From Bullfighting To Rodeos: Culture Shock In Spain

An American cowboy rides bareback during a rodeo at Las Ventas bullring in Madrid i i

An American cowboy rides bareback during a rodeo at Las Ventas bullring in Madrid last month. Dozens of top rodeo cowboys from the U.S. have taken their show to Europe. Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images
An American cowboy rides bareback during a rodeo at Las Ventas bullring in Madrid

An American cowboy rides bareback during a rodeo at Las Ventas bullring in Madrid last month. Dozens of top rodeo cowboys from the U.S. have taken their show to Europe.

Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images

For years, animal rights groups in Europe have tried to get Spain to ban bullfighting, an age-old tradition that results in the deaths of thousands of bulls every year.

Now American promoters are offering rodeos as an alternative to the sport. Dozens of America's top rodeo cowboys have taken their show to Europe, and their tour starts at bullfighting rings in Spain.

In the municipal bullring in Guadalajara, a small city near Madrid, a bilingual emcee tries to fire up the crowd as "Miss Rodeos" waving the Stars and Stripes ride out on Harley-Davidsons. The cowboys rope, steer and ride broncos, as the high-decibel sound system shakes the arena's foundations.

Crowds at the bullring normally watch in silence as matadors face down bulls in a fight to the death. This is something completely different — and a culture shock for many audience members.

"This is very odd," Josefina Palafox says. The older woman with the perfect hairdo sits primly, clutching a purse on her lap. She didn't plan to be here; she and a friend were just out for an evening stroll.

"And we saw the commotion and decided to see what it was all about," she says. "It's very American. And we like it."

Well, not quite. Her friend, Conchita Ruza, is not so keen.

"I'll stick to the bullfights. They're a lot nicer. First of all, you don't have all this racket. Secondly, the bull is a beautiful animal. And lastly," she says, "I'm Spanish."

Cultural Shift

Outside the ring, there's been criticism of the rodeo. One commentator argued in El Mundo newspaper that rodeos in Spain are as culturally misplaced as bullfighting in the U.S.

The rodeos celebrate a facet of Americana that European cultural snobs love to sneer at: the flag-waving, the country music, the cowboys in 10-gallon hats.

Mike Beers, a world champion team roper from Oregon, says he thinks the rodeo will be a hit in Spain. Increasing numbers of people tell pollsters they feel queasy about bulls being killed in the ring.

"You know, they're used to seeing the bull. When they get done with him here, they drag him out on a sled," Beers says. "We rope the steer by the feet here. We get done with him, he jumps up and runs out of the arena. The crowd loves it."

Children in the crowd — more accustomed to shouting "ole!" — shout "yee-haw."

Alba Perez, 10, says she loves animals and now prefers the rodeo because they do more "stuff."

"And they don't kill the bull," she says.

The rodeo may have its origins in the American West at a time when it belonged to Spain. But this spectacle couldn't be more un-Spanish — and that's a big part of its appeal.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.