Tuesday, October 16, 2007

As promised yesterday, here's a list of what I find good, positive and/or impressive about Spain.

But, first, the Preamble . . .

I'm doing this because readers - especially Spanish ones - can get an unbalanced impression of my overview of Spain by reading just one or two blog posts.

This, of course, is a very personal and subjective list. Yours may be very different. Comments and suggestions are welcome and, if I agree, I will add new positives as they come in.

Obviously, then, this is a work-in-progress. Even without comments, I will be making additions from time to time. I have been jotting down things for a couple of weeks but right now I can't find some of the scraps of paper. Reading over what I've written, I'm conscious that I've probably missed some of the obvious positives. If so, this will have to be quickly rectified.

What this list isn't is an analysis of Spain and its people. It's a simple list of likes. It doesn't, for example, address the critical importance of personal relationships here. Nor the issues of 'localism' and 'nationalisms', for example. These merit a long, objective book, not just a short, subjective list.

You may feel there are inconsistencies in this list. And this impression may grow when you compare the Positives with my future list of Negatives. This is inevitable; countries, like people, can be a hive of inconsistency.

I have a long-standing view that the people with the greatest strengths also have the greatest weaknesses. Whether you like them - marry them, even - depends on the net balance. What this means, among other things, is that you can still love people and countries than infuriate you from time to time.

My view of Spain's net balance is very positive. As I've said several times in my blog, it's the best of the six cultures I've lived in and certainly superior to that of the UK. However, I've also said this may reflect my age and circumstances and that it's quite possible I'd reach a different conclusion if I were far younger and trying to set up a business here.

If I were to sum up Spain's positive-ness, I'd say it keeps me young. I realise, though, that some readers may not regard this as a plus if it means I'm going to go on writing. But, in truth, this is not something I worry much about. If at all.

SPAIN'S POSITIVES

Although the items in this list are not in any particular order of merit, it's traditional and probably right to start with its people. Briefly, they're the most sociable, affable and welcoming in the world. They have a huge sense of fun and vitality. They know how to enjoy life. They love to talk and are brilliant at it. There's no one better in the world to sit next to on a plane or train than a Spaniard if you want to make the journey pass more quickly. They're proud, informal, direct and very pragmatic. They have superb eye-contact and are very tactile, especially the women. Finally, they have the capacity to be very noble.

Compared with the UK, Spain is more sane, more equal, more fun-orientated and less class-conscious. As yet, there are far fewer examples here of ‘political correctness gone mad’. In short, this is a less anally retentive/neurotic society than many others; safety, for example, is not a god on whose altar common sense must be regularly sacrificed. Nor is it afflicted by phobias which bear little relation to reality. Overall, it is a relaxed and relaxing society in which to live.

Reflecting its history and it cultural influences, Spain is the most interesting country in Europe. Her fascinating cultural heritage is at least the equal of any other country, though widely underrated. A passionate Dutch lover of Spain - Cees Noteboom - has written that, if you picked up chunks of northern Spain and put them down in France, millions would visit them. But, since they're in Spain, no one does.

To say the least, Spain has a vibrant and dynamic economy, reflected - for example - in its superb new road and rail links. It's a very 'alive' place, evidenced by its marvellous cafés, bars and restaurants.

Spain's cities are exceptionally civilised places, in which café society is the gem in the crown.

Spain's women are proud, feminine, beautiful and - as I never tire of thanking God for - very tactile. The country has not suffered from the distortions wreaked elsewhere by fanatical feminism.

Age here is not the barrier to communication and enjoyment of life it can be elsewhere. One gets the impression that, for the Spanish, the most important criterion is not how old you are but how much you contribute to the general well-being.

Relatedly, this is a society is which there is still respect between the generations.

Spanish society is still underpinned by strong family links. Children are still happy to be seen in public with their parents. Grandparents even.

Spain, like France, is not afraid to have an elite. One result of this is that the serious papers remain 'heavy'; they have not yet sensationalised themselves in the direction of a tabloid press. The main reason for this - and a huge positive - is that there is no egregious tabloid press in Spain.

To state the obvious, Spain's weather - even in Galicia - is better than that of other countries and the cost of living is still lower.

