Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Spain’s position [14th] in the European health system rankings did turn out to be higher than the UK’s. What interested me was the El Pais comment that this survey shattered the myth that Spain’s system is among the top 5 or 6. Back in the UK, there are many deluded souls who still believe that the NHS is the envy of the world. In this, of course, they’re encouraged by Labour politicians who treat it as a gem to be preserved as the biggest employer in Europe. And the least efficient. The truth is even Cyprus and Estonia achieved higher ratings. Not to mention the UK’s ex-poor relative, Ireland. And yet Gordon Brown still looks set to win the next election.

Many of you will be unaware the Rugby World Cup is currently taking place, mostly in France. So far, it’s been a terrific event, with the ‘minnows’ of Georgia, Portugal, Fiji and Namibia putting in spectacular performances against the big-name teams. But at one match the other night the commentator said something rather odd, viz. “The crowd has begun to sing the Basque national anthem, which has become something of an unofficial song for this tournament.” Did he mean the anthem of the French Basque region? Or is there something shared between the French Basques and their brethren across the Pyrenees?

Anthems and flags tend to go together and the latter are very much in the news in Spain these days. Specifically, Spanish flags which are not where they should be or which are being burnt by what other bloggers in Barcelona call Cataloonies. Checking with our town hall yesterday, I saw there were four flags a-flying – the Pontevedra flag, the Galicia flag, the Spanish flag and the EU flag. My conclusions were 1. If you’re going to fly one flag, four is logical, and 2. This is too many bloody flags. Better for there to be none at all.

Changing times – The government of Andalucia will be the first in Spain to apply new Government regulations for noise tests on mopeds. So, is this the end of the road for this irritating element of the traditional Spanish culture?

Speaking of which . . . Before the end of this week, I’ll be posting my overview of all I find positive and negative about Spain. Meanwhile, my core view is that, thanks to its colourful history, Spain has the most interesting culture in Europe. In brief, a fascinating fusion of various influences that the Spanish should be very proud of. Why am I saying this now? Well, a week or two ago, in an exchange with a Spanish reader, I wrote that elements of the Spanish culture reminded me of the Middle East, where I had lived for 3 years. This led to a battery of comments – one or two of them almost polite – suggesting I was not only an imbecile but also a racist. For reasons beyond my comprehension, I was alleged to have said that all Spaniards were descended from Arabs. Surely a racist comment in itself, given the attitude behind it. Anyway, there were two basic camps of infuriated reader:– 1. Those who insist the Spanish are not only pure Celto-Iberians but also the progenitors of almost everyone else in Europe, particularly the Brits. Nothing has happened since Celtic times to change this, and 2. Those who believe that 700 years of occupation by the Moors has left no trace whatsoever on Spain and that any similarity with other cultures is pure coincidence. Well, It’s not, of course, a new or original thought that Spain’s culture reflects various influences and here are a few relevant quotes from page 1 of a 30 second Google search . . .

The Spanish culture of today has been reinforced by the strong influences of the Roman, Jewish, Moorish and Muslim cultures that have lent a distinct charm to the culture of Spain. Each aspect of the Spanish culture - its cuisine, religions, festivals, language and literature is a living proof of the myriad influences that make the Spaniards proud of themselves.

Many Spaniards would probably not be very happy to admit this but Spain's culture and ambiance owes its uniqueness to the influence of the Middle East. Although some traces of Arabic influence have been wiped out over the centuries, they will never be completely purged from what was once a strong Muslim-owned country.

The Moorish period lasted 700 years and their presence led to the forging of the Spanish culture and identity. And, although Spain hasn't been a center of Muslim learning and culture for over 500 years, the presence of Muslim (and Mudéjar) architecture to this day attests to the profound mark left upon Spain.

If you want to read more, click here, here and here. May I suggest that those readers who are enraged by this sort of thing direct their venom in the direction of the web sites quoted.


Anonymous said...

