays with us. Arriving and seeing the burying of the sardine in most places signifies the rather abrupt end to the festival. However, the truth is that it’s not the end at all: after the burial there is one more day, an intense day of celebration before the festival is over for another year.

But, after all that has the moment arrived to go home after the carnival? Maybe not… because the everyday life of Marbella has its own attractions. We invite you to go and discover them… Hurry though, as the carnival is about to start!

Famous Person

Iker Casillas

This humble sports editor is going to the start the biography with a story that I heard from a friend: “We were there, in front of the television: Iker, the captain of the team, winner of the World Cup, idol not only of Madrid but of the entirety of Spain, was speaking to the most desired female sports reporter in the country… and suddenly “Muac!” he gives her a kiss. In that moment we were all Spanish, but we all wanted to be Casillas, the epitome of personal triumph, idolised by men, desired by women.

The man who is writing this recognises that, when he heard this commentary one evening in August, sat with a beer he considered that the aforementioned dialogue is too cheesy. However, the truth is that it is an excellent review of who is for many of us, Spain’s outstanding personality. Iker Casillas.

Iker was born in Móstoles (Madrid) in 1981 and very quickly stood out as a goalkeeper in school and regional tournaments. He considers himself to be a Madridista through and through, and at only 11 years old he was “discovered” by one of the scouts for the juniour teams of Real Madrid. He brought attention to himself with his determination, speed and reflexes (something which, let’s be honest, has saved the Spanish team from defeat on several occasions).

To say that his rise to the top was meteoric would be an understatement. At 16 he and the rest of the Spanish team won the European U16 championship. This triumph led to a call to the first team, although he was not exempt from a bit of luck as the 2 other goalkeepers at Real Madrid were injured. However this season he didn’t play (Santiago Cañizares was the 3rd choice goalkeeper and Iker only served as back-up on the bench).

Iker Casillas
Iker Casillas

Casillas’s real debut came in 1999. He didn’t disappoint his team-mates, his coaches or the public, and demonstrated why, at the end of the season he won the Bravo Trophy for the most promising player in Spanish football. However at this point he had to keep himself limited to being promising; although he played matches for the first team, he wasn’t a certainty to become a nailed on Real Madrid player.

Iker went on to win himself fame as an unbeatable goalkeeper, to such a point where he was called “Saint Iker” for the miraculous way in which he stopped players from putting the ball in his net. He merited selection in the national “sub20” and en route to the semi final Casillas was considered good enough to be Real Madrid’s number 1. En 2000, he became the youngest player in the first division (he went to training by bus because he didn’t have a driving license).

Although, as is almost always the way of things, after a great triumph comes a rough patch. 2001 saw Iker at fault several times, and people wondered, has something happened to him? Has “Saint Iker” been turned into a mere mortal? But not for long: during the dying moments of the 2002 Champion’s League final between Real Madrid and Bayern Leverkusen, the Real Madrid goalkeeper, César, suffered and injury, and the coach (strangely enough it was Vicente del Bosque) called on Casillas, who came on and made a string of incredible saves and won a winner’s medal.

From this moment on the victories came pouring in: the treble of La Liga, the Spanish Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup, 3 more league titles, however he also went through a stage without winning trophies, but it was never in doubt that he was a dedicated and talented goalkeeper.

In 2009 he achieved a great feat after equalling the number of appearances made by legendary Real Madrid keeper Paco Buyo (454). As you can imagine, Iker has since added to this record.

The finale came in 2010, when the Spanish team earned the title of champions of the world. He didn’t only win a prize that seemed impossible (the inability of the Spanish team to win an international tournament was often talked about) however he also got to kiss the most desired female journalist of the time (although in fairness Sara Carbonero was his official girlfriend). Casillas made himself a hero and he regained something that seemed lost to the disillusioned Spanish: a sense of the epic.

And it went on from there: He became captain of Real Madrid and was considered amongst the best players in the world, however those who know him say that he still feels young and is in good humour. They say that he is one of those people that you envy, however would still invite out for a drink at the drop of a hat.

Spanish Recipe

Tarta de Santiago
Tarta de Santiago
Tarta de Santiago

One of the pride and joy of Spanish food is the tarta de Santiago. You will have seen it in many cafés in Santiago de Compostela: a round, sponge tart adorned with a cross. What is curious about this is that it is older than we think, but more modern than it appears.