Spain's crime rate is relatively low. I have yet to feel unsafe here, even in Madrid in the middle of the night. That said, I'm sure it's possible to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And there are a lot of pickpockets in both Barcelona and Madrid.

Although things are naturally trending in the wrong direction, Spain is not yet as consumerist as Anglo Saxon societies. Sunday is still Sunday.

By and large, young Spaniards know how to take their drink. There is little of the violence associated with boozing in the UK.

Finally, some Miscellaneous Likes:- Night trains; The honour system in bars; Menus del dia


To end by repeating myself - I suspect my missing bits of paper contain several more positives. But this is a good start. Reactions are welcome. Meanwhile, I 'll be re-reading a couple of my books so I can check on others' positives, with a view to deciding whether or not I already had them on my list. Or should have had.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

España es una Gran Nación, el mejor País del Mundo. Por eso, muchos países la envidian........

Colin said...

España es una Gran Nación
Undoubtedly

muchos países la envidian
Quite possibly

el mejor País del Mundo.
Perhaps. But how can you possibly know?

moskvitch3 said...

Colin,
Spain is NOT the best country in the world. It just happens to have a lucky balance of values and valuables (for how long it is to be seen). The view from Russia feels like paradise on earth. I, for once, do positively envy you.
Moskva

Anonymous said...

Amigo Colin: perdona por el off- topic, pero viendo tu fotografía creo que tienes gran parecido con el actor Robin Ellis (Poldark). Un abrazo.

Duardón de Albaredo said...

Colin, Filomeno is just taking the piss. You cannot "appreciate" it though, since s/he is using (in all his/her posts) the typical Spanish fascist/franquist rhetoric (the NO-DO thing, its most elaborated caricature). A non Spanish might not catch that.

Xoan-Carlos said...

Colin, I'm sure you'll agree with at least some of the following, although I don't expect you'll admit it.

For the rest of you, as an Anglo-Galician, I am being completely neutral in the following list of
things that make English Culture more advanced than Iberian cultures, and England a better place to live:

1. From a Child's point of view--People in Iberia love seeing their children out and about, but make no provisions for them: e.g. very few restaurants have high chairs, few have children's menus, when you order chips for your 2-year old they'll be covered in salt and a children's theme park or playground will likely be covered with shards of broken glass from drinking the night before and the staff be able to prepare the perfect caipirinha, while not even bothering to provide baby changing facilities.

2. From the point of view of a teenager or 20-something: In Spain you have to live out of your parents' purse until you're in your mid-thirties; you're only ever likely to leave the region you were born in because you can't get a job there and unless you have very well connected parents, the only decent job you can get is that of a €1000/month civil servant for which you still have to take loads of stupid exams year after year.

3. From a Galician's/ Catalan's/ Basque's point of view: You have to justify your right, on a daily basis, to have a culture and language that differs from that sponsored by the central state system.

4. From a family's point of view: Dad's out at work until 8pm because of a stupid work schedule that means he has to drive to the office and back twice a day (most English people wouldn't can't stand one commute a day) so kids stay up way too late.

In cities, the whole family lives in a cramped flat above a 10-lane motorway, where you can hear all of your neighbors 24-7, their dogs and have a day-long view of 130 washing lines. If you're a parent, you won't be able to retire until you're 70, because you'll be supporting your children until they're in their mid-30s.

5. English people are so much more affluent that even the beer-swilling, chip munching, St. George's cross tattooed-on-arse underclasses (which some Hernandoes and Fernandos who comment on this forum confuse with the civilised majority or even Colin) can afford to be out of the country for what seems like most of the year, (or at least confined to specific ghettos of town centres where none of the normal people don't have to come across them), leaving normal people in peace for the duration of international sports events. The underclasses have been so successfully exported/deported to resort/Cretinisation camps kindly built for them throughout Iberia that they are more of a Spanish/Portuguese problem than an English problem.

6. To state the obvious, the whether in the south of England in summer is much better than that of Almeria and many other hot regions, where streets smell of shit and people are constantly soaked in their own perspiration.

7. The UK is a more democratic, or at least, a more democratically mature society. England will allow the Scots to have a vote on independence if that's what they want, if the Scots want to leave the UK, good for them...the English won't be boycotting whiskey or stopping their football team from taking part in the World Cup.

