If you’ve read anything about Sevilla on my blog, you may have read that I’m not the biggest fan of the Andalusian city. From a purely superficial perspective, it’s hard to understand. After all, the golden city is probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to in Spain and it’s jam-packed with delicious bars serving tapas at rock-bottom prices.
But…Sevilla is also the place where I had the bad luck to have the majority of my most unpleasant experiences in Spain. Visiting the Feria de Abril only highlighted everything I hadn’t enjoyed about my time in Sevilla.
I wrote about this in a two-part post right after I got back two years ago, and as it’s the Feria this week, I wanted to re-reflect on the festival and my experiences there more concisely. Before I start, I don’t want people to misconstrue this as me hating on Sevilla. I had bad luck there, and I know that not everyone is like this. It’s absolutely a beautiful city and I did meet a few kind people there, but I still didn’t like a lot of the elements of the Feria de Abril.
It’s all about who you know.
The Feria’s main stomping grounds are lined with colorful stripy casetas set up like mini-restaurants for the week, including with pretty delicate fences set up around the exterior. Those fences aren’t just decorative. The casetas are private parties you’ve got to have an invitation to go into (there are a handful of public ones, but “just anyone” could go into those, I was told). This isn’t me being bitter about being let in; actually, my sevillano friends were well-connected and I got into some very ritzy places. Still, being asked for an invitation at the door is not my idea of a fun party.
Appearances matter – a LOT.
OK, I’m never going to be mistaken for a Spaniard, no matter how pleasant of a guest I am. There’s nothing I can do about it. Still, it does get tiring having people walk up to me and say “Hello, where are you from?” Usually, people are just being nice, but a lot of people at the Feria made it clear they didn’t consider me welcome there.
A group of 20-somethings barred my way when I tried to walk through a caseta, pulling on my arm and aggressively demanding to know where I was from and what I was doing at their private party. They were the worst, but even the people who condescendingly said I was “a lovely girl, for a foreigner” made it clear I was never going to be fully welcome, no matter how well-connected I could potentially become.
People also spend hundreds and hundreds of euros each year to make sure they look their very best for the fair in custom-designed outfits. I dressed nicely, but saw absolutely no point in buying an absurdly expensive traje de flamenca for a single weekend, so I didn’t (even renting them is super pricey if you’re on a budget like me!). Would people have been nicer to me had I dressed the part? I definitely got the impression that they would, which really only highlighted the vibe I got about appearances being very, very important.
At the Feria, I never pulled out my own chair or opened a door, and I was always served first along with the other girls. Look, I know lots of people just chalk that up to traditional ‘gentlemanly’ behavior, but that kind of outdated behavior really irks me. I do not like being treated like a delicate flower who can’t do things for myself, even though I understand it comes from a well-meaning place, and those attitudes were in full swing at the Feria. Perhaps this is why a handful of typical Spanish cabelleros I’ve met have accused me of being muy fría!
It’s kind of a Spanish version of a society ball.
Think you’d enjoy the Feria? Would you enjoy going to a society ball? Even though it’s probably not quite as stuffy as I imagine those society events to be, the emphasis on class and appearance at the Feria is similar . It’s easy to glamorize something that’s as colorful and exotic as the Feria de Abril, but once I got over the shiny exterior, the inside wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped.
Basically, the Feria, like a lot of fancy events in lots of countries, is exclusionary and superficial – I’m not criticizing it for something unique to that event. Even if I were from Sevilla, I’m not sure I would enjoy something like that anyway. Social events based on what you look like and who you know really aren’t my thing at all.
So why do I still think you should try the Feria de Abril?
Well, it’s generally a plus to see something for your own eyes. My experiences in Sevilla will always be colored by the unkind people I met and unpleasant encounters I had when I studied abroad there. Somebody else without this history would see it differently, no question. To each his own, as they say!
