At first glance, Spain and India may seem as different as chalk and cheese. Being located on separate continents, speaking different languages, and following distinct religions, Spain and India certainly don’t seem to have a lot in common. However my perspective broadened in the years I studied Spanish at school and got deeper when I visited the country. During my two trips to Spain, one on a family holiday and the other during a weeklong stay with a Spanish family in Valencia as part of a cultural immersion, I was surprised to feel right at home in Spain. And if you are wondering why, here are some factors that can shed light!
First are the external similarities. There is vibrancy, colour and cultural diversity in Spain, albeit not at the scale that is experienced in India. Spain has 5 regions, each with its own unique language,identity, history, and festivals. And, as seen in India, the varied influence of Islamic and Christian rulers is evident in language, food, and architecture.
In addition, the night culture in both Spain and India doesn’t just end when the sun sets over the horizon, as it does in many other countries. People are accustomed to staying out late at night, and it’s not uncommon to find yourself stuck in traffic in either country at 1 in the morning. While en route to the Madrid airport at 4 a.m., I was surprised to find people queuing up outside bars- a phenomenon I thought I’d only see in a sleepless city like Mumbai!
Festivals are a huge part of both Indian and Spanish cultures. Whether it’s the throwing of colour during Holithat somewhat resembles the throwing of tomatoes during La Tomatina, or the vibrant clothes, decorations, and food, crowded celebrations in India and Spain are certainly similar. It is also interesting to note that the Spanish Flamenco dance – typically performed at La Feria de Abril– has Indian connections. Flamenco has its origins in Rajasthan and Punjab, where gypsies who migrated to Spain in the 15thcentury brought their bright skirts and vibrant rhythms.
Indian and Spanish families also share a few common qualities, whether it’s their large size, their loudness, or their closeness. While in many Western cultures it is normal for children to grow up and lead lives completely independent of their parents, this is not the case in India or Spain. In the Indian context, children typically live with their parents long after they’ve become adults, and even after marriage, most live near their parents – or at least maintain very close contact. In Spain too, children tend to live close to their parents, with strong families values being central to both cultures. There are also similarities in communication styles. In restaurants, it wasn’t uncommon to see people talking loudly and gesticulating, and like in India, questions relating to personal details aren’t off-limits! The warmth, love and laughter are evident, in varying degrees, in both cultures.
And when one speaks of festivals and families, can food be far behind? Both cultures have one major thing in common: aunties who love to cook and overfeed their guests. Dinner tables across both countries are typically overflowing with food, and hosts usually take personal offense when every last bite of the abundant food inevitably isn’t finished. But the culture of eating meals in both India and Spain goes beyond just the food. The Spanish phrase ‘sobremesa’ refers to the time after a meal when the food is gone but the conversation is still ongoing, and there is no single word in the English language that means the same thing, because the concept is unfamiliar to most cultures. And while this may not be exactly the same in India, food is an important aspect of life. People love to meet and eat whether it’s at work, over weekends or at weddings!
During my stay with my Spanish host – an elderly Valencian woman who bore a striking resemblance to every brown aunty I’d met – I became accustomed to her brand of hospitality, which wasn’t too different from what I was used to at home. In other words, her hovering around the dinner table, her unwavering readiness to offer me another helping, and her cooking an extra plate of paella in case tapas bar-hopping didn’t make me full, were much-welcome reminders that although I was far from home in distance, I didn’t feel like it in my heart.
In a world of diverse cultures, it is strange to come across two, which are different yet, similar in some ways. With my frizzy hair and light brown skin, I was confused for being Hispanic on multiple occasions, with many locals speaking to me in rapid fire Spanish without prelude. And the funny thing is, despite being miles away from India, I felt right at home in Spain.