Culture Café: Spain and Mexico

The first Culture Café of the new module took place on  November 1. It was doubly informative, because it was devoted to two countries at once: Spain and Mexico! Many thanks to HSE international students, who represented them perfectly: Aldo, Jorge, Zaira, Daniel, Ary, Sayuri and Enrique.

Are you wondering why we put these two countries together? Here is the answer. There is no doubt that Spain and Mexico have a lot in common. For instance, Spanish is the official language in both countries. Besides, many Mexican popular and folklore songs are based on Spanish music, and sometimes it is very difficult to tell the difference between the two styles. As a result, their cultures and traditions are often mixed together, yet they are still unique. In order to clarify all the similarities and differences, we presented these two fraternal countries in one Culture Café.

At the beginning, the audience was asked some easy questions about both countries, that turned out not to be as easy as we expected. We realized that we have a lot to learn! (Did you know that Mexicans’ favorite drink is actually Coca-Cola? Maybe you knew what a tortilla is and what it looks like? Think about that!)

After a small quiz, the journey began. The first destination of our adventure was Spain . Enrique told us a lot about the capital and the biggest city Madrid which has an impressive cultural heritage from all eras and is known mostly for Real Madrid Football Club (Atlético de Madrid). What else is so special about this country? Spain has the world’s most famous beaches (such as: llas Cies, Ria de Vigo, Galicia and Es Trenc, Mallorca, Balearic Islands) , outstanding gastronomy, and it is the homeland of distinguished surrealist artist Salvador Dalí.


What about Spaniards’ daily routine? Would you be surprised to hear that it is different from any other developed country of the West? Actually, it really is. Some unique daily habits can be found only in Spain. The most obvious, especially for foreigners, is how the day is organised. Lunch , which is the main meal is between 2 and 3 pm. Traditionally, it is followed by a nap —the famous siesta —but nowadays this custom is becoming rare. Supper, a lighter meal, is usually late, between 9 and 10 pm, or even later during hot summer months.

There is a reason why meals are so important in Spain — because of the delicious food. Even though Spanish cuisine varies greatly from region to region, with local products and traditions, there are some dishes known everywhere. For example, gazpacho (a delicious cold soup made of tomatoes, garlic, and cucumber), or paella (a rice dish made with seafood, meats, and vegetables).

If you are still thinking about where to go in Spain, here are some suggestions for you: the Basque country , which has been always isolated from the rest of Spain. However, it is a great tourist destination, with both mountains and sea, traditions and technology. Andalusia is known as a “lazy area” but has ancient religious traditions, and people there are passionate and open-minded. Then there is Valencia which is well-known for its beaches, oranges and festivals like Tomatina and Falles.

Everyone was very curious about sports in Spain. Enrique told us that it is an important part in the daily life of Spanish people, and what is more, each region has its favourite. For example, in mountainous Catalonia, skiing and other winter sports are the most popular; along the Valencia coast, windsurfing and scuba diving have countless enthusiasts; and in Asturias and Andalusia, equestrian events draw large numbers of spectators and participants.

Then we moved on to our next destination — hot and lively Mexico . The word “Mexico” itself comes from the Náhuatl language: metzitli means moon; xictli , means navel or center, and both literally and metaphorically it means “In the navel of the Moon”. There are three major cultures: Aztec, Olmeg and Maya . Each of them has unique traits that distinguish one from another.

Mexico has a very long and eventful history. Its territory was a part of the Spanish Empire, under the name of New Spain, for almost three decades (that's why the Mexican national language is Spanish), and it became independent on August 24, 1821 when representatives of the Spanish Crown and Iturbide signed the Treaty of Córdoba and the Declaration of Independence of the Mexican Empire. Independence Day (Día de la Independencia) is a public holiday now and is celebrated on September 16. (On September 16, 1810, a loyalist revolt against the ruling Junta was declared by priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, which is known as el Grito de Dolores — “the cry of Dolores”.)

Mexico was also occupied by France in the 19th century, and you may be surprised to hear that there are still a lot of things that remind you of France in Mexico City — the capital of Mexico. The Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) and the Palace of Mining were both built in Neoclassical style, and even metro entrances can make us think that we are strolling along the streets of Paris.


But despite this turbulent past, Mexico is now the 2nd largest economy in Latin America (according to the International Monetary Fund) and 15th largest in the world, with a GDP of 1.3 trillion dollars. It also ranks 39 out of 61 countries in terms of labor availability and quality according to the 2015 Competitiveness Index.

During the presentation, we had a small talk about modern Mexican politics, and Mexican students shared their honest opinions about the current situation. We even discussed Mexican drug trafficking, which is one of the most controversial and important issues in Mexico.

However, Mexico is still the perfect place for a vacation. Cholula, Puebla; Pena de Bernal, Queretaro; Cancun, Quintana Roo; Barrancas del Cobre, Chihuahua; Jardines surrealista de Xilitla, San Luis Potosi ; San Miguel de Allende,  Guanajuato; Islas Marietas; Tula, Hidalgo — these are all must-visit places for those who want to feel the spirit of this breathtaking country.

Lastly, we cannot forget the outstanding Mexican food. Mexicans told us a lot about a traditional Mexican dish Taco , and all its variations and ingredients. Nevertheless, the bad news is that there are no places in Moscow to try REAL Mexican Taco (one more reason to visit Mexico). You might also have heard about the stereotype that Mexicans eat cactuses … It’s not a stereotype at all! There are many dishes with cactus as the main ingredient.

Can you feel the beauty and authenticity of each country now? Have you already put  “To visit Spain” and “To visit Mexico” on your wish list?

Keep in mind: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page”. Are you looking forward to joining our next Culture Café and turning the pages of this marvellous book?

Author: Ekaterina Kravtsova

Editor: Irina Klimova

Editor and proofreader: Rachael Horwitz