Mainly, though, it’s because it’s almost always fascinating to see a place’s traditional celebrations. Even though the Feria wasn’t my kind of celebration, it is important to people of Sevilla and has been for a long time. The things I saw there I hadn’t seen anywhere else in Spain, and I don’t regret going at all. I was lucky enough to get an inside peek at a culture and society that isn’t mine, and no matter how many pretty buildings you visit, you may never see that social side of a place as a visitor . Sometimes, those are experiences you like and sometimes they aren’t, but it is absolutely worth it see these kinds of things when you travel.
Have you ever experienced a traditional event that you didn’t enjoy? Any thoughts on the Feria de Abril?
I LOVE Sevilla! I hate that you had such a bad experience there though. I studied abroad in Seville and fell completely in love with the city. I guess that goes to show that no one experience is how it will be for everyone and people have to find out for themselves. I unfortunately (maybe fortunately…) wasn’t there during Feria de Abril, but a friend of mine is there now studying & she seemed to have had a great time at the fair. So hopefully that will be an encouragement to anyone who is trying to decide if they want to go or not.
The Postcard Journals
That’s totally true, everyone has different experiences. I really had a fairly unpleasant time in Sevilla, but I do try to always tell people that my experiences were the exception, not the norm, so they should give it a shot anyway.
Even if you don’t like the Feria, I still think it’s worth seeing, even if it’s just for the spectacle of the thing.
Thanks for being so honest. I would like to experience it with my friends and share my feelings with you one day :).
It’s definitely a fun travel experience, even if you end up not liking the fair in the end!
I’ve never been to the Feria de Sevilla (and I’ve had plenty of chances to do so). Instead, I’ve been twice to the Feria del Puerto de Santa Maria – a much more relaxed and open version. Even though I attended by side of one of Puerto de Santa Maria’s most prominent families (who invited to every single drink and tapa) I also met friends from Uni who attended or their own. Neither me nor my by then boyfriend dressed up and it was completely fine! Maybe that’s a different place to consider next year?
Yeah, that sounds way more fun! I liked the idea of the Feria – a pretty street party where everyone dresses up – just not the snooty part of it. Maybe I’ll check out one of the smaller ones next time!
I’ve never understood the popular obsession with the Feria de Abril; like you said, it can be exclusive, superficial, crowded, and expensive, and if you’re a foreigner living there or even just in town for a visit—fat chance of getting into a caseta :/
I think the other Andalusian ferias outside of Sevilla deserve a lot more love than Sevilla’s, especially since their casetas are open to the public! I remember when I first moved to Úbeda (Jaén province) I arrived right in the middle of the town’s feria, and while there were the expected ladies in trajes de gitana and men wearing cordobeses hats, the atmosphere was still laid back and everything was just fun.
I definitely think I’ll have to give another Feria a chance if I’m in Spain next spring. Sevilla’s was just too exclusive for me. I mean, I can see why they’d want to keep the tourists out and stop them from trashing their nice event, but still. Laid-back parties are way better!
I think it’s quite funny that you feel about Seville as I feel about Barcelona. As a matter of fact, the fair is one of my favorite times of year because I have a lot of connections and get to see a lot of friends – and I love dressing up! There are more public casetas than you may think (all of the hermandades have one that is small and people-friendly). I’m glad that my boyfriend’s friends always invite me along and encourage me to bring a few guiri friends.
That said, I can see why people don’t like it at all, and that makes sense. I live in Seville, have a Spanish boyfriend and plenty of sevillano friends. I also love Jerez and El Puerto’s fairs, since they’re open and small. The Feria de Abril is a huge marathon!
I know, right? Haha one day we should just take each other around our respective cities to give them one last shot!
I went with sevillano friends, but I actually think they may have been a little TOO well-connected, if that makes sense! They had really fancy casetas and there weren’t very many foreigners at all there. I can totally see enjoying it more if I went with a group that invited more guiris and was more into that vibe. Still, everyone in the group I was with was very kind and pleasant…it just wasn’t my thing.
By the way, your dress was awesome this year! It looks so much fun to get all dressed up!
