Life in Spain has changed dramatically over the last few decades, particularly since the boom in package holidays and the country's admission to the European Community in the 1980s. Strict religious customs have given way to modern thinking, and the cult of 'machismo' has become much less dominant with equality much more apparent than it once was.
However some traditions remain strong, and hospitality, chivalry and courtesy still thrive. It is common to greet and acknowledge people you meet, for example in shops and restaurants, with “Buenos dias” (Good morning), “Buenos tardes” (Good afternoon) or “Hola” (Hello.)
The main seaside resorts are cosmopolitan with a capital 'C', but old habits die hard in more rural parts of the country where it's probably a good idea to confine revealing swimming costumes to the beach or poolside. Shoulders and legs should be covered when visiting a church.
The time-honoured custom of the siesta is also still observed in many places, with shops and banks often closing from 2-5pm. This gives the Spanish the energy to extend their evenings, often into the early hours, and people rarely dine out before 10pm.
Service charges are usually included in restaurants so a tip is discretionary. In cafés and bars 5% - 10% is acceptable, and 10% - 15% in taxis.
A new law was passed in Spain in 2006 severely restricting smoking in public places. Some bars and restaurants do not allow smoking and some have separate smoking areas. Look for a sign in the window telling you if smoking is allowed (“Está permitido fumar”) or is not allowed (“No Está permitido fumar”) or if there is a smoking area (“Zona para fumadores”.)
The religion of the majority of the population in Spain is Catholicism however less than a quarter are now thought to be regular churchgoers. Because the government of Spain is now a secular one, it can no longer be said that it is the official religion but the Catholic church still receives special treatment. Spain is still a Catholic environment, its landscape filled with shrines and churches, and has an artistic heritage rich in religious reference, language and customs. It is worth noting that almost every Catholic church in Spain is a museum in itself with many well worth visiting.
Islam is the second largest religion accounting for about 3% of the population and there is a small representation of Jewish and Protestant denominations.
It is estimated that the first prehistoric people landed on the islands about 5000 years ago and lived mainly in mountain caves. There are many sites of prehistoric interest on the islands and indeed, Menorca is often considered as a prehistoric open air museum. Occupied successively by Iberians, Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians, the islands became a Roman colony from 123 BC, and an independent Moorish kingdom from AD1009 until King James I of Aragon conquered the islands (1229-35). The islands were populated by Catalans, and Catalan-speaking Valencians formed an independent kingdom up to 1349, from which time their history merges in that of Spain. The Balearic Islands were frequently attacked by Barbary pirates from North Africa, resulting in many coastal watchtowers and fortified churches being erected - many of the fortifications can still be seen on the island.
Menorca was ceded to the British under the treaty of Utrecht, along with Gibraltar, and remained in British rule for most of the 18th century. In the Spanish Civil War, Majorca and Ibiza were soon under the control of Franco's forces enabling the Italian fleet to use Majorca as its base and offer support to the insurgents. Menorca remained in the hands of the Republicans until 1939.
From the early 19th century, the islands (especially Majorca and Ibiza) became a haven for musicians, writers and artists and gradually the artists' colony attracted other tourists. After the Second World War, from the 1950s onwards, mass tourism came to the Balearics on a rapidly increasing scale, radically changing the way of life in the islands.
With a population of just over one million, this group of Mediterranean islands comprises the main islands of Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentara. The advent of tourism has completely changed the kind of industry on the islands with more than 70% of the population now involved with services; textiles, leathers and shoes accounting for the rest. An eighth of the population is made up of German, British and South American foreign nationals.
The co-official languages in the Balearic Islands are Spanish and Catalan, also known as mallorquí, menorquí and eivissenc on the islands. English is widely spoken in tourist areas.
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