Let us explain: Already in 1577 existed the “first version” called “tortareal”, which was very elaborate with almond oil, eggs and sugar. The recipe evolved over the years: ground cinnamon and lemon were added, and it was decorates with a layer of ground sugar. However it wasn’t known as the “tarta de Santiago” until 1924 when the owner of the “Casa Mora” bakery decided to adorn it with the silhouette of a cross of the Order or Santiago (the League of Gentlemen that protected the pilgrims).

It’s not difficult to describe it from our point of view, however, let’s be honest, like with a lot of “easy” recipes, the hard part is to find the point at which the sponge cake transforms into a pie dipped in coffee that sends those who eat it into ecstasy. We trust that our readers are experienced in the trials and tribulations of making food. So for this reason, we give you the recipe.

You will need 250g of almonds (or almond oil), 250g of sugar, 5 eggs, cinnamon, lemon peel and sugar to decorate it. To start, mix the sugar with the eggs and beat them. Next, add the ground almonds (or almond oil), the cinnamon and mix it all together. Then you need to put the mixture in a cake mould (we recommend greasing it first) and cook at 170° for 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden.

Once cool, the tart can be decorated. You only have to cut out one Santiago cross, (you can look it up on the internet) put it on top of the sponge and sprinkle it with sugar for decoration (It can be ground sugar if needed) and carefully lift off the cross. And there we go! The pilgrim’s desert in an instant.

Ah! Remember that a good sponge cake can stay fresh for several days…but if you have made it well then it should all be gone just minutes after you putting it on the table.

Popular Saying

‘Al pan, pan y al vino, vino’ (equivalent in English - ‘Call a spade a spade’)

Bread and wine are authentic Spanish specialities. Well…you could also say that they are authentically French or authentically Italian…but we are going to explain the popular Spanish saying.

So what does the saying ‘al pan, pan y al vino, vino’ that we hear so often from the mouths of Spaniards from all backgrounds actually mean? Misleading as it is, the phrase bears no relation to food, but is a sentence about telling the truth. Indeed, it’s one of those philosophical things.

The point the phrase is trying to make is that you have to call things by their names because they are what they are, without beating about the bush or taking any detours. Let’s take an example: a friend has invited us out for a drink but, when the time arises to pay, they have disappeared. We can think that, being our friend, they have had to leave to make an emergency call or that, scatterbrained as they are, they simply forgot to pay…but no…in reality we have been played and have been left with the bill on the table! Our friend is a miserable example of ‘al pan, pan y al vino, vino’.

What’s funny is that in order for us to convince ourselves that we don’t take any of these detours or embellish everything we say we have created a confusing and excessively metaphorical proverb that has no actual roots in the Spanish language. We return to the old theme of contradictory Spanish character. Specialists have traced the roots of the proverb back to distant times: Could it be the evolution of the Roman ‘In vino, veritas’ (‘in wine is truth’) which means that ‘the drunk tell the truth’?

What is certain is…what we do not know, we are ignorant to respect. ‘Al pan, pan y al vino, vino’.


At the bar: from a ‘mini’ to a ‘chupito’ along with a ‘tercio’

As sung in the song from the 80’s: ‘Bars, what pleasant places to have a chat’. However going for a drink with Spanish friends can be a ‘bad experience’: the bar-related vocabulary of our language is varied and, at the very least, it’s easy to make a mistake when asking for something. Here we present some of the strangest and most common terminology used in our locals.

Agua: If you ask for ‘agua’ (‘water’) in a bar then that is exactly what you will get, a glass of water or a carafe of tap water (this is free). If you wanted a bottle ask for ‘agua mineral’ (‘mineral water’). Warning: the difference between Spain and other countries is that here mineral water isn’t fizzy. If you want it with bubbles be specific and ask for ‘agua con gas’ (‘water with gas’).

Banderillas: In many bars drinks are served with a plate of ‘banderillas’. No, not the tools used by a bullfighter but a type of mini-kebab with olives, pepper, onions and gherkins in vinager.

Bodega: When you are here it will surprise you to notice that some bars are called ‘bodegas’. In theory they should be local bars that serve only house wines. However in reality they are bars just like any other, but of course with many years of antiquity.

‘Bote’: In reference to bars this word can mean two things; on one hand it can mean a drink served in a can instead of a bottle; and on the other hand it can mean the tip that you leave for the waiter. If you’re in the ‘bar of a lifetime’ you could even see a can or transparent pot full of coins: this was what was first called a ‘bote’ in the beginning.

Botellín: When you ask for a ‘botellín’ in a Spanish bar the barman will understand that you want a bottle of beer (usually without a glass). But this is no ordinary bottle of beer: a ‘botellín’ has a capacity of 20 centilitres. In some areas the word ‘quinto’ is also used (because it contains 1/5 of a litre).


