People-Watching in Spain

October 27, 2015

“There are few things more delightful than to have nothing to do in a strange city and enough money to do it pleasantly, to sit and watch people and to wonder about them . . . The Spaniards can sit for hours just talking, or, if alone, doing nothing, with the mind’s engine shut off, just coasting pleasantly.  This immobility is a wonderful gift, like the ability of a dog or a cat to go to sleep at any time.”
— H. V. Morton, A Stranger in Spain

Street scene, Seville

Street scene, Seville

“Happy, happy Spain, where there I always time to sip coffee and where to be busy is not a virtue.”
— H. V. Morton, A Stranger in Spain

Man reading a magazine at an outdoor café, Seville

Man reading a magazine at an outdoor café, Seville

When you travel like a tourist spending at most three or four days at a single destination, and especially when you don’t speak the language, it is difficult to penetrate the culture or have meaningful connections with the locals.  When you sightsee at the major, must-see sites, you mix mostly with lots of other tourists.  That is why I get a little thrill when I notice a slice of real life, individuals and families going about their business in their home towns and paying scant attention to camera-wielding intruders.

Of course, the locals might be enjoying some of their city’s treasures along with the tourists.  Sometimes it is hard to tell them apart.  But I bet those hundreds of people taking selfies were tourists busy documenting that they were HERE.




The major tourist areas also seemed to attract the “rosemary ladies,” who solicited donations in exchange for a sprig of rosemary.



It is fun to people watch and speculate about the lives of those who cross your path.  Everywhere in Spain, elderly women walk arm-in-arm with a middle-aged companion.  Are they mothers and daughters or daughters-in-law?  Why are there seemingly more elderly women than men?  Isn’t it wonderful that they still get out and walk the streets for shopping or their daily constitutional?




Or is this just a tradition, the multi-generational social outings for women of a certain age?  (After all, even Picasso sketched two women walking.  “Walking” by Picasso, 1899, from the collection of the Picasso Museum, Barcelona:)


There weren’t as many smokers as I expected, but we did notice higher-than-usual numbers of women in Madrid who were smoking on the streets.


Woman smoking on balcony

Woman smoking on balcony

And cell phones are ubiquitous, just as they are in the States.

On the train to Alcala

On the train to Alcala

Men seemed to gather in bars.

“It is a truism that Spaniards believe there is nothing more important than family life.  In fact, they would probably rather show allegiance to any kind of family than to the State.  For most Spaniards, the need, outside family, is met by the local bar, a place where one might spend at least an hour a day with friends.”
— Miranda Franca, Don Quixote’s Delusions: Travels in Castilian Spain



Playing cards in a park, Barcelona

But sometimes men gathered in parks, such as these card players in Barcelona.

This family was dressed to the nines for a restaurant lunch in Triana:


“The only people in Spain more powerful than the mothers are the grandmothers.”
— H. V. Morton, A Stranger in Spain


And kids and teens in Spain are like kids and teens anywhere.




Here are a few more photos capturing the ordinary life and people of Spain:











This waiter in a Sanlucar restaurant asked me to take his picture.

This waiter in a Sanlucar restaurant asked me to take his picture.

Ink sketches; portraits

Ink sketches; portraits