When you first come to Gibraltar, you may be forgiven for thinking: small town, with matching mentality. Yes, its population of 30,000 is not big, and neither are its dimensions (just 6.5 km2). Gibraltar might be small but it lacks nothing when it comes to education and modern, forward-thinking attitudes.
Gibraltar's British education is renowned for producing some of the best results within the UK system. Many school leavers later become top class professionals who often return to live near their families after completing their studies abroad. As yet, Gibraltar has no university of its own so many Gibraltarians from all walks of life obtain generous government grants to go to university in the UK. Others with sufficient language ability go on to Spanish universities. Professional life is taken very seriously in Gibraltar and standards, particularly within the numerous financial and legal institutions, are comparable with those in the UK.
Gibraltar has been a British overseas territory for over 300 years, so English is spoken as the main language of government, business and education; however, in the streets the story is quite different. Walk about town and you will hear the language of the everyday Gibraltarians: a curious mix of the Queen's English and Andalucian Spanish known as Yanito or Llanito. To an outsider it can sound very amusing or confusing if you don't know both languages, while sentences are broken into a cocktail of Spanish with English thrown in, and vice versa.
Gibraltar's name is derived either from the Arabic Jabal Tariq, meaning "Mountain of Tariq", or from Gibel Tariq, meaning "Rock of Tariq", reflecting its geological formation and the Berber Umayyad general Tariq ibn-Ziyad who, under the orders of Caliph Al-Walid I led the initial incursion into Iberia before the main Moorish force in 711. Even earlier, it was known as Mons Calpe, one of the Pillars of Hercules. Today, Gibraltar is known colloquially as Gib. or The Rock.
Ethnic origins of most Gibraltarians are a mix of Andalucian Spaniards, Genoese, Maltese, Portuguese and British, which account for its cultural diversity. Many Gibraltarians have names that reflect their mixed British and Mediterranean heritage, usually with British first names like Keith, Nigel, Mary or Anne, with surnames originating from all over the Mediterranean and beyond, eg. Caruana, Azzopardi, Aswani, Bossano, Canessa, Imossi, Garcia, Britto, Coelho.
The Genoese came to the Rock in the 18th century, with the Maltese and Portuguese following in the 19th century to work and trade in this British military base. During World War ll, the entire 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, Northern Ireland, as well as Jamaica and Madeira. This served to strengthen the Gibraltarians' identity, as opposed to being simply British, and after the war a successful campaign took place for their repatriation.
The main religion is Roman Catholic, followed by Church of England. In addition, Gibraltar has a large Jewish contingent, as well as a number of Hindu Indians and Moroccan Muslims.
Despite its size, some Gibraltarians rarely leave the Rock, preferring to drive around it at weekends or simply stay home with family and friends. Indeed, Gibraltar is virtually self-sufficient and today boasts all the latest recreational activities, societies and clubs that you would expect from a modern town, making crossing the frontier to Spain even less necessary than ever before.
For such a small country, the Rock offers as much, if not more than neighbouring Spain in terms of recreational facilities and clubs for both adults and children. An added advantage is that you don't need to travel a long way to get to them after work or school. As a result, most Gibraltarians, particularly the young, enjoy active involvement in some sort of sport, artistic pursuit or other interest.
Gibraltar's diversity in recreation spans anything from orchestral recitals in the hauntingly beautiful St. Michael's Caves, plays and music in the Alameda Gardens or John Mackintosh Hall, to ice skating at Kings Bastion Leisure Centre, and bird watching at the Upper Rock Nature Reserve. Gibraltar even has its own football league, established since 1905, and general levels of sportsmanship are high with some Gibraltarians participating in international events.
Self-help groups also abound for such a tiny place, some of which are off-shoots of UK organisations, so whatever support you need to cope with in life, there's someone willing to form a group and help, such is the generous nature of the Gibraltarian people.