Sevilla / Spain

Sevilla’s Feria de Abril: Not What I Expected (Part 2)

Like all of my experiences in Sevilla, the Feria didn’t turn out to be quite what I expected. I shared some of my favorite things in Part 1. Now I’ll explain while though it was an interesting event to see, it wasn’t exactly  lo mio (my thing).  If you’re not interested in reading my critique of the event, there’s a big gallery at the end with lots of photos! 

Feria-de-Abril-Sevilla-2012-carriages

Here’s a brief background you can feel free to skip: I studied abroad in Sevilla during my junior year of college, and it was awful. I struggled through months of trying my hardest to be a polite, understanding, respectful cultural visitor.  I couldn’t speak the language when I arrived, so that made making friends hard.  My host family was crazy bad (they actually left me a dead bird on my luggage as a good-bye ‘present’). My study abroad program was amazingly unsupportive when I asked for help. No matter what I did, how nice I was, or how hard I worked, it was a terrible, painfully lonely experience.

Though I came away with awesome travel photos and a great level of Spanish, it was not what I’d hoped for at all. My memories of my time there are filled with spending weekends alone in my room wondering where this great city was people had raved about. So let’s just say Sevilla isn’t my favorite place in the world.

(Background over!) 

I went to Sevilla this time with fresh eyes, hoping to see a new side of the city and make some new memories. After all, how bad could a big festival in a pretty European city be?

Feria-de-Abril-Sevilla-2012-caseta-horses

Based on big festivals in Barcelona I’ve been to (like La Mercè and my favorite, the Festa Major de Gràcia), I was looking forward to a 24-hour a day street party that incorporated a mix of traditional and modern elements Sevilla’s Feria was almost there, but not quite.

Here’s the thing: the Feria de Abril is much, much more traditional than any other festival I’ve ever been to. This is part of its charm – the old outfits, the horse-pulled carriages, and the cute fair have been almost the same for ages (the first fair was in 1847). People dance traditional dance steps to traditional music in pretty casetas. It’s almost like one of those courtship scenes out of a medieval knight movie. That’s the traditional part of the fair I liked.

Be careful, though, because there’s another side – traditional also means traditional social dynamics are at play. Of course, that means a lot of sexism, no matter how well-intentioned (ladies first, men do everything, etc.) And you can only get into one of the casetas if you are rich or powerful, or know somebody who is. Oh, there are a very small number of public casetas, but as one of my sevilliano friends sniffily told me, anyone can go in those.

Feria-de-Abril-Sevilla-2012-caseta

People pay thousands of euros a year to be members of casetas they use for one week, tops. Some of them have names like “Julio and his friends”, to make it pretty clear you are not welcome unless you are well-connected (though I was lucky enough to know somebody who was).

Once you got in the casetas, it was a lot of sitting around and drinking, trying to make connections with the right people. The dancing was according to steps and very formal. This is all prescribed and steeped in years of history, but not very much fun beyond watching (from my point of view). There just wasn’t a whole lot to actually do, particularly as an outsider.

Feria-de-Abril-Sevilla-2012-caseta-Caja-de-Sol

On top of that,  some people definitely let me know they didn’t think I belonged there despite my invitation. I speak almost perfect Spanish and made a very big effort to chat to everyone and try everything, from joining in on the conversation to sampling the food to learning the dances. Lots of people even said what a pleasant guest I was, but it was obvious it still mattered that I wasn’t from there. It was usually the very first thing people mentioned in a conversation – “Hola! ¿De dónde eres?”

Obviously, you can tell I am not Spanish based on my appearance and most people were just curious. Even with the nicer people, it does get frustrating when the first thing people say to you is essentially “You’re not like me, explain why”. But some people definitely had an attitude of “What is this foreigner doing at my private party?”

Feria-de-Abril-Sevilla-2012-traditional-clothing-horses

Typical sevilliana – almost everyone looks very similar to this, so you really stand out if you don’t.

A group of guys stared, pointed, and laughed at me as I was walking through a caseta. As I waited in line I could hear them making fun of my foreign appearance.They made a point of standing in my way and grabbed my arm as I walked past them again to ask me about my origins, and not in a nice way.

One of the aunties even said “What a charming girl…for a foreigner.” She squinted at my dress and said “Next year, you’ll have to have a proper traje de flamenca, not….this” and poked my waist dismissively. Keep in mind trajes de flamenca cost at least a couple hundred euros, and I’d tried really hard to wear something pretty.

Of course, this isn’t to say everybody was like this – some people were very kind and pleasant to me. But I do have to say it’s an attitude I encountered regularly while I was studying abroad in Sevilla as well. I always, always try my best to be understanding of cultural differences, but this is one that is particularly jarring and unpleasant.

Feria-de-Abril-Sevilla-2012-traditional-clothing-skirts

Based on all of this, it felt very, very purposefully exclusive, stuck-up, and focused on appearances. The parties were all about looking right and making connections, and that’s really not my thing at all.  It wasn’t spontaneous, it wasn’t open, it wasn’t crazy, and it certainly didn’t feel like a tolerant, friendly atmosphere.

