Spain and Scotland, two countries that seem vastly different in so many ways. One famous for its summer sun, sandy beaches and siestas, the other famous for its rain, rain and well, more rain. Yet having been born in Scotland and lived in Spain for ten years, it is apparent there are more similarities that one might initially think. Although it is fair to say the climates are incomparable, it is between the people of these two countries that we find the most affinities.
Both are deeply rooted in rich culture dating back centuries. The Iberian and Moorish influences in southern Spain have exerted comparable influences to the Celtic and ancient in northern Scotland. Skara Brae is the perfect example of the impact of the Neolithic culture upon Scotland; older than both Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids, Skara Brae is one of the most ancient ruins in the world. In Spain the most famous example of Moorish architecture can be found in the hills of Granada where the beautiful Alhambra stands. As you walk through the sun drenched courtyards to the sound of trickling water and nightingales, the palace echoes with history dating back to the 14th century. It lives up to its description of ‘paradise on Earth’. Both sites have deservedly earned the status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are examples of the lengthy and proud histories of Scotland and Spain. To those living in Spain, it is not surprising that it is ranked third in world heritage sites. Both countries still bear many signs of ancient influence in language, culture and traditions.
More recently, entering into the 20th century, Spain and Scotland’s histories also reflect each other. Both countries were heavily involved in World War I and II, with the Spanish Civil War being one of the major catalysts to the outbreak of the Second World War. However it is in the fight for independence where we again find comparability. The Scottish independence bid is perhaps one of the oldest and most famous in Europe, rooted in icons such as Robert the Bruce and William Wallace (not so accurately depicted in Mel Gibson’s famous Braveheart). Spain also deals with internal struggle; nationalists support the separation of the Catalan region. Having been an underlying cause of the Civil War, the Catalan fight for independence came to a head during that conflict, tearing the country and families apart in one of the most divisive and vicious civil wars in history. During the current era of economic crisis, the SNP and the Catalan Nationalists have received increasing support. Indeed, 2014 could be the year Scotland becomes independent again.
One of the stark differences between the countries is the approach to alcohol. Scotland, with high tax on alcohol, has one of the most worryingly high statistics of binge drinking and alcoholism in Europe. Yet in Spain, where alcohol is often cheaper than water, there is a very different approach; the street-drinking phenomenon of the ‘botellon’ is unfathomable to more regulated countries, and beer and wine a part of most social events. But even in the most famous party destinations of Ibiza and Magaluf, you rarely see Spanish people violently or aggressively drunk – only the invading party-goers from northern Europe.
In the gastronomy of Spain and Scotland we also see differences. Scotland loves its cheap and cholesterol-ridden deep-fried food whether it is chips, pizza or even Mars Bar. Spain on the other hand loves fish and seafood and cook, or drizzle, everything in quality olive oil. Both countries have their traditional food: for Scotland it is haggis, neeps and tatties and for Spain it is paella and tapas.
Maybe I am biased, but I think Spain and Scotland house four of perhaps the most interesting cities in the Europe. Where Spain has Barcelona, Scotland has Edinburgh, two cities steeped in history and dramatic architecture, for example the famous Edinburgh Castle and Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. Usually seen as the cultural capitals of these two countries, Edinburgh and Barcelona cater to huge numbers of tourists during the summer. Travellers seek the Spanish sun and culture of Barcelona; or the theatre and comedy buffs that seek entertainment are satisfied by the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
When you drive west from Edinburgh or Barcelona you then come across two very different cities: Madrid and Glasgow. Although not as famous for their tourist industries, these two cities offer some of the best nightlife you will find in the world. Madrid comes to life after dark where the nocturnal hours are the most vibrant. Ranging from the club Teatro Joy Eslava housed in a 19th century theatre, to the world renowned mega club Pacha, Madrid caters to people from all walks of life. Similarly, Glasgow’s lights shine brightest at night with a wide variety of clubs quenching the desires of the ever-present nightly crowds. Sub Club, voted the 14th best club in the world by DJMag, caters to the hard-core techno fans, whilst Garage and O2 ABC play a combination of chart and indie records where you can dance the night away.
The sporting scenes of Spain and Scotland have more similarities than you may think. For example they both can boast their very own Wimbledon Champions with Rafael Nadal and of course the wonderful Andy Murray. As far as football rivalries go, the Barcelona v Real Madrid and Celtic v Rangers rivalries are some of the most competitive in Europe, where football plays a huge role in both cultures. Additionally Scotland and Spain are famous for hosting their own bizarre events – in Scotland men in kilts throwing logs across a field and in Spain volunteers running down the streets of Pamplona being chased by angry bulls.
However it is when you look at the Scottish and Spanish people that you see the most similarities. Citizens of Spain and Scotland have an unrivalled ability to shrug off the bad and still enjoy life. They are mighty countries with histories and cultures you cannot find anywhere else in the world. They are friendly and welcoming – and their inhabitants have some of the best dance moves I have seen. Where else can you walk into a bar not knowing anyone and leave an hour later with three new best friends?