Spain enjoys plenty of hours of sunshine. The opportunity to have light-filled homes is available the majority of the year, yet homes are often completely shut off to natural light. Why are Spaniards so obsessed with window shutters?
Afraid of the light?
It seems like Spaniards are afraid of light. As a foreigner living in Spain this is one of the first things one notices. When walking or driving either in a big city or a quaint village one will notice that almost all of the homes will have their shutters drawn.
Darkness even in winter
Most shutters in Spain are kept closed all year. Even in the winter months when it’s not so hot. Many expats living in Spain are attracted by the many days of sunshine the country receives and need light all the time.
In most of Europe the use of shutters is only anecdotal. In Spain they are part of popular culture. They are kept closed not just because Spain receives more hours of light – between 2,500 and 3,000 hours in an average year, but for other more interesting reasons.
Spaniards who have travelled to other European countries can testify that the daily life of their neighbors can be seen through the windows. In many cases there is an open display of the home without shutters or curtains. This open display would not be possible in Spain.
Today’s customs date back to Arabic culture. Many of Spain’s customs are deeply entrenched with the Arabic influence of the past. People lived towards the inside of their homes. Interiors were kept pretty, such as a central courtyard and one would peek through the window pane.
This way of living is a stark contrast to the Calvinist idea. In most common to protestant countries in the center or north of Europe, homes are kept more open. The thought is that this shows the honesty of its guests and proving you are not afraid of showing if you are rich or poor. In Holland for example, the Dutch do not have shutters (and leave the curtains open). This shows openness, a willingness to share information, and shows there is nothing to hide.
The shutters industry in Spain is dominated by family run businesses. One of the largest companies, Persax, founded in 1976, sold €21.5 million-worth in shutters in 2017.
Spaniards are known for being warm and open people, however they are protective of their private life. Although they may be friendly with their neighbours they are less likely to invite them into their homes for a cup of tea. In Spain, much of life takes place outdoors and the more one is in the street, the better they get to know their neighbours.
There is greater closeness in Spain and more interest in learning about other lives but less interest in sharing details about ones own. Therefore, barriers are used. Hence the shutters.
What has religion to do with it?
Generally speaking, Catholic ethics imply there is greater concern for that which will be said and what is socially expected of you. For this reason barriers were used. Shutters and curtains were used to separate the house from outside. This way you had the freedom to do that which you didn’t want others to see you doing. And Spaniards do spend much of their time at home.
What neighbors are up to at home has even even raised legal issues when it comes to shutters The Standard Hotel in New York’s meatpacking district has wall-to-wall glass windows for example. Here it’s common to see people looking up from the street to catch a glimpse into the rooms of scantily clad guests.
Last February, The New York Times property section received a letter from a 70-year-old man who explained that a neighbor had accused him of exhibitionism in his own house. Perhaps this problem could have been solved with some curtains or shutters.