The Catalan savings bank, La Caixa, has a new cultural centre in the heart of Madrid – El Forum. And an impressive place it is. I do wonder why Spain depends on its banks for such places but this is by the by. I enjoyed the Estruscan exhibition on the first floor yesterday but my elder daughter suggested I didn’t waste my time climbing to the second to see the contemporary Chinese art. So I didn’t. And I was surprised and impressed to see that all the Caixa’s phone numbers in Madrid are local numbers. With the exception of the one you need to call to sign up to be a volunteer for one altruistic association or another. For some reason, this is one of the now ubiquitous premium rate numbers. Perhaps voluntary service is only for rich folk.
There’s been a lot of fuss in the UK about Prince Charles calling an Asian polo-playing friend ‘Sooty’. My suspicion is that most Spaniards would argue that, as the guy is not white – making the term accurate - and because he says he doesn’t mind, then there’s nothing to get uptight about and the whole affair is just another example of Anglo-Saxon political correctness gone mad. Or even inverse racism. But a British columnist makes the right point in writing that the days are long gone when one could buy a jacket that was “unselfconsciously called nigger brown”. As she says - “Such words were truly not a sign of racism. They were simply signs of an entirely different and ethnocentric world view. And, although political correctness has led to some disastrous extremes, it has at its roots a belief in courtesy, in good manners and in avoiding unnecessary offence.” Which is the point many Spaniards give the impression of simply not grasping. Leading to the accusations of racism which so infuriate them. To them it matters only that the words – ‘Just a joke’ - were not intended to cause offence. Even if they did. So, not just ethnocentric but self-centric too.
Finally . . . Telefónica has full-page ads in today’s papers, boasting of a market capitalisation of 105 something or others, putting it between Electricité Francais and Coca Cola. You might think such a successful company would be able to give you a rural phone line in days rather than years. But, if so, you’d be wrong. On the other hand, you’d be right not to be very surprised at the claim from the Spanish Association of Internet Users that the ADSL service we get here is the slowest and most expensive in Europe. This accolade has to go to some country, of course, but it’s hard to see why it has to be Spain.