Catalonia is one of 50 provinces in Spain and contains the municipalities of Girona, Tarragona, Lleida and Barcelona. Barcelona is known as the capital of Catalonia and Madrid is the capital of Spain. Even though Catalonia is part of the Spanish nation, it is a distinct region that, like any other, has its own customs that make it unique. There are many perceptions of Catalonia on the national and international level that do not fairly embody its complex cultural elements which truly make it distinct from other areas of Spain. There are quite a number of cultural details, language, and social activities that are good for foreign visitors to be aware of.
Catalonia is one of a few regions in Spain, such as the Basque Country and Galicia, that has its own language apart from Castilian Spanish. The language differences between the rest of Spain and Catalonia are mainly noticeable outside of Barcelona. Within the city of Barcelona, most people are bilingual and can speak Spanish and Catalan. Barcelona is a very international city, therefore many people speak at least one other language.
Some nationalists in Catalonia choose to speak only in Catalan – this is done for many reasons, sometimes as part of the push for complete Catalonian independence or in response to the suppression of the language for many years during the dictatorial regime of general Franco. Catalan is a Romance language like Spanish but is not a subset of Spanish itself. In fact, Catalan as a language is closer to French and Italian than Spanish or Portuguese. In Catalonia, this difference is most notably felt outside Barcelona as Catalan is the main language spoken on a daily basis. While the Catalan spoken in Barcelona can be partially understood by people who speak some European languages, the Catalan spoken in other regions can be quite difficult to grasp as the accent can get very thick. In Barcelona, visitors can hear both languages spoken consistently in different settings. The government of Catalonia and Barcelona conducts its affairs in Catalan, whereas most businesses will have a mixture of both, depending on if their business services the rest of Spain or just local clientele.
Related article: What is the difference between Spanish and Catalan?
There are also subtle differences between the gastronomy of Catalonia and other provinces in Spain. Spain is known in the tourist mind most notably for its chorizo and paella – however, Catalonia is most known for its specialties such as butifarra, a cinnamon pork sausage, fideuas, a type of noodle and calçots, spring onions.
Catalonia’s food differs from that of Madrid, for example, also by the influence of French cuisine and the proximity to the ocean. A lot of restaurants in Catalonia will pair meat and seafood together, which gives it a French flair. These differences can be seen in rural mountain towns that rely more on pork-heavy recipes as the area is well known for swine production, whereas coastal towns have more seafood-based recipes.
Another of the major differences between Catalonia and other regions in Spain is the cultural perception of each of the groups, although many of these perceptions are mostly based upon stereotypes among regions. Catalonians tend to be viewed as hard working, business minded and focused on succeeding, whereas southern areas such as Andalucia are often seen as more exuberant, fun-loving and outgoing.
As with any region, there are also a number of important dates that are celebrated in all of Spain while others are celebrated only in Catalonia.
Some of the national holidays are that of the Epifania del Señor or the Kings Day, on the 6th of January, the date in which most of the Spanish people exchange Christmas gifts; the 14th of January, the Holy Friday; May 1st, Worker’s Day; August 15th, Assunción de la Virgen; October 12th, Fiesta Nacional de España; November 1st, All Saints; December 6th, Constitution Day; and December 8th, Immaculate Conception Day.
On top of the holidays mentioned above, Catalonia celebrates its own holidays, like Sant Joan, on the 24th of July; La Diada, on September 11th; La Mercé, on September 25th (exclusively celebrated in Barcelona); and Sant Esteban, on December 26th.
Related article: Interesting Catalan traditions
Barcelona and Catalonia have always been seen the world over as an artist’s mecca with amazing architectural designs and gorgeous art. Madrid has been experiencing a cultural revival of its own in the last couple decades focusing on grassroots artist revival. Traditional art versus art nouveau is the main difference between the two.
Two of the most famous and world-renowned artists of the past centuries were born in Catalonia: Antoni Gaudí, creator of La Sagrada Familia, Casa Battló, La Pedrera, Park Güell, among others, and Salvador Dalí, the surrealist master.
Other artistic geniuses were born in other areas of Spain, such as Pablo Picasso, the multi-talented artist who is originally from Málaga, and Francisco Goya, a romantic painter, who was born in Fuendetodos, in Aragon.
This article was updated in May 2018 by Laura Place to more accurately describe the use of Catalan in Barcelona as well as to clarify the subjectivity of perceptions of Barcelona.
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