Monday, December 29, 2003

At a supermarket meat counter on Christmas Eve I suppressed the cultural instincts of a lifetime and jumped a queue in classic Spanish fashion. Wanting only a single item and having waited 15 minutes while one women went through her shipping order for the entire holiday period, I resolved not to go through a similar performance from the next customer. “Look,” I said, “I only want a duck. Can I take it and go?”. As I knew they would be, everyone was very good about this and acted as if this was the most normal thing in the world. As it is in Spain, of course. Perhaps this is because, when everyone is taking things at a leisurely pace, it's recognised that it's only fair to give way to the occasional sad soul in a hurry. Whatever, this is one of the numerous ways in which the Spanish are more pragmatic than the more uptight British. But what an effort it took on my part to go native! I can’t swear to it but I suspect I apologised profusely as I left, which would have left everyone quite dazed.

And so to Mass on Christmas Day, in company with my Catholic daughter. Looking around, it struck me that she was quite probably the youngest person there - and that it wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say that I was next. Fittingly, the altar boy was at least 80. Equally noteworthy was the profusion of fur coats, adorning possibly 70 per cent of the women. Truth to tell, God had been kind and - with a temperature of zero and glorious sun – had provided ample justification for this apparently compulsory display of elegance and wealth. Perhaps it was this that had brought out the serried ranks of beggars who lined the long steps up to the church door. Going in, I had feared that they might even outnumber the congregation.

And that’s it because I’ve lost the notes I surreptitiously made when my daughter went up to Communion.

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