Two women use fans as protection from the sun. Archive photo. Salas/EFE
The mysterious but expressive language of the fan in Spain explained

The mysterious but expressive language of the fan in Spain explained

With this simple everyday object one can communicate a host of emotions, as did the ladies in the eighteenth century

María José Timoteo


Wednesday, 16 August 2023


The fan ('abanico') in Spain can help alleviate the extreme heat of long summer days, but it is also can also be used as a way communicating - but only if you understood the mysterious language in the way it used.

Although air conditioning is now one of the most sought-after ways to keep cool in summer, especially at home, many people still often still carry around the old-fashioned fan when they go outside.

Since ancient times, people have used fans to help cope with hot weather. In films set in this period, you will often see how the servants used large fans to cool their masters. According to National Geographic magazine, in the 18th century, the French artist Eugenio Prost, who settled in Spain, became the leading producer of fans as they are known today. They can be found in a multitude of patterns, in different colours and made of a wide variety of materials.

The fan remains a common sight on the streets of Spain during the hot summer days. Recently, the TikTok account @somossevilla shared a video in which a woman explained the meaning of various movements made with the fan. Conchita is a local guide in Seville and gave away the key ways to communicate with a fan.

@somossevilla ”EL LENGUAJE DEL ABANICO" La penúltima frase es la mejor y más graciosa.😂👌 Conchita es guía local de Sevilla y nos cuenta lo que puede decir un abanico Sevillano sin soltar una sola palabra. #sevilla #abanico #andalucia #spain #españa #comidasevillana #fypシ #sevilla #churri ♬ sonido original - somossevilla

In the video, Conchita explains the meaning of some basic movements. With the fan, you can answer a question with yes or no with a simple gesture. According to this guide, "if you show the back of the fan, it means no, and if you show the front of the fan, it means yes". You can also send kisses with a closed fan or even communicate the time you are going to meet someone.

If a date doesn't go as expected, you can also communicate this with the fan, Conchita says. For example, to say "I think you are with another woman", tap your shoulder with the fan. To say "I hate you", you will turn your fan around, as shown in the video, and tap your hand with this object.

The position, movements and placement of the fan conceal a gestural language that ladies of the 19th and 20th centuries used to communicate in disguise, as the society of the time was governed by strict protocol and a rigid sense of decorum.


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