Basques will normally refer to the "French Basque Country" as the Northern provinces, and the "Spanish Basque country" as the "southern provinces", despite being governed by different states they share a common culture (architecture, language, food, flag and anthem) in much the same way as do the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic or the Kurds. The same can be said for Catalonia and Perpignan (the Catalan Dragons have adopted the Catalan anthem and flag) and even Galicia and Minho in Portugal.

Anonymous said...


I totally agree that Arabs have influenced "Spanish culture", but I think you have to be careful with the use of the term "Spanish Culture" as it makes for an easy generalisation and assumes a single homogenized culture. It's just as true that Arabs have influenced "European culture", but this influence is naturally greater in Granada than it in Lapland.

Although, without denying that there are Arabic influences in Galician culture (although I can only think of some forms of traditional music and things that have been adopted more recently from other parts of Spain), remnants of arab culture are much greater elsewhere in Spain (language, place names, foods such as paella, turron, horchata, lamb, architecture, music).

The culture of Galicia as well as those of other coastal regions of Spain: Asturias, Leon, Cantabria and the Basque Country have undeniably been more influenced by central and northern European culture, whether this is "celtic" or not (especially in food, music and dance, and architecture).

It's worth noting that the ancient geographers Strabo, Pliny the Elder and Paulo Orosio (himself and Galician) all described Galicia as being more like Celtic Gaul/France (and according to Strabo, inhabited by Keltoi -- or Celts) than the rest of the peninsula. A long time ago, maybe, but 1300 years later at the height of Arab domain of the southern half of Iberia, the Codex Calixtinus written by a French monk, was still describing the people of Galicia as being culturally more like those inhabiting France and Ireland than the people in neighbouring regions.

Moskva15 said...

I have been living out of Spain for 20 years, so I wouldn't know anyway, but 5th or 6th in the world?........ Give me a break. As for the UK's 17th position, I actually thought that was rather generous. Then again, since I haven' been back to the UK since 2000, I have completely missed out on the massive and profound changes - for the better, of course - brought in by New Labour. With respect to Spain's -never ending - "nationality problem" I have come to the following conclusion. During a striking spell of insight, I realised, were I ever to return to Spain, I would most likely return to a totally different country - or countries. In accordance with this line of thought, I would like to put forward my preference as to the likely future shape of this new country. I'd actually rather have Extremadura, the 2 Castilles and Madrid bungled up together. This new nation would have one window to the Med - the present region of Murcia - and one to the Atlantic - the present region of Asturias (my birthplace). The name of this new country would be Expagna, it's inhabitants, expagnoles, and the language simply Castillian (in order not to make too much mental effort reinventing the wheel). And the rest of Spain,....., well,.... frankly my Dear,.......

moskva16 said...

As for Spain's Arab connection, I have almost no point of contention with what you are saying. No doubt there is a Moorish heritage in Spain. Perhaps, one could argue about to what extent the Mooorish element is more or less important than, say, the Roman, for example, and to which degree parts of Spain retain more or less traces of one or the other. But that sort of discussion would be purely academic. As I already said in one former comment, Spaniards would be a lot happier to admit their Arab past, would not the Arab present be what it is nowadays.

Anonymous said...

well done colin. keep on telling it like it is. history in spain's nationalist communities is evidently in the hands of revisionists. shine your light!!

Anonymous said...

From Mike the trike - I don't care what happened years ago with different cultures etc. I love it here in Galicia and wouldn't want to live in any other part of Spain.

Colin Davies said...

Well, what a day!

I've just returned from a lovely lunch of arroz con vieiras and two glasses of Rioja, to find I don't disagree with any of the comments posted today. And I'm a little overwhelmed by the generous spirit in which they were made. Plus I learned a few things. What more can anyone ask?

On top of that, I think Expagna is a brilliant concept.

I think I'd better go and lie down. which is, in fact, exactly what I do at this time of day every day. But no matter.

Colin Davies said...

But the best of all is Moskva's use of the word 'bungled' in place of 'bundled'. Now, if this was intended, it was beyond brilliant as it combines 'bundled' with bungled'. But, even if it was an accident, it is still an incredibly useful word - meaning, I suggest, "To bring together incompetently".

