The French all wear berets, the Germans are very punctual, the English can't cook and the Australians all wear cork hats. At least these are the popular myths about these countries. The truth is usually a long way from the popular belief. Here are some of the most famous myths about Spain exposed for what they are - if not complete fabrications, then at least distorted versions of the truth.
See also: From things that aren't true, to things that the Spanish like you to believe. But which are the real Spanish Inventions?
Image: Damian Corrigan
Barcelona's cathedral is called Cathedral of Santa Eulalia and can be found at Plaça de la Seu, near the Gothic Quarter. La Sagrada Familia, the famous unfinished basilica designed by Antoni Gaudi, is another building entirely.
You say cathedral, I say basilica - does it matter when everyone knows what they're talking about? Yes, it does: if you ask your hotel the way to Barcelona cathedral, when you want to go to see La Sagrada Familia, you'll end up disappointed, as Barcelona cathedral has nothing on La Sagrada Familia
Paella is a rice dish. It can have seafood in it, just as pizza can, but (also as with pizza) you can put any 'topping' on it you like. The Margarita of paella is paella Valenciana
, which was invented in the fields of Valencia, a place where prawns and squid are a bit of a rarity! Paella Valenciana is made up of chicken, pork and rabbit, though in older (poorer) times, snails were often included.
Wrong on two counts – for a start, it's not a sport (the fight isn't even enough for that), and it's not truly national. It is true that you will encounter bullrings throughout Spain, but these were largely built during the reign of Franco (the dictator that ruled Spain from 1939 until 1975), a ruler who had a particular image of Spain that he wanted to promote. Spain's real national sport is futbol (or soccer)
Sangria is a party drink, like a tropical punch at one of our cocktail parties. It exists for one purpose – to get everyone drunk cheaply. That isn't to say that it can't be made with a bit of loving care and attention, but there is no 'traditional' recipe. 95% of people drinking sangria in bars are tourists and the bar owners know it and will charge you accordingly.
Flamenco often contains dancing, but it isn't predominantly a dance. Flamenco contains four main elements: the guitar, the vocals, the dancing and las palmas
(hand claps). In fact, of the four disciplines, the dancing is the part that is the most easily dropped.
Flamenco is also specifically an Andalusian art, though through internal migration flamenco has quite a history in Madrid and even Barcelona. You're unlikely to find much flamenco in other parts of Spain.
A friend of mine brought sunscreen when he came to visit me in central Spain in October. He ended up buying an umbrella. Spain is not the tropical paradise that many think it is (though global warming is pushing it in that direction). During autumn and winter, Galicia can expect rain every other day, while Madrid and the cities to its west and north can get exceptionally cold in the winter.
Malaga is always on tourists' radars, mainly due to its popular airport. But that's the best thing about Malaga
- that it's easy to get away from it. Yes, Malaga has flamenco and bullfighting, but so do other cities (such as Seville
. And yes, Malaga's summer festival is one of Spain's most spectacular. But if you're visiting Spain
at any other time of year, Malaga should be well down your list of cities to visit.
Like in the story of the princess and the pea, put a drop of tabasco in a pot of stew for twenty people and a Spaniard will wave his hand in front of his mouth as if trying to cool the fieriest Mexican chili con carne. Well, that's a slight exaggeration, but not by much – many in Spain genuinely think that a sprinkling of paprika on food qualifies it as 'picante' (spicy). I am amazed when I occasionally encounter genuinely spicy food in Spain and I wonder who (other than the tourists) are actually eating it!
Tapas are a way of eating
food, not a type
of food. Anything can be tapas. Paella, cous cous, shrimps, brochette, even hamburgers. A tapa is a small dish, usually taken with a drink (sometimes it comes free, sometimes you pay for it). You can
stick to one bar and order a series of tapas to go with your drinks, but it's far more proper (and fun) to bar hop ( or tapear
in Spanish) and sample the culinary delights of a number of different bars.
No, no, no and NO! Probably the myth most perpetuated by guide books and Web sites about Spain. Tipping is not common in Spain, particular for cheap meals. The Spanish might leave change from a 50 euro bill if the meal has been good, but they rarely dig into their pockets to give the waitress any extra.