So the pretty, colorful fair I’d heard about does exist on some level. But beyond the superficial appearances, it wasn’t actually very enjoyable. It’s fun to see, but will I ever go back? Probably not. It’s pretty, but the emphasis on social games and exclusivity is not lo mio and it never has been. Give me a crazy, dirty, noisy, public street party filled with all those public caseta ‘anyones’ any day.

Who’s got a different opinion of the Feria? Did I do it the wrong way?

Besos!

-Jess

30 thoughts on “Sevilla’s Feria de Abril: Not What I Expected (Part 2)

  1. blech! I hate those kind of things too. I’m with you, I’d rather party with a bunch of “nobodies” than a bunch of snoots. goodness, I never expected to read this about Sevilla. It makes me kind of sad. Like you said, at least you can say you’ve been to the feria.

    • Don’t get too sad – lots of people really liked the Feria, I just have an unlucky history with Sevilla! I’m willing to chalk it up to just bad luck (though I doubt I’ll ever go back). And Feria was definitely fun to see.

      • It’s a pity that you think that about Seville. I think it TOTALLY depends on people who you are with. It’s not most of people who think about “anyones” and care about making connections. I’m sorry you hadn’t a great experience. Obviously you had not lucky, with a family who gave you a dead bird like a present you couldn’t expect anything good.
        A Seville girl.

  2. That doesn’t sound fun at all — like a debutante ball in the 1950s South or something. I’m with you; I’d rather party with the “anyones”. And a DEAD BIRD? Were they a family of cats?

    • That’s funny, that’s exactly what my mom said! It did have that kind of vibe, which was weird.

      Haha and yeah, a dead bird! I wish they’d been a family of cats (that made me laugh so hard), but they were just crazy.

  3. This was a really interesting post and I was able to relate to it a lot. I studied abroad in Malaga, so not too far from Sevilla. My study abroad experience was a mixed bag–I had a great host mother but it was some people in the program who almost ruined it for me.

    Sevilla also leaves a bad taste in my mouth because I had a really horrible roommate experience last year with a crazy American girl who had studied abroad there as well–and she was OBSESSED with the city. She really wouldn’t shut up about it and was always putting down Madrid as not being “really Spanish”…. probably because Sevilla represents all the ridiculous Spanish stereotypes (flamenco, bullfighting, the Moorish architecture etc.) While I had already been to Sevilla and liked it, the city has been ruined for me because of this girl.

    And the sexism/xenophobia at the feria surprises me a lot. It sounds like some fancy country club that doesn’t want to let the “undesirables” in. Probably just as well I didn’t go!

    • Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’ve met sooo many people like your roommate – people get really obsessed with Sevilla! That’s hilarious that she said Madrid isn’t ‘really Spanish.’

      And yeah, it was kind of like country club. But I’m surprised you didn’t experience at least a mild form of sexism in Malaga because I found it everywhere when I traveled in Andalucia!

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  5. Though I’ve never been to feria, I kind of know what you mean. A lot of old Spanish families tend to have a “superiority” complex when it comes to origins, wealth, etc. Kind of stupid in my opinion.
    Anyway, I’m constantly getting asked where I’m from. Usually in a curious way, but sometimes in an aggressive manner also, which I don’t like. In fact, just last week I had friends over (both blonde and fair), and we were eating and conversing at a nearby restaurant. The waiter went straight up to D-Man (even though I had previously ordered the food in perfect Spanish), pointed at me, and asked him, “Where is SHE from??” as if I wasn’t even there. D-Man was a good sport and gave him a polite, truthful answer, but we’re sure the guy was confused because there I was, looking like some third world immigrant, hanging out and speaking English with two blonde Americans and a Spaniard. It makes my blood boil when Spaniards are uppity and snobbish like that.

    • Yeah, that superiority complex was definitely what was going on there. It seems to be more exaggerated in the south than in Catalunya, though maybe I just don’t meet those kinds of Catalans.

      I can’t believe that the waiter did that, and I can’t believe D managed to be polite about it. That’s so rude, and it drives me crazy too when Spaniards have that attitude. They can definitely be really intolerant.

      • I do ask people (if the situation allows me) that I realize are not from here (because they are talking in English or because of their appearances), where they are from. But I ask them because I am curious and because it’s also a chance to speak some English, I love to speak in English, ;)…
        Do you find that rude? Would you rather not be asked? Does that make you feel less integrated?
        I would like to know, because these is not my intention…

        • No, I don’t think it’s rude when people ask where I’m from – usually they’re just curious. But sometimes people are aggressive and unpleasant about it. Other times it’s the very first thing they say to me, or people treat me in a certain way based on where I’m from. In Sevilla, it was very important to some people that I wasn’t FROM Andalucía, even though I was a pleasant guest.