We need more neogilisms like this. My last one, as I recall, was 'groinding'.

Anonymous said...

So you base your funny statements about spaniards on turistical web pages you read on the net?.

All Europe was influenced by arabs!. Of course we have some more elements here remaining, but these dont condition our culture, which is basically LATIN!. Or perhaps you think I should feel like an arab when I say the word "lemon" or "tobacco" or I drink an "Horchata"?. You clearly mistake remnants of a culture with the culture itself. Or perhaps you british should feel like middle easterns or indians when you drink tea or coffee both coming from these areas?. There are also elements of the middle east in Britain!. I would say more: considering the huge ammount of Does it mean you have a midle eastern culture? NOPE!. Well, this same logic applies in the case of Spain, but it seems it is a hard concept for you to understand.

And after 3 years living in Spain you didnt know nothing about the cultural link between basque country and several basque areas of southern France?

Oh my God....You think too much about "arabic connections" and forget other much more obvious connections...

Anonymous said...

Sorry , I didnt finish a sentence properly. Here it is what I wanted to say.

I would say more: considering the huge ammount of Pakistanies, and indians, and arabs living, working and marrying in Britain, you british are no doubt one of the most "middle easterned" cultures in Europe!.

And now you look in Spain for cultural arabic traces dating 800 years ago?. What a nonsense!. Just go back to Britain and talk to any middle eastern there!!

Anonymous said...

But what kind of trash are you reading Mr.Colin?. Look at what is said in one of the links yopu provided:

"""From that time onwards, racial mixing in Portugal, as in Spain, and elsewhere in Europe which came under the influence of Moors, took place on a large scale. In fact, the Moors purposefully bred with the Christians, until their final expulsion from Granada in 1492.

That is why historians claim that "Portugal is in reality a Negroid land," and that when Napoleon explained that "Africa begins at the Pyrenees," he meant every word.

Moorish influence can be seen vividly in Spanish and Portugese architecture and art.""""

This is pure trash!.Arabs DIDNT purposefully bred with the Christians!!. Genetic analysis shows this clearly!!.

Historians claim that "Portugal is in reality a Negroid land????.

Africa begins at the Pyrenees????.

Moorish influence can be seen vividly in Spanish and Portugese architecture and art????. SERIOUSLY???. Our MODERN architecture and art has a vivid moorish influence???. Our famous modern architect Calatrava has moorish influences????. May be you see moorish influences in Picasso or miró???? ha,ha,haaa dont make me laugh!!!. What a bunch of nonsenses!!!.

I am really very astonished (even worried) by your impressive highly intellectual work!!. I now understand how it can be that your image of Spain is so much wrong and stereotyped: your reference is GOOGLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.

Please, why dont you try to do an intellectual effort and read some books from experts?

You're funny Mr. Colin!!

Colin Davies said...

I knew it was too good to last.

Anonymous said...

Ohh Jesus Christ one of these links is a webpage WITH RACIST STATEMENTS ABOUT IBERIANS!. Your image of Spain is forged with what you read from RACIST websites!!!Bravo Mr. Colin. Good Work!!!

Los portugeses son raza negra, los españoles somos medio moros, Europa termina en los pirineos,... qué lástima. Es la última vez que posteo aquí. El nivel intelectual del propietario de este blog es deprimente.

Mr. Colin, go home!

Anonymous said...

Last Anonymous, in his [Colin] defense we could say that he probably isn't aware of one evident fact: his sources are er... how are we going to say it... racially-motivated. Because everyone who uses [nowadays] the concept "race" is indeed an utter moron (if not worse: a racist).

Anyway, maybe I am missing something. Is being "Arab" or "black" an insult? Why, please? ;)

But you are right, if to him that link is good enough, then "Houston, we have a problem"... ;)

Anonymous said...

I believe the ultra negative comments you receive, can only come from those with nationalist ideals...???


Colin Davies said...

It pains me to have to point out what should be obvious . . .