Botijo: If you hear someone of a mature age ask for one of these you should know that it doesn’t refer to an earthenware pot with two holes filled with water, but a bottle of beer. The expression was at its peak during the 80s…and its fall began in the 90s.

Caña: a ‘caña’ is a tube-shaped glass filled with beer (usually with a capacity of 20centilitres). A true ‘caña’ has to be ‘thrown’ from a tap, never poured from a bottle.

Capotín: It’s easy to think that this sounds like some exotic cocktail with a Spanish ‘matador’ flavour but no. A ‘capotín’ is the Gibraltarian name given to a simple ‘cup of tea’ (to put it precisely, the ‘Anglo Hispanic’ translation of ‘cup of tea’).

Carajillo: The ‘Carajillo’ is something as simple as a coffee with a generous splash of something alcoholic (normally brandy, although it’s also possible to have it with rum or orujo). Of course it is a drink which is mainly enjoyed after a meal; although in outdoor cafés (wholesale food markets, loading docks) you can have it with breakfast to keep warm. It’s only suitable for consumption first thing in the morning for such types of workers who have titanium-lined stomachs.

Cerveza: No problems with this one. The Spanish ‘cerveza’ is the same as in any other country. That said: don’t waste time asking for ‘stouts’, ‘ales’ or ‘pilsners’. Whether you’re in a ‘cervecería’ or a ‘pub’, the beer of Spanish bars is always lager.

Chato: The word designated to describe a short, wide glass. They are used in Spanish bars due to the fact that they hold approximately one finger of wine (of course we are talking about ‘one finger’ in the horizontal sense).

Chiquito: Also known as ‘txikito’ in the Basque country, many people believe that is the equivalent of the word ‘chato’. However el ‘chiquito’ is a small glass of wine.

Chupito: A rather ‘advanced’ term. We say that a ‘chupito’ is a ‘chiquito’ but filled with an alcoholic beverage that isn’t wine (vodka, tequila, whisky…).

Clara: A word used to describe beer than has been diluted using soda or lemonade. The beauty of ‘clara’ is that is has to be prepared in front of you. Currently there exist ‘pre-made’ claras but these are more generally known as ‘shandy’.

Cortado: A ‘cortado’ is an espresso coffee with a small amount of milk (we assume to soften its natural bitterness). Not to be confused with a ‘manchado’, this is the opposite, a glass of milk mixed with a small amount of coffee.

Cubata: It would be easy to say that a ‘cubata’ is a ‘cubalibre’ (rum/gin and coke), but as some so plainly put it ‘it’s a drink mixed with coke’. Explanation: the Spanish ‘cubata’ is always made with coke but the alcoholic accompaniment could be either white rum or gin…some also take it with whisky. You could say that the ‘cubata’ is like paella; it’s always made with the same base ingredient but what else you add is completely your choice. Therefore if you want to order one in a bar as for ‘un cubata de…’ (Add your preferred liquor here).

Katxi (o Cachi): In the Basque country (and some areas of Navarre) the ‘katxi’ is a gigantic plastic glass full of cocktail. Supposedly it got its name because the glasses measure ‘casi’ (‘almost’) a litre (‘katxi’ translates to ‘casi’ in Spanish), but others say that its name comes from the fact that if it were to fall on someone, there would always be someone who would shout ‘¡Cachis!’(Which translates as ‘Oops!’).

Manzanilla: A problematic drink depending on where it’s made, the ‘manzanilla’ that is served in Spanish bars could range from an andalusian white wine to a Camomile tea. Depending on whether you’re in an andalusian bar or in another region, you should make it clear what type of ‘manzanilla’ you want.


Mini: Irony in a glass. A ‘mini’ sounds like it should be a small container (of the type we have previously mentioned as ‘chupito’), when in reality it’s more along the lines of a glass which holds one litre of liquid (like a ‘katxi’). But take care, in Spain it isn’t a term as generally used as you would think. In fact people are known to have asked for ‘mini de vodka’ when they actually meant to ask for a ‘chupito’.

Montadito: in some bars it is offered as breakfast (and in the more lavish bars as an accompaniment with your drink). It’s a slice of thick bread upon which is ‘montada’ (‘mounted’) a slice of ham, chorizo or a potion of tortilla.

