Culture of Gibraltar

From Academic Kids

The Culture of Gibraltar reflects Gibraltarians' diverse origins. While there are Spanish and British influences, a result of the territory's status as a British 'overseas territory' (colony) and its proximity to Spain, the ethnic origins of most Gibraltarians are neither British or Spanish, including Genoese, Maltese, Portuguese, and Germans. Others are Jewish of Sephardic or North African origin. Many Gibraltarians of Genoese origin came to the Rock in the 18th century, with the Maltese and Portuguese following in the 19th century, coming to work and trade in the British military base.

During the Second World War, the whole civilian population of the Rock was evacuated, in the interests of the British military, which decreed that 'the fortress comes first'. They were moved to the UK, particularly to Fulham and Kensington in London and Ballymena in Northern Ireland, as well as Jamaica and Madeira. This served to strengthen a Gibraltarian, as opposed to simply British, identity, and after the war, there was a successful campaign for repatriation.

Spain has often denigrated the Gibraltarians, who it describes as 'the present inhabitants', on the grounds that they are not indigenous, and that the original Spanish inhabitants were expelled when the Anglo-Dutch expedition force seized the Rock in 1704. It has used these arguments to argue that Gibraltarians are not a 'colonial' people, but rather, a 'colonising' people. This is in spite of the fact that many Gibraltarians can trace their ancestry on the Rock back further than most North Americans or Australasians of European origin can trace their ancestry in their countries, and indeed many Latin Americans living in former Spanish colonies. Consequently, many Gibraltarians regard Spanish politicians, with considerable suspicion. Apart from the annoyance of the territorial claim, relations with the Spanish are good. Many Spaniards work in Gibraltar and Gibraltarians shop and visit Spain regularly.


Cultural relationships with Britain and Spain

British Gibraltarians

Gibraltarians have historically been proud of their British heritage, and unlike the inhabitants of other other territories, sought to strengthen, rather than loosen their ties with the UK and the British Crown, seeing themselves as 'more British than the British'. This sense of being British was particularly strong when the frontier with Spain was closed in 1969, and all communications links were severed. To this day, the only flights from Gibraltar's airport, are those to the UK. To some in Britain itself, this sense of Britishness is often looked upon with a mixture of incomprehension and ridicule. The fact that they are largely of Mediterranean appearance and speak a patois or creole of Spanish, known as llanito leads many British people to mistakenly think that Gibraltarians are no different from Andalucian Spaniards. Another common misconception, promoted by the Spanish Government, is that Gibraltarians are simply British expatriates, similar to those found in larger numbers on the Costa del Sol.


Most Gibraltarians are Roman Catholic, with the Diocese of Gibraltar being directly responsible to the Vatican. The Rock also forms part of the Church of England diocese covering mainland Europe, with a 'Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe'. There is a small but very influential Jewish minority, active in business and politics, and two synagogues. This is, in fact, a contravention of the Treaty of Utrecht, in which Jews and Moors are not allowed to reside in the town, but is ignored and ridiculed. Most Moroccans are Muslim, and there is a large mosque at Europa Point, the Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque, paid for by Saudi Arabia. Most Indians are Hindu, with their own local temple.

Relations with Spain

Historically, cultural ties with Spain have been strong. Intermarriage between Gibraltarian men and Spanish women resulted in many people having relatives on the other side of the frontier, known in Spanish as La Verja or 'the fence'. These people were badly affected by the closure of the frontier in 1969, which even saw telephone links severed, so that the only way that families could communicate was to shout across the border gates. Others took the more cumbersome and costly route of travelling by ferry via Morocco.

Since the frontier with Spain was reopened, ties with the hinterland, known as the 'Campo de Gibraltar', have increased, with many buying property in La Línea de la Concepción, where prices are considerably lower. On the weekends, many flock across the frontier, with livelier nightclubs and bars than in Gibraltar. Younger Gibraltarians have considerable exposure to popular culture from Spain, and even vice versa, the pop group 'Melon Diesel' having found success on the Spanish charts, virtually all of its songs being in Spanish. In addition, Gibraltarians of all ages are avid supporters of Spanish football teams like FC Barcelona and Real Madrid as well as teams like Manchester United and Arsenal.

However, the Gibraltar Football Association's application for membership of UEFA, which would enable it to participate in the European Football Championships and the Football World Cup, has met with opposition from the Spanish Football Federation. This is seen as yet another attempt to deny the existence of Gibraltar internationally.

