Spanish playing cards

The German poet Goethe once said “A man who doesn’t know a foreign language knows nothing of his own” (or words to that effect). It’s really true. Living in Spain as I do, I’m constantly coming across things that surprise me, but also illuminate things that I’ve taken for granted back home. Take for example, the humble playing card.

Spain has a different set of cards to our familiar pack. The Spanish deck also consists of four suits, but they are quite different:

Spanish playing cards

The first suit shown here is ‘oros’. Literally this would translate as ‘gold(s)’ or ‘pieces of gold’, but I would call them ‘coins’. The second suit is called ‘copas’, which we can translate as ‘cups’. However, it’s the last two suits that really interest me.

The third card shows a sword. The Spanish word for this suit is ‘espadas’, so this is the same as our own ‘spades’. The image on our traditional pack doesn’t look like a sword at all, but then it doesn’t look like a shovel either. Heretofore, I’d always assumed our suit represented a spade for digging the garden.

The fourth set is ‘bastos’, meaning ‘clubs’, which the man on the card is clearly holding in his hand. Again, it’s fascinating that our own suit of clubs doesn’t look like the weapon at all, but rather like a three-leafed clover.

So in discovering the Spanish deck of cards, I learned a little bit about our own pack.

Needless to say, there are numerous games that you can play with the Spanish cards, none of which I understand. The rules are almost as complicated as posting a parcel from the Spanish post office. Almost as complicated, that is, but not quite…

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8 responses to “Spanish playing cards

  1. Pingback: Kings on a deck for a reason « Had NO Clue!

  2. I know this post is quite old. But I can’t help but feel amazed. I’m from Brazil and I remember having a set of cards just like this one. Which I couldn’t understand because it was all different from the ones I knew. So I wanted to ask you, do they still sell cards with those designs on Spain? If so I’m gonna buy one and remember the good old days I had trying to figure out the cards. Thanks for the trip down the memory lane pal!

    • Hi there! You’re welcome! They do indeed still sell these cards all over Spain and people regularly use them. One of the most popular games is La Brisca, and I should write a post on that one day when I get some free time. Here are the rules from our friends at Wikipedia in English: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Briscola and in Portguese too (as you’re from Brazil!) http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bisca.
      Man, I love your country. I had a great trip to Rio about 10 years ago which included an awesome long weekend on lovely, tropical Ilha Grande.

  3. This post is getting a lot of hits via Facebook, which is great, but as I’m not on it, I don’t know who has kindly linked to my blog. If anyone knows, could you post me the link in a comment or tweet, please?

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