1. I did not use the pages I quoted from today as the basis for my initial comment of several days ago

2. I have never said Spain is middle eastern country. Or anything like it.

3. I said the 3 pages were the first that came up in a Google search on Spanish culture which took me 30 seconds today.

4. I did not read the pages beyond the first paragraph or two. If any of them really are racist sites, then this is very unfortunate and I certainly don't endorse any racist comments therein. But, I stress again I Googled these sites days AFTER making my initial comment.

5. The fact that one or more of these sites may or may not be racist does not affect in any way the validity of my initial comment.
Racists may agree with me that night follows day but this doesn't make this view racist.

I really don't mind whether you agree with me [or how strongly] but it would be good if you could be clear on what you are disagreeing with. It is not good practice to invent or distort what people say before disagreeing with it.

Anonymous said...

"So you base your funny statements about spaniards on turistical web pages you read on the net?."

Yes, this is the sign of the new times.

Spanish History taught by a brit who has lived a couple of years in Spain and gets the information from some Mickey Mouse web page.

What will be next? Maybe Colin will teach the world Galician Cuisine.

Anonymous said...

Now Now children. Please do not fight. I only have a question. Why is it that the Brits must always try to analyze and comment on everything, especially culture, race,and habits? I think it would be wiser to advise the reader of this blog to simply come to Spain and let them, and their mental abilities, pass judgement on whatever the heck they want to. I have to say that I enjoyed today's comments more that any other in the past. Please keep stirring the pot. This could turn out to be more informative than the front pages of most newspapers!


Anonymous said...

I guess the problem stems from the fact that the British have always had to listen to criticism no matter where they go or from those immigrants who enter Britain. When I was 8 years of age I went to live in Canada and because I was English I was challenged on everything that Britain stood for - royalty, the empire etc. Now as an 8 year old I really knew nothing about it but after awhile I began to defend myself by asking my parents for answers. It would appear to me that the Spanish don’t have this problem and I would not challenge a Spaniard about their past history in the new world. After all the history taught in Canada is Spanish history and how they found (conquered) the new world. However it was 500 years ago and I have the brains to realize that people did things in different ways and had different values on life. I have Irish blood does that mean I have to hang my head in shame because the Irish have a bad reputation in England for being drunk and disorderly? But of course if those who are complaining are the ones with the pure blood and don’t want to be contaminated by being Spanish then - oops better stop right here!!

Anonymous said...

A lot of british could be very easily critisized. Mainly the older ones (Colin generation, we should say).

They are highly prejudiced about other cultures and have always this disrespectful superiority approach about them. This is the fault of a neo-victorian "racist" education system that puts the british on top of the evolution pyramid and then come the rest of the cultures several steps down.

This is also the reason why there are a lot of brits disrespectul about southern europeans.British are much more racist than we spaniards. Dont forget that brits call us, or used to call us, PIGS, meaning Portugal, Italy, Spain and Greece...This is the consideration they have for latin cultures, the true founders of modern european culture.

Is a shame for these poorly educated british and for Britain itself. These people think that they have a right to talk about other cultures because of their supposed superiority position. Is a kind of "imperialistic" way of thinking: Like if they were still talking about the XIX century colonies of their property when they approach other cultures with that racist victorian way of thinking that divided the world in two: Britain as the summit of the civilization and then the rest of the world, poor inferior civilizations (southern Europe comprised)...

Just look at the Madeleine issue. If it has demonstrated something is the low consideration brits have with respect to the portuguese institutions, regarded by them as "Third worldish".

Mr. Colin, you lack a lot of culture to try to convince us of anything. If you have demonstrated something here is your laggardness, your prejudices about cultures and your poor education. You can lose your "dolce vita" time with foolishness about galicians and spaniards as you have nothing more important to do, but we cannot.

So, vayase a tocar las pelotas a sus conciudadanos de la Gran Bretaña, y déjenos en paz a los gallegos en particular y a los españoles en general con sus pensamientos basura y con sus complejos e histerias neocolonialistas. Vago, que has venido aquí a vivir del cuento y encima no quieres aprender.

Anonymous said...