This is basically Spain’s version of a country club/greek life in universities. I was in a sorority myself and we had a “designated table” in the cafeteria and I would be surprised at the amount of vitriol spewed by my sisters when non-Greek students would sit there at lunch. It was so ridiculous! That’s what I think of these private casetas.
I think it would definitely be fun to people watch and take in the ambiance. Seeing all the different dresses and fancy suits would make for a great photo op. However, I would not want to feel unwelcome and interrogated and being made to feel like I don’t belong. I’m not one for being exclusive and this is why my family never joined a country club (there are about 8 in my town!). If someone I knew invited me to a caseta, I would probably go but I would be prepared for the mean looks and judgy comments.
It was totally fun to people watch! But in the end, I didn’t like the exclusivity. My college banned Greek life, so I never saw that side of it, but my sister was in a sorority and had a similar experience. Oh well, guess we’ll never be society girls! :p
Haha I read this having just come back from visiting the Feria on a sweltering day. I share your same sentiments about Sevilla and Feria de Abril. I have a love-hate relationship with this large pueblo that’s really under the guise of being called a city. Perhaps after living in two horrible pisos, getting annoyed with how slow things can be here sometimes, the gitanos and inundation of tourists that have changed my opinion about Sevilla and make me like life in BCN more.
The Feria makes me laugh sometimes because economically speaking Andalucia is one of the weakest comunidades autonomas in Spain; and yet the Feria masks the high unemployment rates and closing businesses by creating this facade of pageantry, elegance and luxury. People shoot glares of judgement if someone is wearing a dress that was last year’s fashion, or if they arrive to the fair in a carriage pulled by burros instead of sleek white horses. I see right through the twirling ‘volantes’ and jingling bells the horses wear. Sevilla is more or less poor and Feria originated as a livestock fair. I think it also exemplifies how exclusive sevillanos can be sometimes. If you aren’t in a certain circle of friends or have connections it’s very difficult to get in.
All my negative comments aside, it is very beautiful to see and I love seeing the trajes de flamenca and the horses. It’s such a colorful festival full of ‘alegria.’ I prefer Feria de Caballo in Jerez because all the casetas are public and I got in general a more welcoming feeling. But like I said, in the end I just prefer life in Barcelona and Catalonia and that’s probably why I now live there.
I kind of feel the same way about Sevilla – it’s gorgeous, no doubt about it, but I had the bad luck of running into the very traditional/conservative and slightly ‘machismo’ side of it multiple times (as well as some very lovely people, I must add!).
The Feria is totally a bizarre event! I agree with you on all the negative stuff AND the positive stuff about it being so pretty. It’s worth checking out, but in the end I prefer Barcelona as well. 🙂
Feria is worth it just to see all those great hats, and more horses than usual.
For sure! I definitely don’t regret going, but I was also disappointed that it wasn’t as relaxed/fun as I’d hoped. Oh well!
It’s a shame you had a bad experience, but maybe you need to be more open minded yourself? I went as a foreigner and found the Sevilians welcoming, kind and generous. Very proud of their city and culture, and so they should be, it was an amazing city and experience. Anyone who starts a blog about hating Seville doesn’t know the true Spain….
Well, I did give the Feria a fair chance and was open-minded about it, and I just had the bad luck of having a bad experience. It happens. I did say multiple times that another person might have a totally different experience, and I’m glad you enjoyed the Feria.
However, I don’t think having an opinion constitutes being close-minded. I do agree with you that it’s an amazing city worth visiting, but the Feria was not to my taste, and that’s OK. We just have different likes. Actually, many of my Spanish friends don’t like the Feria for the very same reasons – it’s an expensive society event. I don’t like those type of things in my home culture anyway.
I did NOT say I hated Sevilla. Actually, I tried very hard to make it clear that wasn’t what I was saying at the beginning. Just because I didn’t like the Feria doesn’t mean I didn’t experience a ‘true’ side of it (and for the record, I lived in Sevilla). Knowing a culture and liking it are two totally separate things.