          The way I like best is when people talk to me first, and then after a little while ask. I don’t mind at all being asked when it’s just people being curious! 🙂

          • Thanks for answering me Jessica! I’m relieved now that I know I wasn’t making them feel bad because of my curiosity. 😉

  6. Sorry to hear about your negative experiences at Feria. Though I was aware that people spend a lot of money and it’s deeply rooted in tradition and money, I managed to get into private casetas and didn’t seem to have any snickering or too many questions, despite being very obvious, soy una extranjera! I’m used to people asking me where I’m from, it seems to always be the question here.
    Maybe I just got lucky with my experiences…

  7. I will understand you, after all your experiences with Sevilla, if you decide not to ever in your life go back there.
    I am sorry to hear about your year abroad there… and it seems like a really strange thing… because the stereotype about Andaluces is that they are so open and talkative! Maybe the language was a huge problem, because in the south there is few people that understand English… About the bird… this is absolutely disgusting and a terrible thing to do!

    About Feria de Abril, I’ve never been and for some time I wanted to go there some year… but since I discovered more things about it, it doesn’t catch my fancy much nowadays. I think it might be an interesting thing just to watch for a while if you happen to be in Sevilla during la Feria, but that’s it.

    I’ve also heard that Sevilla is kind of a posh city… I don’t know, I always thought that it wouldn’t be that bad… but after all you explained here, maybe it’s true!

    I agree with you about the kind of parties that you like! Those are the best for sure, and during Summer there is more than one every weekend at a different village in Catalonia. And I agree, Festes de Gràcia are so great! 😀

    • At first, it was definitely the language! The Feria was something else though, and I think I just got unlucky and saw a very posh side. Other people have had very different positive experiences, but I don’t think I’ll ever go again.

      Luckily, there’s always Festes de Gràcia!

      • I am so sorry you had a bad experienice at the Feria! I guess it really just depends on who you happen to meet at any given time. I studied abroad my junior year in Sevilla. I didn’t care for my host family – they were all about how much money they coudl make off of me – but the Feria was AWESOME! I certainly don’t look Spanish, I’m blond and fair. and my Spanish was not that great. But I loved the dresses and the dancing. So I did splurge and get a nice flamenco dress with all the accessories, and I learned the Sevillanas. Yes, it cost money to get a really nice custom dress, but there are plenty of cheap ones available too. It counts if you dress the part.

        The first time I went to the Feria, I was alone and I wandered around watching people in the casetas. But I couldn’t help but talk to them – I loved the dancing, the horses, the decoration in the casetas, etc. These people are so artistic! Well, it didn’t take long for someone to invite me into one caseta, and then I talked with a bunch of people there, and they took me along to another caseta, and so it went.

        I have never had as much fun dancing and partying in the US as I have in Sevilla at the Feria. Everyone was polite and friendly, no one got drunk and threw up on me (as happened way too often back home), people actually had social skills and did things like introduce me to their friends before going off to talk with other people. Men danced with women without trying to cop a feel. Everyone seemed to know the same songs and dances, and really enjoyed the emotion of the music. People put a lot of effort into creating a beautiful, unique experience – I thought it was just amazing, like a dream.

        That was about 30 years ago. My husband and I go every other year now. He enjoys it, and he doesn’t even speak Spanish. But there is just a civility and niceness (yes, I know it is not a word, I just can’t think of another way to say it at present) and celebration that I have not found anywhere else in the world. I still know people from back when I was a student and I still show up at their caseta and they welcome us. I keep hoping they will come stay with us in Los Angeles one day for a vacation, but you know, the Sevillanos are a really content bunch of people. They tend to stay put becaus they have a wonderfully rich culture right at home, and they really like their culture. This is totally at odds with Americans, who always feel like we need to apologize for smething. The Feria is one of my favorite experiences in Europe, but it does require some effort. The effort is WELL worth it….

        • Thanks for sharing your experiences. They certainly are different from mine, and it’s nice to know that experience exists. Wow, I can’t believe you go every other year – you must have a great time! Are you going this year?

          Do you get a new traje de flamenca every year? 🙂 I’d love to wear one of those.

          I think I did make an effort at the Feria, but I got very unlucky with the crowd. It always seems to happen to me in Sevilla! But also, I just don’t like exclusive parties where it really matters who you know and what you look or dress like, so that made me uncomfortable right from the start.

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  13. I don’t recall reading this before, so I just wanted to respond. It seems that in Sevilla, there is a lot of closed-off-ness (great invented word, I know). Here’s two examples:

    1) Feria de Abril and what you said
    2) Semana Santa. It’s very prestigious, you pay a lot of money, and it’s all about your neighborhood. If you weren’t from there, you wouldn’t be accepted. In other cities, like Zamora, people are members of multiple cofradias and I’m sure they’d even accept foreigners if we really wanted.

    And also, the bird thing — wtf? When you say “gift,” do you mean they were being assholes or they were genuinely that fucking crazy?

  14. Hi Jessica,

    I studied abroad in Sevilla for just a short summer program and I immediately felt this same attitude from people. I am blonde and quite obviously not Spanish. My friend with me has Portuguese roots, and although we went everywhere together the treatment we received differed greatly. It was strange and quite shocking and totally went against the stereotype that a lot of people hold, that darker men are entranced by lighter women lol. It definitely wasn’t with everyone we came across but a strong 50/50.

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