8. Exotic food for most people in Spain means pizza.

9. Most Spanish people think they're racially tolerant simply because they listen to gypsy/mexican music but would have a stroke if one of their children married a "moro", despite the massive contribution of Arabic culture to that of Spain.

10. Hacer cola es algo que se hace en el extranjero -- in Spain you just have to push and shove and be as loud as you can.

11. The Spanish are the first (maybe second) in the world to criticise Americans/British or anyone else for being colonial, but at the same time Spain is probably the only country in the world to have two "National days". One of these days involves frog-marching sub-60 IQ point soilders (20% of whom are low-cost Galician cannon fodder who are talked into taking jobs that involves fun stuff like dying in a second-hand American air force helicopter in Afghanistan instead of getting a safer and better paid job in a Starbucks in London) and Guardia civiles.

Could someone tell how the Spanish army can still celebrates taking syphyllis and 100 other dieseases to the Americas; stealing their gold; burning their cities; ruining the economies of 20 nations for the next few hundred years; and wearing penis-shaped helmets-a-la Hernan Cortez while waving Spanish flags the size of small houses doesn't represent a colonialist attitude?

12. Hernando and Fernando go on about how Spain is suuuuch a global and international language -- when really, it's only useful in international trade if you're in narcotics, and useful in Europe to talk to Colombian cleaner or Spanish waiter (who's probably Galician any way).

13. As soon as a Spanish company opens up shop or or takes over a company in a foreign country, Spanish people will describe them as the conquistadores (those of the Spanish nationalist variety will get erect nipples), Santander will put little Spanish flags in it's UK Abbey branches (this happened) and then tell the dumb native customers in England that they are the biggest bank in the world (even though this is only because half their branches are in backward guerilla-run narco-economies, which are about as useful to Abbey's UK customers as a kick in the 'nads) -- Mango and Zara's bags will have to be twice the size of those of any other shop's because they have to fit the Index of the Times World Atlas to tell the world how international they are, likewise, their garments have to have 12 labels each, in a different language (I have learned how to say polyester in 20 different languages thanks to Zara) and with all the flags of the retail markets that they've "colonised".

14. Hernandos and Fernandoes will go on about how great Spain is because "they own" all of Britain's neglected airports, omitting the fact that Ferrovial could only afford to take over BAA because of anti-competitive tax legislation and the fact that most of the cash was put forward by a US investment bank.

15. Spain still has a sizeable elite that garnered most of its wealth and influence during one of Europe's worst fascist regimes.

16. Spain has more Fascists than the rest of Europe combined and it's still acceptable for people in public office to show admiration for Franco.

17. Everything is politicised and everyone is in someone else's view either a fervant ETA loving nationalist, a communist/ Republican or a Franco and Holy Mary loving Fascist Spanish nationalist.

18. Finally, some miscellaneous disikes:

-Telefonica

-Banks: they're shit for customers (less so for shareholders).

-Everyone has to smoke, whether they want to or not (passively or actively).

--Red tape

-Noise is intollerable... Qué? I said the noise is intolerable... even the stupid cigarette machines have to have automated voices, while 13-year old children ride scooters that are as loud as tunnel boring machinery.

- it is seemingly acceptable to allow dogs to shit in pavements. In some cities, councils will even paint special bits of the pavement red for them to shit on -- how nice!

Most drivers are cretins, especially in Portugal and my beloved Galicia. Rules are there to be broken, and it is still socially acceptable to drink and drive - although better if you can find yourself a friend in the sub-60 point IQ Guardia Civil, to wave you along at the road blocks put up on weekends and during fiestas.

Spain is so backwardly unconsumerist that you can't buy fresh milk (even in Galicia!), the longer public holidays and "puentes" have a similar effect to the Berlin blockage and supermarkets are all shit and unhygenic. It is nearly impossible to buy any wine that isn't Spanish except for Mateus Rose or Port, and all Australian wine must naturally be disgusting, because it's made by English-speaking people. It is quicker and safer to cross over to France than to buy anything on the internet from a Spanish site.

They still haven't finished building it.

Proper urban planning exists in very few places -- urban speculation exists everywhere, and anyone who can benefits from it. Including public officials.