I can see why you don’t like it! I know I wouldn’t either, but it’s just my personality. No thank you to dancing sevillanas or wearing those dresses. Just not for me.
I did love the city of Sevilla, but I didn’t live there either. I think my personality fits in more with the north part of Spain anyway.
Right? It’s definitely a personality thing – some regions fit better than others. I’d expected to like the Feria because everyone talks about it like a big street party, but it’s actually fairly different from my early expectations.
Glad to see a different perspective on Feria here. I’ve actually been talking about it a lot this weekend with a friend who knows Seville very well and it just seems pretty bizarre to me too. Very high-society and very high-maintenance . For me the most bizarre part is the traje de gitana, a ridiculously expensive dress based on a culture that is very frowned upon. Bit contradictory don’t you think? Anyway, I guess I can’t really talk…I’ve never been!
It’s definitely interesting to go! I mean, I’d never been to any kind of society event, so it was fun from a kind of sociological point of view. But ultimately, it did seem super high-maintenance to me as well. And yeah, the dress thing is really bizarre! Although those super colorful dresses are so much fun to look at.
I think it’s great that you publish your honest opinion. There is way too much “polished” tourism information that tells you that everything is always fantastic and incredibly amazing!
I loved Feria de Abril, but I was very conscious of the fact that it had everything to do with me having a lot of Spanish friends! And those friends were of the kind that looooves guiris, so I was more than welcome in their casetas (I didn’t wear a traje either, just a flower in the hair, a fan and big earrings ;-).
Since then I have experienced various ferias (along Costa del Sol, mostly) and I get the same impression: it’s all about the people you’re with! It’s basically about eating, drinking and dressing up in good company.
With that in mind, I enjoy the ferias so much more 🙂
Yeah, I agree that if you go with a group that is generally welcoming of foreigners it could be a lot more fun. I did go with very, very nice people who were extremely welcoming, but their casetas were definitely Spanish only and some people were rude about me being foreign. Oh well!
Well, I haven´t been to Feria de Abril but I can totally see what you mean. I guess in general there are still many traces in spanish culture about “society standards and connections” and that still has influenced Latin american countries in some way, me being from one of them. That´s why whenever I go to Europe, I try to avoid Spain for a reason. Don´t get me wrong, it´s a beautiful country to visit but I wouldn´t choose it for a place to live. They may say that in northern european countries people are more cold, but I actually feel better over there, maybe it´s because I´ve never felt the necessity to be connected or have some type of friends over there? I don´t know…but I totally got your point, I like being in places where you are not judged by who your friends are and how you look like…
I’ve never been to anywhere in Latin America, but yeah, that was basically my main issue with the Feria. Like you said, it’s not much fun to be judged on appearances.
Yikes! Thanks for your honesty. I haven’t been to Seville yet, but I don’t think I’d enjoy myself at the Ferio de Abril at all. That being said, I would still like to go to Seville to see the city for myself and to try the food that everyone says is amazing.
You might enjoy yourself – a ton of people do! It just wasn’t my thing. 🙂
But you should absolutely see Sevilla, it’s one of the prettiest cities in Spain. And it’s cheap, too!
I LOVE Feria, but I can definitely see where you’re coming from. The first year I went, when I was studying in Madrid, I was just in awe of everything. The second year, living in Sevilla and surrounded by friends, I had a blast (although it was also exhausting!). The third year, when I was teaching in Madrid but came down to Sevilla for the weekend, I was a bit more cynical about the exclusivity and pretentiousness of it all…although I still think it’s a fascinating tradition to participate in.
In general, Sevilla can put me off a bit, because everything seems so pijo and I could never possibly dress as nicely as most Sevillanos do on a regular basis, but, behind all that, the people are friendly, and the city is absolutely stunning. But it also completely depends on your specific experience, and rude people can completely ruin any trip!
