I’m currently smiling and laughing my way through a book called “Watching the English”, kindly lent to me by a friend. There are so many gems in this I could quote from it until the end of time. But I just want to cite the author’s reference to English courtesy. Quite rightly, she sees this as the other side of the coin from English reserve. However, the intriguing thing is foreigners tend to approve of the former but criticise the latter, seeing it as evidence of English coldness, aloofness, arrogance, etc., etc. This, of course, is because they don’t understand what’s going on. The author cites the English ‘instinctive consideration for others’ and goes on to explain that it’s a reflection of a culture characterised by ‘negative-politeness’. Which is avoiding doing things that might upset others. Whereas in a ‘positive-politeness culture’ the emphasis is on a 'warmer, more inclusive approach'. She gives the [still Anglo] USA as an example of the latter and I imagine she’d agree that Spain is another good example. Regular readers will know that this cultural aspect fascinates me as I’m always banging on about how individualistic and inconsiderate the Spanish can be, while at the same time stressing they’re always sociable – or at least affable – and that, at times, they can be extraordinarily polite and even ‘noble’. Regular readers will also know my personal explanation for this is that you have to force yourself onto Spanish radar or into the ear-print of Spanish antennae to get this treatment. Absent this, any English person used to permanent consideration from others and numerous little daily courtesies will be regularly shocked and even irritated by life in Spain. Even if he or she knows why things happen here the way they do. Which is because, unlike the English but probably like every other race in the world bar the Japanese, the Spanish are not brought up to have an instinctive consideration for anyone outside their family circle. Which means that – to the English – the Spanish often literally deserve their own biggest insult – mal educado. But this is hardly fair as it’s all relative. And, anyway, it’s not their fault; it’s their parents’.
Oh, yes - the book is by Jane Fox and is published by Hodder. An excellent Christmas present for anyone English and anyone baffled by the English. Which is a large proportion of the world, I imagine. At the very least, you’ll get some sharp insights into English humour and its place in English/British society. Which can’t be bad. And is pretty essential for enjoying this blog.
If you want a perfect example of what I’m referring to, here it is. It happened when I was coming home from my midday tapa and wine . . . As I drove through a narrow street, a guy walked to his car, three or four ahead of mine, looked at me and then opened his door and forced me to move left so as to avoid him and his door. It appeared not to occur to him to wait for less than a second so as not to inconvenience me. As I say, it’s sometimes hard to get yourself on a Spaniard’s radar. Assuming he wasn’t just a bad mannered bastard.
What usually happens when an Anglo writes posts like this is there's a wave of comments from angry Spaniards, some of whom clearly don’t understand English very well and some of whom have even had to resort to a Google translation. If your post is remarked on in one or more Spanish blogs, you can expect to get hundreds of comments, many saying you have no right to criticise the Spanish because the English are all loud-mouthed, aggressive drunks who vomit and fornicate their way around Ibiza. And some just telling you to piss off back to your own shit hole of a country. Which – when you come to think of it – is rather rude and mal educado . . .
So . . . vamos a ver.