Hai falaches, co larchan este do Colin leva unha morea de anos disfrutando da nosa inferior sanidade moura das nosas estradas arabicas, da nosa paz social chiita e das nosas festas alcoholico-musulmanas por non falares da nosa gastronomia porco-islamica.
En fin, ultimamente vexo a Colin un pouco baixo de mais na sua demagoxia, sabedes si vai ben de ventre ou si non botou o seu ferrete mercenario semanal?
Preocupame co noso guru ande un pouco deprimido e non vaia ser que volte as illas nunha arroutada e lucida demostracion de sensatez.
De onde sacariamos outro parviño teimon que nos dera tanto solaz ?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous - are you talking about "education" or just hearsay that is spread about like gossip. I assume you were educated in Britain as you seem to know so much about it. However, I get a feeling that you are suffering from an inferior complex. As for the older generation and our education - give me a break - we hardly gone any due to the war. At 14 I was out earning a living in the big world as my parents didn't have much. They only got a basic education of grammar and simple arithmetic in their time and a lot of their generation were illiterate.

Anonymous said...

This unfortunately confirms my worse thoughts about the people from your generation: that you received a poor education or that you never received one!.

Now, how you dare talking about these so complex issues without any knowledge at all?.

What's the value of writting things that are totally unfounded?

Perhaps deceive the readers?

Perhaps measure our patience?

Don't you realize people could get angry by your wrong and even racist statements about spaniards?

I can't really understand so far from common sense...

Anonymous said...

from Mike the trike - If you want to see prejudice just go to north America and see how Europeans insult each other. Frogs, krauts, nips, degos, goddam dp's (displaced persons from WWII) etc. That's why I am living here as we don't have that do we!

Anonymous said...

Well it's nice to know that you have spent your time at school learning about such complex things. As for education like I said I didn't get much of that at school but I did learn some good manners at home. Our generation had respect for our parents, grandparents and all others regardless of their race or upbringing. We were taught by our parents that going into the world one would have to learn to work along side others because the world did not owe us a living. Your remarks about Colin getting back to where he came from shows that you are not the well educated person you want me to perceive. The remarks in the blog are observations not ridicule. Yes the people here have some strange habits which I note but I don't mind because I am living here and accept what I encounter. If a Spaniard and a Galego went to Britain and applied for a job the Galego would get it first because the British know he is the better worker and more reliable. Shows how racist the British are doesn't it?

Colin Davies said...

Hmmm. I'm beginning to wonder how much I know about Britain, never mind Spain or Galicia.

Three things I definitely didn't know were:-

1. I received a "neo-Victorian racist education".
I can't help wondering, though, why the Irish Catholic Christian Brothers who educated me would have given me this. Them being victims of British racism and all.

2. Brits use the term PIGS, meaning Portugal, Italy, Spain and Greece
I wonder, then, why I've never heard this in 60 years. I've obviously moved in the wrong circles.

3. The British are highly prejudiced about other cultures and have always this disrespectful superiority approach about them.
I wonder, then, how Britain has managed to become the most multiracial society in the world. They must hide their arrogant racism very well.

I really must ask - nay, beg - the anonymous contributor who gave us these priceless gems to start up his own blog so that he can continue to educate us towards the stratospheric heights of education, tolerance and understanding he has clearly reached.

I assume it is a male. Being a misogynist as well, I'd have to say I've never heard such wisdom from a woman. Even from the two I've had the pleasure to divorce.

Alain said...

Excelente Blog la verdad me llama mucho la atención….Realmente es un placer leerte. Muy cierto todo el comentario. Son certeras cada una de tus palabras .

Anonymous said...

Non nos contes a causa dos teus divorcios, podemolo imaxinar, o inmenso "pleasure" que foi para elas estar casadas contigo.
E por suposto que recomendareste que desfogues a tua carraxe e represion dunha maneira mais fisica, xa sexa de forma gratuita ou (me temo) pagando non e para nada "misogynist".
Eche un conselliño para rebaixalo cinismo mordaz e a hipocrita represion que agroma ceive nos teus posts.

Colin Davies said...

Gracias, Alain