AUTHORElizabeth Lippiatt Elizabeth Lippiatt is a junior from York, Pennsylvania studying in the Faculty of Languages and Linguistics. Given her Linguistics major as well as her Spanish and Arabic minors, Elizabeth is very interested in seeing how language and culture...
March 16, 2012
April 28, 2012
The Junior Year Abroad Network (JYAN) connects Georgetown students studying abroad in a variety of cultures. Students share reflections on religion, culture, politics, and society in their host countries, commenting on topics ranging from religious freedom and interfaith dialogue to secularization, globalization, democracy, and economics.
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Gay Marriage Highlights Spain's Split Personality
March 16, 2012 | 1 COMMENT
My first day in Spain I made the mistake of assuming it would resemble England, the only other European country I had visited. In the hour or so it took me to realize my error, I settled on comparing it to Latin America, feeling like I could draw more similarities between those two regions. Yet aside from the language and the architecture (and even these can differ greatly), that comparison fails too. In short, Spain is Different, and I think these differences stem from Spain’s split personality.
Even the weather reflects this division. Spain is a land of mercurial moods and any traveler to this region quickly learns the importance of layers. Leaving the house in the morning, the thermostat will read 27 degrees, yet, just two hours later it will be 70 degrees. This vast shift in temperature depends entirely on the sun. In its light, it is brutally hot, but by merely stepping into a shadow, it is suddenly icy cold.
To me, this weather pattern applies to Spain as a whole. There are at least two completely distinct sides to Spain in every situation. Spain does not blend its cultural elements into a happy medium or a compromise but rather keeps and embraces both at the same time as distinct and separate entities.
Demonstrating this phenomenon, Spain comfortably straddles both liberalism and conservatism. A country with strong Catholic roots and an emphasis on tradition, the majority of Spaniards value hard work and education. However, as much as Spaniards might value hard work, they also value relaxation. The two hours allotted for lunch are sacred and a time when almost all stores close. Afternoons are for siestas and Sundays are a day of rest - stores are closed again. I never see the Spanish hurrying in the street, in stark contrast to my brisk American pace as I rush to be on time to one place or another.
In general, the Spanish are not flamboyant and often wear clothes from the darker color palettes. Yet among the student population exists a tradition of wearing costumes for their school’s holiday. I am consistently surprised on my way to class by seeing human-sized penguins exiting a store or adolescent boys wearing mini skirts and flashing passing cars.
Where the true paradox arises though, is at the intersection of politics and religion. The debate about gay marriage is a major point of contention among religious and political groups in the U.S., yet, in Spain, a traditionally Catholic country, it is completely legal. The fact that such a Catholic country has embraced gay marriage is telling of Spain’s split personality.
Also telling is the way the issue of gay marriage is treated in Spain, which is to say, it isn’t. I never hear a word about gay marriage unless I ask about it - the topic is completely off the radar. The silence surrounding its legality indicates how completely accepted it is - the Spanish don’t feel a need to talk about it.
But this is not to say that Spain is no longer a Catholic country. In fact, very much to the contrary. The Ash Wednesday service I attended was packed and very somber, even including a procession where sixteen people carried a gigantic Crucifix around a cloister. Yet the service itself was rather chaotic, with a mass rush for the Eucharist and tourists snapping photos throughout.
I think these paradoxes are at the crux of Spain’s religious identity. Most every Spaniard I’ve spoken to professes to be Catholic; yet, when I attend Sunday mass, the grand cathedrals are only half full and completely devoid of any youth or even middle aged parishioners.
Some might say that a country of paradoxes is unsustainable. However, with the realization that I, too, live happily in the midst of seeming contradictions, Spain began to appear a little less Different. I easily maintain disparate sections of my life: I’m not Catholic, but I go to mass; I am neither Jewish nor Muslim but I don’t eat pork.
The complete opposite of me, Spain is Catholic but doesn’t go to mass. Spain has been heavily influenced by Judaic and Islamic traditions but eats pork in almost every dish. Although the particulars are reversed, in this light, Spain’s divided character forms a more cohesive whole. Spain may be Different, but it is possible to embrace different aspects of life at the same time.
RESPONSE TO ELIZABETH LIPPIATT FROM JEFF CANGIALOSI April 20, 2012
Elizabeth, you bring up some interesting points about Spain being different and how there is both a conservative and liberal side to Spanish society. I spent some time in Barcelona last summer and noticed much of the same. While Spain continues to be a very Catholic country in name, in practice the Church seems to be in a struggle to stay relevant in Spanish society, especially among the younger generation.
I think some of the aversion to the Catholic Church comes from the legacy of the Franco era in Spain when the church and state were pretty intertwined. To me, it seemed like part of rejecting Franco was also rejecting the institution of the Church that went along with his regime for so many years. There are of course numerous other factors that have caused mass attendance to drop, but this was one thing I picked up on.
The gay marriage issue is fascinating as well. As we continue to debate and make gay marriage legal state by state in the United States, Spain already has legalized gay marriage. I was in Barcelona when Zapatero and the PSOE were still in power. I wonder if you are finding that the new conservative government of Rajoy is trying to pivot Spanish society back towards being more conservative and possibly repealing the legalization of gay marriage.
Gay marriage in South Africa, where I am studying, is a very complex topic. South Africa’s 1996 constitution is one of the most liberal and all-inclusive in the world. Gay marriage is protected as a right in the constitution, but there is still a great deal of homophobia here and in Africa in general. About a month and a half ago, Cape Town hosted its second ever gay pride parade, and I was told that this was the only gay pride parade on the continent. While the law protects gay marriage, South African society still seems a bit slow to accept this right as a social norm.