It’s absolutely a fascinating tradition, and even though it wasn’t my style it was really interesting to see, especially from a participant’s point of view.
It’s funny how everyone says Sevillanos are friendly, because even I’ve had the terrible luck to meet a bunch of hostile xenophobic ones (including my host family while I studied there)! It’s frustrating because I know the cool part of Sevilla exists, and I just keep running into a mixed bag of 50% very kind and 50% flat-out rude and mean. Oh well!
Funny, I echo Cat’s sentiments, I feel the same about Barcelona (and L.A.) but I get it because a lot of people feel that way about New York too and to me it’s just home. I was told many years ago that feria is not put on for tourist to enjoy but for the Sevillanos themselves, so perhaps it still holds true. who knows… like you said everyone should see for themselves.
Of course, everyone’s experience is different!
the Feria de Abril really exhausts me….on TV!! so i would not like it at all if i ever went there….i see it superficial with much exaggeration.
as for the Ladies First..well i am against such a gentle manner because it may be quite fake and silly, in fact i have asked some girl to open the door of my car, not me opening her door, and it ended up smiling 🙂
I think it’s a real shame that you felt this way about the Feria de Abril. Obviously it’s not for everyone, but it’s not the most accessible or typical example of feria either, given that it’s the only one with private casetas. Of course there are always bound to be some people in life who want to keep things exclusive (as you’d get in the VIP area of clubs, for example), but it sounds like you were welcomed into quite a few casetas. I used to live in and around Seville, and I always found that when people asked me where I was from, it was because they were interested rather than being rude. Andaluces are so open and chatty that questions like this and taking a direct attitude aren’t rude, just different to the UK/American way. It did take me a while to get used to though! Also, I’ve been to 8 different ferias around Andalucia and never worn a traje – and it’s never been a problem. There are always other women wearing ‘normal’ clothes, including jeans – although I admit dressing up a bit never goes amiss! Anyway, I think it’s worth trying other, smaller ferias for a different (better?) experience, as there are no private casetas at the other ferias so it’s easy to get a feel for what the event is all about and to meet more people. I’ve always found that everyone is too busy trying to have a good time to be snooty!
Oh well, lots of people have had a different experience – I just keep getting unlucky in Sevilla!
And it’s true that most people are just being curious when they ask where you are from. However, it’s easy to tell when somebody is being open versus being hostile, and a small group of unpleasant people made it clear they didn’t want a foreigner in their caseta (even though I was invited). Physically blocking my way and demanding to know where I was from was definitely an aggressive move. It’s hard to enjoy a party when things like that happen.
In relation to the Feria, Spanish people also complain about Feria because of the issue of private parties. If you are foreigner or even worse Spanish from another region you are not properly welcomed. Obviously you will find someone who invite you but I agree with you this isnt my idea of a party. In the past it was a bit different but they decided to create private parties because there were a lot of tourists and people from Seville couldnt enjoy the party and dance in a relaxed way. I can undestand them that but a common point should be found.
Something similar happened in relation to “tomatina” in Buñol. Last year, you had to buy tickets in order to take part in the party. Only residents could participate without paying a fee. It is a bit stupid because it is a public party. In that case, crisis is behind.
Public parties paid with public money should be free for everyone not only for people from the same place because this is an excellent opportunity for meeting people, developing friendships, breaking sterotypes and learning about other countries even learning about your neighboors. In a country with a lot of identity problems, this is something neccesary and if you have a problem with tourists or you are afraid about losing the identity of the party, look for original solutions, if we were original for creating a party like that you should be able to find a solution for it
I totally get why people would get frustrated with their local event getting overrun by tourists! There has to be a common ground somewhere, rather than people thinking “visitor = obnoxious tourist”. Hopefully things will work out in the future. Luckily, from the comments, it seems like lots of other foreigners had a great time, so perhaps it’s moving in the right direction. 🙂
Of course, there’s a whole different issues with making publicly-funded parties a paid event. I agree that’s a bit stupid!