Ración: is a plate of something (from ham to fried calamari) that you would usually ask for when the tapas that accompanies your drinks isn’t sufficient. The ‘ración’ (‘side-dish’) is charged separately and doesn’t have a set size, in some bars a ‘ración’ would fit on a dessert plate whereas in others it could be a normal sized portion.

Sifón: Also known as ‘agua de Seltz’ (‘soda water’). It is a type of soda served in a pressurised bottle. Not a very common choice, although there are nostalgics and ‘lovers of luxury’ who prefer a splash of ‘sifón’ rather than bog-standard soda in their cocktails.

Solo: Coffee, black as a moonless night and bitter as the kiss of an ex-partner. If you want one you must specify that you want ‘un café solo’. If you just ask for ‘un café’ you will be served one with milk.

Sol y sombre: A curious cocktail that is typically Spanish composed of 50% brandy and 50% sweetened aniseed. Its name is reminiscent of bolero jackets because tickets for the bullfights are sold in a choice of seating areas of ‘sol’ (uncovered) or ‘sombra’ (covered). The brandy would represent ‘sombra’ (‘shadow’) and the transparent aniseed would represent the clarity of the sun; a simple, traditional and classic combination that doesn’t lack poetry.

Té: During the 80s, and for a reason we don’t understand, ‘té’ was a word used to describe a combination of whisky and orangeade (perhaps due to the orange colour of the mixture). Nowadays it is a term which has fallen into disuse; but in some bars it is advisable to specify that what you’re after is an infusion and not a cocktail.

Tercio: The term is used in the same way as ‘botellín’, but in this case the bottle contains 33centilitres of beer. If anyone tries to explain to you that the reason for being given this name is because the army of Flanders seized the largest bottles of beer from the Dutch, don’t pay any attention: they probably have more than a ‘tercio’ of the beer in their bloodstream.

The list is long (which is why it lacks some more regional or local terms). We can only tell you that, if you find yourself in a predicament, don’t worry: remember that you are taking a break, relaxing with friends. It’s easy enough to ask before you order.


It wasn’t long ago when inexperienced hunters and new boys arrived in the camps with the intention of spending the night out in the open searching for an animal named ‘gamusino’. And these poor hunters woke the next day empty handed. What was the problem? Simply that gamusinos don’t exist.

So, the word gamusino, according to the ‘Diccionario de la Real Academia de la lengua’ (‘Dictionary of the Royal Academy of language’) states that it means ‘an imaginary animal, whose name is used to make jokes about inexperienced hunters’. The word seemingly has origins in a mythical Catalan animal called ‘gambutzí’ which is so extremely small that it’s invisible.

With time, the search or hunt for gausinos has become synonymous with complicated and the execution of tasks whose objective is unknown or is completely useless. We would be hunting gamusinos if, for example (and to use a fashionable simile), you transform yourself into a specialist in the fight against zombies; it may be nice and entertaining but doesn’t help anything (and this is being said by an editor that has dedicated a large part of his life to studying the world of mythological creatures).

But is ‘gamusino’ a word that describes good or bad character? Well…nobody said that it’s a bad thing to dedicate yourself to an activity whose end isn’t clear (being a collector of something could mean we form part of the exclusive club in the hunt for gamusino) although it is clear that, given the ‘jokey’ origin of the word, it’s not particularly positive that they tell you that you are searching for these bugs in some areas, like at work.

What we’re saying is, in short, you don’t have to be careful of gamusinos, but of those who catch you hunting them.

If you’re thinking about taking an intensive Spanish course then now is the time. Enforex is giving you the opportunity to take one week of free classes. Yes, you heard correctly: One week of your intensive course free. Pay for 8 weeks in Spain and enjoy our country for 9!

This offer is available in Alicante, Barcelona, Granada, Madrid, Marbella, Salamanca, Seville, Tenerife and Valencia with shared apartment and double room. There is no excuse not learn Spanish in one of our great cities!

But be warned, this is a limited time offer only. Available until the end of the month only, although you can choose in which month you wish to start your studies.

That’s not all. There’s another special offer: 20% off intensive Spanish courses!! Four weeks learning Spanish with a substantial discount in Alicante, Barcelona, Granada, Madrid, Marbella, Salamanca, Sevilla, Tenerife and Valencia. This offer is available to any choice of accommodation at any time in 2012 ... but there's only one drawback. This offer ends on February 28! Do not miss this opportunity.

Hurry and you can enjoy a unique experience…as well as returning home knowing how to speak Spanish!

What more could you ask for? Accommodation, classes, one week free…and practically the whole of Spain within your reach! For more information contact us or visit our website. We will be happy to help you.

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