Writing in 1940, George Orwell said “National characteristics are not easy to pin down, and when pinned down they often turn out to be trivialities or have no connection with one another. Spaniards are cruel to animals, Italians can do nothing without making a deafening noise, the Chinese are addicted to gambling . . . the English are not gifted artistically. Obviously such things don’t matter in themselves.” I happened to read this just after seeing this news item, which will do nothing – 70 years later – to rid the Spanish of their reputation for cruelty to animals. The truth is that - as my experience of walking Ryan in the streets of several cities this week shows – there are many animal lovers in Spain. But, like drivers here, they are betrayed by the appreciable percentage of macho imbeciles who make the headlines. But, then, the Spanish believe that every English youth is an ooligan. So I guess it cuts both ways.
In the same article – the famous The Lion and the Unicorn - Orwell goes on to say that “Nearly every Englishman of working class origin considers it effeminate to pronounce a foreign word correctly.” I wonder what the Spanish excuse is. For they never do. Only this week I heard on the radio of a town’s fiesta based on a TV game called, allegedly, Grand Pricks. Which is a thought to conjure with.
Someone has said you’re nothing in Spain if you can’t claim noble blood. I thought of this when reading the plaques outside all the magnificent Extremaduran and Castillian palaces this week. It’s apparently compulsory for these to give you the (boring) details of the ‘lineages’ (lineajes) of the families who built and lived in them over the centuries.
This emphasis on provenance from a ‘good family’ is certainly as visible in Galicia as it might be elsewhere. And yet countries are as much hives of inconsistency as people. For one of the things I love about Spain is that a street sweeper and a hotel chambermaid will greet you and talk to you – and why not? – as an equal. This, I guess, is the Spanish personal pride that Borrow and others have written about. But how does this square with the alleged Spanish disdain for manual labour? Is it simply that once can abhor the work but value the worker?
Finally . . .The Spanish economy. I did say things were getting worse by the hour. And now we’re told our recession will morph into the worst depression here since the 1930s. And that recovery is further off than previously forecast. Or is this just the super-pessimists at work again? Who knows. All we can do is cross our fingers and, in this pseudo-Catholic country, do a bit of pointless praying. Meanwhile, President Zapatero – reading from the Gordon Brown book on Socialist Responses to an Economic Downturn - continues to tell us it’ll all be over by Christmas and that nothing’s necessary beyond a bit of belt-tightening and the raising of taxes. Meanwhile, the euro continues to rise against the currency of Spain’s key foreign tourists – the stay-at-home Brits. Oh dear. Will we really pass through the next five years without any social unrest? Right now, as the writer correctly puts it, “An odd calm prevails across the Iberian peninsular. There are no street riots, even though youth unemployment has reached 38%.” Can this last?
Given that “The root cause of Spain's trouble is that it joined monetary union before its economy was ready” it wouldn’t be surprising to see the emergence of some antipathy towards the EU here. But this is conspicuous by its total absence. As the writer says – “There is a near total backing for European Monetary Union in Spain. . . . Membership of the EU and the euro is inextricably linked in Spain's collective mind to the country's re-emergence as a modern, dynamic European power, after the stultifying isolation of the Franco dictatorship. It would take a major trauma to test that bond.” A civil war perhaps. Or just a unilateral declaration of independence by Cataluña. Or even Galicia. Just joking. About Galicia, I mean.