Xoan-Carlos said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Xoan-Carlos said...

Oh, and of course, I forgot to mention that while in England they have not only football, but more than another dozen spectator sports, anywhere east of Ponferrada, besides football most "spectator sports" involve killing animals or throwing them out of church towers.

Colin said...

Xoan-Carlos,

Boy, are you going to be popular.

My thanks for your heartfelt tour-de-force.

The funny thing is that - on a quick first run-through [I have to go out] - I find it easy to be empathetic. Though I initially wondered whether it wasn't Galician retranca at work. I suspect my younger daughter in Leeds would agree with you but my fun-loving daughter in Madrid wouldn't.

I will write more anon but suffice to say for now it does rather point up the validity of my comment that it depends on who you are, how old you are, where you are and what you are looking for from life.

I would just add that it is possible to get fresh milk in Galicia without having to go up to farm near Lugo.

Colin said...

Duardo,

I think I had realised this but thanks anyway. But what do you mean by 'the NO-DO thing'?

Anonymous said...

From Mike the trike - well xoan-carlos I read your comments and it sure has made my day. I haven't had a good laugh for a long time and really enjoyed your comments so much I read them twice. I hope you continue to add to this blog. Not sure how the locals here in Galicia will take your comments but who cares hee hee!

Duardón de Albaredo said...

Colin, the NO-DO was the only "telediario" of the fascist regime. "The whole world is decadent. Only Spain retains the most pure essences, and blah blah blah". In other words, that "telediario" vomited the most illiterate and aberrant ideology of the clerics, militaries and economic elites. Some sort of Catholic talibans (medievalism) plus ideas taken from the Italian and Germans fascisms.

Here you have one sample:
http://es.youtube.com/watch?v=6dtPU2vNP-E

Lenox said...

Xoan-Carlos is funny and pretty much hits it. However, I'd still rather be here in Almería, thanks.

I should say - as far as Colin's blog goes - it is (or at the least 'was') designed for British readers who were interested in Spain or Galicia. However, the suggestion from the commentaries now is that it's mainly Spaniards/Galegos who are reading it.
I write about Spain for British consumption and, if writing in Spanish (obviously for a different market) the I write different stuff.
So, you have an idea about your readers and write with them in mind. Colin is still 'seeing' or 'discovering' stuff rightly from a foreigner's point of view. It's fun! Así que no hay que ofenderse uno..

Anonymous said...

Sr. Duardón de Albaredo: en España nunco hubo fascismo. El Régimen Político del General Franco era un Régimen de Autoridad y Orden Público, similar al del Profesor Oliveira de Salazar en Portugal........

Colin said...

Is this an example of Spanish humour?

Anonymous said...

No

Anonymous said...

I reckon filomeno2006 is the great josé maría pemán reincarnated. his side-splitting 'history of spain told in simple terms' is well worth checking out. carod rovira excellent tonight by the way. I've never heard so much sense spoken in 35 minutes, t'was a joy to behold.

Luis said...

Sorry, Colin, it was not my intention to offend you yesterday and I think I was polite.

In spite of everything, I still find your blog interesting, even if sometimes I strongly disagree.

If you don't want me to post again, just let me know and I won't bother you again.

If you were offended by my refusal to play games, here is one: Let Duardón de Albaredo explain how he chose his “name” (why “Duardón”, why “Albaredo”and why one plus the other). First in English, and then in Galician, please.

Anonymous said...

Hi Colin

as a native, it is always difficult to be impartial about the positive and more important, the negative aspects of your own country. Is simply home.

I kind of agree with the positive things you find out in Galicia, I really looking forward the negative ones,that probably will be more tricky and hope more politically incorrect.

Funny though, you do not mention the food, what despite I have found out more interesting dishes in other cultures, is nevertheless very interesting, tasty and offer a wide range to offer. But maybe you are a menu del dia kind of person...

Also did not see any mention to the wine, that as in the case of food, interesting, pleasurable and good value for money enough.

Xoan Carlos, well, also can agree with most of your points. Not with the syphylis one- it was imported from america and not the other way. Also do not think that we can judge mentalities, realities and actions of 500 years ago from our actual reality. Is just not fair and makes a very poor scientific aproach.

