Cultural Experience | Spain

Bull Fighting in Madrid and the Value of Cultural Emmersion

One Example of how time abroad and exposure to new cultures challenge us and give perspective that can be applied upon returning home

I’ve been studying abroad in Spain for about a week and a half now and I’m still adjusting to the culture. Dinner isn’t served until 9 pm. Almost every meal includes some sort of ham. The coffee is always espresso. Personal space is not a concept here. But overall, I am having a great time. I have already learned so much from the Art History course I’m taking. As a class, we’ve been all over Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, and Granada.

Last Sunday, we went to a bullfight as a class. It was optional, but I felt that part of studying abroad is immersing oneself in the culture. Whether it is something simply fun (like eating chocolate-y churros) or whether it’s something daunting (like attending a bullfight), I felt I should do and see as much as I could. So I opted to go.

Bull Fight – The Basics

We arrived at the magnificent and immense stadium at Plaza de Toros and took our seats. The Bullfight begins with a parade. 2 messengers ride horses into the ring and ask the audience’s permission for the matadors to enter and to have the Bullfight. The matadors and the other smaller parts are all dressed in traditional, colorful clothing. This was my favorite part as it illustrated the history and culture of Spain.

In a Bullfight, there are 3 matadors and 6 bulls. There are 6 rounds which each last 12-15 minutes. Within each round, there are 3 parts. In the first, 2 men ride horses and carry long spears and try to stab the bull in the neck to limit his movement and vision. In the second, 2 men, carrying 3 knives each, stab the knives into the bull’s back to further weaken him. And finally, in the third and last part, the matador stabs the bull in the heart with a sword. I only stayed for 1 round.

The Main Event

At our fight, the spearmen did not do so well. They kept missing the exact right spot and had to stab the bull many times. I could tell the crowd was unimpressed. Finally, they stabbed the bull well enough and the stadium erupted in cheers. Then the knifemen came. There was applause when the stabbed the bull too. It was unsettlingly bizarre to me that we were meant to applaud the torture of this animal. At this point, a girl from my class started to cry. The matador finally came out and ended the bull’s misery and the entire stadium stood in respect for the bull. I left at this point with most of my class. For us, this was strangely cruel, but for many Spaniards it is tradition.

bull fight 3

This Student’s Thoughts

I still have very mixed feelings about what I witnessed at the bullfight. It wasn’t something I could really understand. It is something that never happens in the US. If they respect this animal so much, why would they then proceed to kill 5 more? Isn’t it a bit medieval to attend a fight to the death for entertainment? Isn’t this a violation of animal rights?

But then again, I am not a vegetarian. I eat meat from places that do not acquire it humanely. I own a leather bags and ugg boots. I wear makeup that probably was tested on animals. Just because the torture of the bull is publicized, does it make it any less wrong and cruel than the torture of animals that I condone as a consumer? The bulls used in bullfights must be in prime condition and therefore live very healthy, nurtured lives until their 12-15 minutes in the ring. Is this not better than the constant misery endured by animals used and abused by the food, clothing, and makeup industries?

However, then I think, it is still vulgar and barbaric to applaud directly witnessed violence. But then I remember that my favorite TV show is Game of Thrones. Of course, none of the deaths actually happen. Even so, who am I to condemn obsession with violence when I myself possess it to a certain degree?

The Bullfight was absolutely deeply unsettling for me. And not just because of the fight, but because of the questions it made me ask myself. If I am uncomfortable seeing an animal tortured in front of me, I should be uncomfortable by all animal torture. Seeing the Bullfight opened my eyes to what I had been choosing not to ignore in my daily life in the US.

Hopefully the rest of my time abroad and exposure to new cultures will continue to challenge me and give me perspective that I can apply upon my return home.

Meg Loftus

University of Viginia | 2 stories

Meg Loftus is a third year English major at the University of Virginia currently studying in Ireland at Trinity College. In her free time, Meg enjoys performing/watching theatre, playing her ukulele, singing, and reading. Twitter and Instagram: @meggloftus


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