Life in Spain
It must be summer . . . The celebrity Ana Obregón is in the papers. She’s one of the women in the Spanish media who look younger than when I came in 2000. Not sure what she actually does, apart from posing. Maybe appears on one or more of the dreadful daytime TV programs.
Some of my neighbours don’t seem to have got the memo about lawn-watering being illegal at the moment.
John Carlin is my favourite columnist on Spanish culture. Below he writes of the differences with the British variety I happily left behind 21 years go. Carlin and I are both fortunate in that we can enjoy the positives of life in Spain while avoiding the negatives. Or at least minimising them.
Cosas of Spain/Galiza
Very good to read that rail trips up and down our coast will be free between September and December. And that my monthly trips to Madrid will cost 50% less.
Reader Perry has cited this Wiki article on the Rande sea battle I mentioned recently – the theme of the little museum near Redondela. As it says, the British and Dutch might have wiped out the Spanish and French fleets but they never got their hands on much of the bullion that had been brought to Vigo.
Evening and morning scenes you really don’t want to see:-
Here’s a helpful(?) guide to those myriad tolls . . .
The origin of the egregious British gutter press
Greece & The EU
An ex Finance Minister reflects on myth and reality here
The Way of the World
In a 1944 article, Georg Orwell noted that: In 1910, an art critic arranged with two friends to borrow a donkey called Lolo from a local shopkeeper. He tied a paintbrush to its tail and dipped the brush in a can of paint. He then had Lolo walk over a prepared canvas several times. The resulting ‘masterpiece’ – Sunset over the Adriatic – was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendents and can still be seen in the Espace Cultural Paul Bedú in Milly-la-Forêt. Where it apparently it still is, says Wiki here, with illustration. . . . A bit more on this here.
Spaniards – vocally at least – have a bizarre affinity with milk(leche). The Royal Academy lists more than 40 idioms using it. Here are some of them. It doesn’t help that none of them really refer to milk and some have several contradictory meanings, depending on the context. Probably wise to avoid using any of them until you’ve been here 40 or 50 years:
Tener mala leche: To be in a bad mood/bad tempered.
A mala leche/con mala leche: An action undertaken with bad intentions.
Mala leche: On its own this can mean bad luck.
Hay mala leche: Means bad blood or ill feeling.
Ser la leche: Can mean either to be really good or really bad. When applied to a person, it can mean almost anything.
A toda leche: Means ‘at a maximum level’.
La leche de: Means a lot of something.
De la leche: Used as an intensifier. So ‘un dolor de la leche’ means a really strong pain
¿Qué leches?: An expression of surprise, that could be translated as ‘what on earth?’. See also:
¿cuándo leches…?: when on earth? and
¿por qué leches?: why on earth?
¡Leches!: Can mean anything from shock, wonder or surprise to annoyance.
¡Leche!: Milder than an expletive, in this context it can be translated as anything from ‘for heaven’s sake!’ to ‘goodness!’ to ‘well I never!’.
Toda esa leche: Has a vague meaning, which can be translated as ‘all that stuff/jazz/ kind of thing’.
Dar una leche: To slap, hit, smack or punch someone.
Darse una leche: This means to hurt oneself accidentally by bumping or crashing into something.
Cagarse en la leche: This is used to express anger and frustration
New examples, from a letter to a local paper:-
Tryhard – An adjective, apparently
Tanquear: To resist to the last??
Bomba de humo
For new readers: If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. If you’re passing through Pontevedra on the Camino, you’ll find a guide to the city there
Spanish vs. British: John Carlin [An – amended – machine translation of a Spanish article‚]
Spaniards say that their defining characteristic is envy. I have heard it a thousand times but I’m not convinced. I don’t think Spaniards possess this universal weakness in greater abundance than the rest of the Earth’s citizens. On the other hand, when my son surprised me a few days ago with the comment that the British envied the Spanish, I did detect something that rang true.
He lived from the age of zero to 13 in Spain and has now been in London for 2 years, like me. I have a Spanish mother and a British father and I have lived 15 years in Spain and 15 in England. I am supposed to be more discerning than my son in comparing the virtues, vices and vanities of the 2 countries but that observation had escaped me and struck me with its sharpness.
It is no secret that the British, and in particular the English, consider themselves a people apart. For the sea that separates them from the rest of the European continent, for their imperial history, for their victories in two world wars, for their inventions during the Industrial Revolution, for the sports they have exported to every corner of the earth, for having executed their king almost 150 years before the French and having installed the world’s oldest parliamentary democracy. But deep down, although they would never say it and perhaps many are not even aware of it, I think they would like to be more like the Spanish.
British envy is based on the perception that in Spain people are warmer, less stuffy, more cheerful (without alcohol), less attached to the tyranny of schedules; that Spaniards live more in the moment, that they feel no guilt about taking a siesta, that they enjoy a long meal more calmly, a party more spontaneously, that they treat children and the elderly with more affectionate naturalness. In short, they know how to live better.
Yes, these are clichés, but clichés do not come out of nowhere and yes, of course, I am generalising: each person is different, whether Spanish, British or Japanese. But generalising is the way to go here and I think the British are not wrong in their impression of Spaniards or in the submerged envy they feel towards them, and which I think they should feel towards them. My British half envies my Spanish half. Unless something unexpected happens, like I get hit by a lorry, or die of a heart attack, I fully intend to return to Spain and live most of my remaining days here, where I am on holiday today.
That is not to say that I despise the British. Quite the opposite. Nor does it mean that I love Spain unconditionally. There are things about the Spanish that irritate me, including the lack of meritocracy in the workplace and the nature of political debate.