Get the impression that Filomeno is simply the Xoan Carlos alter ego... a rare breed of facha that use all the rigth accents in spanish, had an enciclopedic knowledge of classic BBC series, uses correc "off-topic" expresions... and manages to sound like a Falangista Minister...

Uhmmmmmmmmm Xoan, lies make baby Jesus cry!

Un Saludo

Jesus

Colin said...

Xoan-Carlos

Belatedly, the fuller response I promised. . .

Well, yes I do agree with the tenor of what you write and I am [obviously] prepared to admit it. Anyone who has read my blog for some time will recognise most of the themes, though not quite all as I no longer have to tend for my daughters and nor do I live in the centre of a city.

And, yes, everything does rather depend on how old you are, what responsibilities you have and what you are looking for from a particular society. This, of course, is a personal balance and I have no problem at all in agreeing that it’s different for different individuals. As I’ve said, my own daughters demonstrate this.

Your mini-treatise was very funny but tinged perhaps with even more acerbity than I manage. Or at least publish. I theorise that this reflects disappointment at one half of your genetic make-up. Which is [largely] absent in my case, as, firstly, I am not of mixed parentage and, secondly, I’m prepared to accept that the UK outscores Spain in many respects, while ultimately ranking as inferior for someone of my age and circumstances.

That said, I do wonder whether you aren’t as unfair to Spain as my younger daughter insists I am in respect of the UK.

Nonetheless, I have read and re-read your comments and still can’t disagree with very much, even when I try. I was particularly amused to read your accurate point that it’s quicker to cross to France than to buy anything on the internet from a Spanish site. And I thought it was just me . . I suppose I could say that it’s unfair to say that all Spanish supermarkets are “shit and unhygienic”. But, having walked around Morrisson’s yesterday, I realised the gap was bigger than ever. And I guess that, if I’d got used to the cornucopia on display these days in the UK, I’d really miss it in Spain. I suppose only the Corte Ingles supermarkets come anywhere near it. But I think it’s impossible to get a bottle of NZ white even in these. I haven’t bothered to check. I do know it’s possible to get a bottle of French wine in a supermarket near Tui. But, ironically, I don’t drink French wine on principle. I did get a bottle of German wine in a shop in Pontevedra but found it was 7 years old when I got home. Just a tad past its sell-by date.

I guess it’s not really true to say ‘most’ drivers are cretins, just a sizeable minority. This, at least, is what I’ll say in my forthcoming list of Negatives.

I’d be very disappointed to have it confirmed it’s still OK to [publicly] praise Franco, as opposed to not condemning him. I know that PP members get close to the former at times but I imagine this will reduce over time, as aged voters die off.

Finally, my thanks for introducing me to the shorthand of ‘Hernandos and Fernandos’. I guess it’s not personal to you.

Cheers. And thanks again for taking the trouble to enlighten and amuse us. You should write a blog . . .

Colin said...

Lenox,

I'm not sure whether I had any particualar target audience in mind when I set out on this blog trek but I suspect you're right that subconsciously at least it must have been fellow expats struggling to some to terms with a new culture.

Right now, I have no idea of the compositions of my readership. I do know in the last couple of weeks it's risen from around 120 to 200 a day. I have this vision of dozens of angry Spaniards/Galicians sending each other emails reporting on my latest bit of stupidity and/or arrogance. As I've said, a shiver always go through me when I see someone has used Google's translation program to read my offerings. But at least people seem to have stopped sending me abuse in Gallego.

Cheers

pilar said...

I agree we Spanish people are the least neurotic type maybe because of our extrovert, outgoing "talante". Or maybe because of how much tactile we are. Who knows?
Today I saw statistics on TV which showed that Spain is the country with the highest number of bars in the EU.

Anonymous said...

I take off my hat to you Xoan-Carlos. If you are not writing for a living then you are doing the wrong job ...

I too stood up and cheered ... I spent my first few years here in Spain being far too deferant... then one day I remembered the words of Galway Bay "blamed us all for being what we are"

I call it "orgullo G" or "orgullo guiri" .. I´m not quite suggesting marching in the streets "we´re here , we´re (ahem) different ... but I´m paying taxes here now I expect to be treated the same as everyone else.