While Gibraltarians have multiple identities, seeing themselves to varying degrees as Gibraltarian, British and European, being Spanish does not form part of the equation. While some in Britain's Foreign Office would like to see this closening of ties result in an 'osmosis' between the Rock and the Campo, there is no prospect of Gibraltarians accepting absorption into Spain. A trip across the frontier, even to La Línea, is still described as 'going to Spain', and many Gibraltarians refer to their Spanish neighbours, unflatteringly, as sloppies.

The history of this term originates from the unfavourable comparison between the smartly dressed professional British army standing guard at the frontier, and their Spanish conscript counterparts, who were seen smoking cigarettes on duty. Today the military presence at the border has been withdrawn and normally there are only police and customs.

Relations with Britain

British influence remains strong. Spanish may be widely spoken, but it is a vernacular language only, English being the language of government, commerce, education and the media. Gibraltarians going on to higher education attend university in the UK, not Spain, as indeed do those requiring medical treatment not available on the Rock. Many university graduates remain in the UK to pursue careers there. After the Second World War, most evacuees were repatriated, but some stayed on, while many also moved to the UK, thereby increasing family ties with the 'Mother Country'. While television from Spain is easily received and widely watched, the availability of British television via satellite, particularly Sky and the BBC, means that Gibraltarians are as familiar with British news and popular culture as people in the UK itself.


Many Gibraltarians have names that reflect their mixed British and Mediterranean heritage usually with British first names like Keith, Nigel, Gladys, Mary Ann and John, with surnames originating from all over the Mediterranean and beyond. Surnames in Gibraltar include those originating from Genoa, (Imossi, Culatto, Licudi, Montegriffo, and Danino), Malta (Caruana, Zammit, Buttigieg, Farrugia and Azzopardi) Spain (Garcia, Marin, Lopez, Linares, Tacon), and Portugal (Britto, Netto, Coelho, Tavares, Oliveira), as well as Sephardic Jewish ones (Serfaty, Serruya, Benady, Hassan, Levy). Surnames of British origin include Hook, Randall, Corby and Feetham.

'Gibraltarian' vs 'People of Gibraltar'

Gibraltarian British

While many outsiders use the terms 'Gibraltarians', 'people of Gibraltar' and 'residents of Gibraltar' interchangeably, strictly speaking 'Gibraltarian' should be used only to describe those British subjects registered as such. The UK originally regarded Gibraltarians as 'British Overseas Territory Citizens' In 1981 Gibraltarians successfully campaigned against this classification under the British Nationality Act, which would have deprived them of the right of abode in the UK, along with other colonial subjects. This was partly due to Gibraltar's status as part of the then European Community (now European Union). As a result the Gibraltarians acquired the right to register as full British Citizens. In 2004 a electoral register taken for the purposes of elections for the European Parliament showed that there were only 95 persons with the status of BOTC. Spain opposed the enfranchisment of the Gibraltarians in EU elections on the basis of the misconception that Gibraltarians were not full British Citizens.

Other British

There is a sizeable British expatriate minority, classified as 'Other British'. Historically, many came with the British military or as civil servants, with many marrying locals, and registering as Gibraltarians themselves, although any British subject resident on the Rock for at least six months may vote. With the decline of the military presence, and the introduction of self-government, most from the UK instead come to work in the offshore finance sector. Many affluent people from the UK and elsewhere are classed as 'High Net Worth Individuals', who receive tax concessions in return for buying property and residing locally for at least part of the year. More recently, many futures traders have come to the Rock, since the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange (LIFFE) switched to electronic trading in 1999, thereby reducing the need to be in London. Some in Gibraltar have criticised the current government's policy, on the grounds that too much is being done to develop luxury properties for 'High Net Worth Individuals', and not enough to develop property for local people, a common complaint in many other small offshore jurisdictions. However, this should not be construed as hostility to British people or expatriates.


Following the closure of the frontier, Gibraltar could no longer rely on Spanish workers commuting from the Campo, resulting in a labour shortage. Gibraltar instead looked to Morocco, with many workers coming over by ferry and staying in government hostels. Although they paid income tax and social insurance, they were denied the right to either permanent residence or citizenship, only having renewable work permits. This policy has prompted criticism from human rights groups in the UK, who describe living and working conditions for Moroccans in Gibraltar as degrading.


Most Indians in Gibraltar are in business, many of the shops on the Rock's Main Street being Indian-owned. Although initially not able to obtain citizenship, an increasing number have done so.


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