I am often reminded of the story of a young man from Cordoba I met in London in 2012. He arrived as a waiter in a London restaurant. He did his job with great charm and care and after twelve months he was appointed manager of the restaurant. A few years went by and he was promoted to manager of the chain of six restaurants to which his restaurant belonged. He told me that he missed the sun and the friends but had no intention of returning, at least in the short term. “If I had been a waiter in a restaurant back home as long ago as I have been in London, I would still be in the same job today, no matter how well I had done my job,” he told me. “Unless, of course, I had an uncle who knew the owner…”.
The moral of the story is that too often in Spain, merit in the workplace is not fairly rewarded. If there are many Spaniards who, at a certain point in their working lives, stop giving their best, it has nothing to do with their biological predisposition and everything to do with the perception that, in terms of promotions and salary, they will do just as well regardless of the quality of their performance, so what’s the point?
Now, I also don’t want to say that the British are like the Germans (or I suppose the Germans are). They are not the highest expression of the Protestant work ethic. I have a very conservative English friend who despises the European Union almost as much as he despises the Labour Party. But he himself has confessed to me that when he needs a plumber or someone to fix a window, he looks in the yellow pages, calls and if someone with an English voice answers he hangs up. He only deals with someone who speaks with a foreign accent, preferably Polish, because he knows the price will be fairer and the quality of service better.
However, the story of the young Cordovan is no anomaly, and my own experience tells me that he who works well in Britain is much more likely to be well rewarded. As a consequence, the British accept the centrality of work in life not only with more healthy resignation than the Spaniard, but with greater commitment and enthusiasm. If I had to work in an office I would choose London over Madrid.
As for political debate in Spain, the problem is the closed, absolutist mental habit of practically everyone who participates in it, from party leaders to tweeters, to those who argue in the bar. Of course, the dialogue of the deaf is not an exclusive feature of political conversation in Spain, but in Britain I see a greater tendency to accept that in some cases the antagonist may have a grain of reason and, also, a greater breadth of mind in the sense that it is more common to accept that a person may have a certain point of view on a certain subject without that having to mean that they identify with a party, with an ideological tendency, or with a certain tribal group.
A personal example to explain what I mean. I have written more articles for the British press than for the Spanish press, but in Britain no one has accused me of adopting position X or Y because of my association with an ideology or a football team, let alone because I am obeying the dictates of the company that owns the media in question. In Spain I have been accused of writing what I write because I am a right-wing reactionary, a culé, an “Englishman”, of succumbing like a slave to the editorial line of Grupo Prisa, even of being a racist. The funny thing is that I have also been accused of being a progre, a red, a merengue. The issue in Spain is to pigeonhole people into a defined tendency, without accepting the possibility that one can change one’s opinion when the facts change or that one adapts one’s point of view according to the subject one is dealing with, without being bound by a single vision of how the world should be.
If there is one thing that appeals to me about the British, it is their inclination to be suspicious of anyone who tries to sell them an ideological solution that claims to have the utopian answer to life’s entanglements, miseries and injustices. At least in the last 3 and a half centuries. Over there, the civil war ended in 1649; in Spain, in 1939 and in today’s political arena, as is often commented, it is still being fought. I am inclined to think that it has to do with ancestral religious thinking, which in Spain permeates the earthly world and contaminates the mental processes of those who talk politics, whether they are on the left or the right, atheists or believers. In Britain they are more empirical, more practical, less faith-bound people.
For these reasons I say that the relationship that many Spaniards have with politics and work irritates me, and for this very reason I believe that the secret for me of a happy stay in Spain in the future will be to involve myself as little as possible in the social sphere of work and to think about Spanish politics only when it is strictly necessary.
But, but… in the end, if there is one great truth that I am left with, it is this: having lived in eight countries, and visited dozens more, each nation has its pros and cons and to say that one is superior to another is ridiculous. I like Spain better, I like the Spanish better. But this, like any opinion I have on any subject, is due to the multiplicity of factors throughout my life that have made me what I am. Perhaps because I have lived more than half my life in Spanish-speaking countries, including seven of the first ten (in Argentina); or because my father died when I was very young and my mother has had a greater influence on me; or because eating well is of central importance in my life; or for who knows what reasons related to my sentimental life, the fact is that I – as, incidentally, does my son – prefer the Spanish way of life. It’s about what I mentioned at the beginning, about living more in the moment, about dealing with children and the elderly, about not having to plan leisure time with a diary in hand, about enjoying friendship and food and drinks more naturally than the British, too often imprisoned by a regrettable need to get drunk before they can free themselves from what seems to be a congenital emotional repression. Such is the inhibition of the British that they don’t even know how to greet each other. I am introduced to a woman in Spain and we give each other two kisses. I am introduced to a woman in Britain and I wonder, and so does she: shake hands, kiss, kiss twice, or just stand there looking at each other, acknowledging each other’s existence with, at best, a slight nod?
I don’t know why this is so discomforting. Maybe it’s that the British are more afraid of privacy, or maybe it’s a question of protecting personal space.
On the other hand, the British are more supportive of society in the abstract, more civic-minded than Spaniards, more law-abiding. But Spaniards are more supportive of their acquaintances, more affectionate with them and even, dare I say it, more generous.
In short, a mess. But a nice mess that leads me to the conclusion that I am lucky to have the opportunity to claim a slice of both nationalities. If I am forced to define myself and sum up why I prefer to live in the country where my mother was born, I would say this: I have more admiration for Britain, but more affection for Spain. And, if I were forced to say a little more, I would make a confession: deep down I envy them both a little.