The Abanico: Spanish Fan Culture

14 September 2015 0 Comments Category: blog, Living in Spain


It might seem obvious but did you know that the movement of a hand-held fan increases the airflow and the evaporation rate of sweat on the skin? Besides, they are stunning, easy to carry around and if you learn how, not only will it keep you cool in summer, there are hidden messages behind each fan movement. Keep reading to discover all about the Spanish fan culture.

Fans first became popular in Europe when they were introduced from East Asia in the 17th century. They were initially intended for both men and women but it was the upper class female society members who began to discover all the secret benefits they had: a useful tool that served as a way to communicate their feelings and emotions. A sort of language or secret code needed to comply with the social etiquette of the time.

The first master fan makers (maestros abaniqueros, in Spanish) began in the 17th century. Some of the most important were Juan Sánchez Cabezas, Juan García de la Rosa, Francisco Álvarez de Borja or Jerónimo García. But fans also needed to be painted or decorated so the master fan makers began to rely on painters like Duarte de Pinto and Juan Cano de Arévalo.

If you find yourself in Madrid, make sure you visit the astounding Museo del Traje to admire some of the greatest examples of fans in Spain. We also suggest you drop by Casa de Diego, Spain´s oldest fan store opened in 1858. They continue to manufacture their very own fans and other Spanish delights such as mantones de manila, castañuelas and peinetas.


Would you like you know how to say “I´m married” or “I´m available” with an abanico? Just for fun, here’s the run down but remember, people in Spain aren´t familiar with these old secret codes anymore, unless they are fan experts. If you´d like to convey a message, it´s best you learn how to speak Spanish.


Deciphering Secret Codes

Fanning yourself quickly while gazing into his eyes means: “I am crazy about you.”

Doing the same thing but slowly: “I´m married and feel indifferent about you.”

Opening the fan with one hand and displaying it entirely means, “Wait for me.”

Doing it with both hands: “You better forget about me.”

If a woman lets her fan drop to the floor in front of a man, it means “I belong to you.”

If a woman covers her face with an open fan: “Follow me when I leave.”

To say “yes”, all a woman has to do is lean her fan against her right cheek. If she uses her left cheek, it means “no”.

If a woman uses her fan to cover her head, she may be protecting herself from the sun but it could also mean that she had no interest in meeting you.

When a woman taps or hits her fan against the table or an object, she´s impatient.

If she closes her fan and lightly touches her eyelids, she asking when she can see you again.

If she opens the fan half way over her lips, she wants to be kissed.

If you´d like to read more about the history of the fan in Spain, make sure you visit this website, written by Virginia Seguí. She offers a historic journey of the use of the fan in Spain and its aesthetic and functional purposes.

Do you already own a fan? Did you know the history behind this traditional Spanish cooling device?

Photo Credits: Shutterstock

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