Spain is famous for being a noisy country and this can be quite a culture shock to a foreigner. According to a survey, Spain is the 2nd loudest country in the world, with the highest rate of the population exposed to noise levels beyond World Health Organisation limits, particularly in Madrid and Barcelona.
Wander into any local bar or market and you´ll find staff shouting orders and friends all talking at once, each raising their voice even louder in an effort to be heard above the din.
And nowhere is the love of noise better demonstrated than in the thousands of fiestas throughout the year that Spanish people love to celebrate. Here in Jávea and Alicante region, the annual 2 week midsummer “Hogueras de San Juan” bonfire celebration is just concluding, perhaps the loudest, craziest festival of them all!
The hogueras and ninots remain in place for several days until the night of la cremá (the burning), the high point of the fiesta when they are stuffed with fireworks and then razed to the ground. Locals try to get as close to the front as possible as the local bomberos (firemen) shower the fire and the crowd with water. Each year one ninot is spared from it´s fate, based on a public vote.
Aside from the hogueras, there are also many other activities going on during San Juan, many of them revolved around noise and mayhem!
Each day starts at 8am (early by Spanish standards) with La Despertà (“the wake-up call”). Brass bands march down the street, followed by the fallers who throw large firecrackers onto the ground as they walk.
At 2pm the mascletá takes place, a pyrotechnic extravaganza of noise which symbolises the madness of it all. Crowds stand in the heat fanning themselves while they wait for the start of the mascletà, signalled by 3 loud bangs. Once the explosions start, the level of noise is hard to describe. In fact, it´s more of a feeling as your chest vibrates as the noise thunders through your body (my Spanish friends talk about it with some emotion). As it reaches a crescendo the crowd of all ages raise their arms and roar in appreciation, almost like being at a rave.
Even little children are given mini “training” firecrackers to throw down on the pavement and alarm unsuspecting tourists as they walk by. Strangely, I´ve noticed that Spanish dogs walk by quite unperturbed as firecrackers are set off all around them, so I can only come to the conclusion that Spanish dogs are a bit more relaxed (or possibly deaf).
Each night friends and neighbours meet in their local racó or barraca, a temporary pop-up bar, to eat and drink and party, with the celebrations going on until around 5am each night. I have discovered a love of ear plugs during this time!
And next day the revelry begins all over again. The fiesta also includes many other events such as processions, flower offerings, fire-jumping, and enormous paellas.
With all this noise, then perhaps it's no surprise then that quietness is demanded during the afternoon siesta time. Wander through many neighbourhoods at this time and it´s like a ghost town. In fact, many local authorities even prohibit excessive noise during the siesta in summer months.
Over time, however, your eardrums will adjust and you´ll embrace the lively atmosphere of this warm and friendly country.
Viva la fiesta!
Not long after I moved to Spain, I began to hear the word “guiri” being used and was curious as to what it meant.
According to Urban dictionary a Guiri (pronounced: [ˈɡiɾi]) is defined as:
Somewhat pejorative term for a foreigner, usually a tourist, who happens to be in Spain and stands out as being pretty obviously not a local. The term is usually used to refer to fairer-skinned people from the likes of Great Britain or Germany, but can be extended to any foreigner that is in Spain.
In practice, however, the definition is not quite so straightforward. When I asked my Spanish friends what it meant, they agreed that guiri definitely includes fair skinned, light haired foreigners from places such as northern Europe, the USA, Canada, and Australia, often tourists. (I am a stereotypical guiri!!)
All were in agreement that the term wouldn´t apply to native speakers, say from Latin America. With other nationalities, however, opinion differed…some Spanish friends said the term included people from places such as Japan, but others disagreed.
The term “guiri” became popular in Spain in the 1960s when thousands of tourists from northern Europe began to flock to Spanish resorts. One theory of the origin of the name is the Spanish word for gibberish “guirigay”, the explanation being that this is what the foreigners were speaking when they arrived.
Another theory is from the name given to supporters of Queen Cristina during the 19th century civil war, so called “cristinos”. The war mainly took place in the northern Basque and Aragon regions of Spain, and “cristinos” was changed to “guiristinos” in the local dialect.
How to spot a guiri
No matter how guiri you look, however, you may be guilty of demonstrating the following guiri tendencies which make you stand out straight away in Spain!
Is it intended to be offensive? It can be, depending upon the context in which it is used, but it can also be used in an friendly or affectionate way, with Spaniards even referring to their “guiri” friends.
And is it possible to ever stop being a guiri? For example if you speak fluent Spanish and fully integrate into Spanish society? When I asked my Spanish friends they laughed and said no, no, you will always be a guiri!!
In which case we may as well embrace our inner guiri…anyone for a pinta?
Moving from Australia, the country which goes to bed earliest, to Spain, the country where people go to bed the latest in the world, has been quite a shock to the system. Everything happens later here and some people argue that in fact Spain is in the wrong time zone, as a result of General Francisco Franco changing Spain’s time zone, moving the clocks one hour forward in solidarity with Nazi Germany.
In Spain, most cafes don't open until at least 9:30am or 10am, at which point old men come for their daily catch-up with friends, accompanied by a glass of red wine and a breakfast of tostada with tomato and olive oil.
“Morning” is understood to be until around 2pm, rather than noon as it is in Australia and many other parts of the world. A friend recalled how he waited in for a “morning” delivery of furniture. When it hadn´t arrived by 1:30pm he called the company to complain that it hadn´t arrived and was informed that it was still on schedule to be delivered that morning. Sure enough it arrived by 2pm!
Generally at around 2pm, people will then have a large lunch. It´s very unusual to eat at your desk here, instead you go for lunch with colleagues and enjoy a longer lunch – often with wine. After eating it´s time for sobremesa, a word which doesn´t have a meaningful translation in English (literally “over the table”), but means to linger after a meal and enjoy the company of your companions.
Siestas after lunch are still enjoyed by the older generation and also my friends on their days off, but with office hours starting to move towards the standard times of those elsewhere in the world, it´s not typical for younger Spaniards to siesta during weekdays. These days only around 20% of Spaniards take a siesta. As my Spanish colleague noted, somewhat sadly “Modern life simply does not allow for it”.
In most workplaces in Spain people will work until around 7 or 8pm. Shops also open until 9 or 10pm most nights. No surprise then that most Spaniards don´t get to bed before midnight during the week.
Dining later has also taken some getting used to. Most restaurants don´t open until after 8pm, and expect to dine alone if you turn up at that time. It´s not unusual for Spanish people to dine at restaurants at 10pm or even later, often with children in tow.
And at weekends it´s anything goes, Spaniards like to party hard and often go to bed as dawn rises. During one fiesta, I asked a Spanish colleague what time the nightly festivities went on until during the week and he told me quite seriously “Not that late….only until about 4 or 5am”.
No surprise then that things start slow again next morning….and maybe that siesta will come in handy today :)