I conducted an experiment and then a survey this morning. The former arose when, for about the millionth time in nine years, someone whose path crossed mine walked a couple of centimetres in front of me, rather than a couple of centimetres behind. So I accelerated past him and then promptly turned across him to move to the other side of the road, forcing him to slow down. Of course, it wasn’t a true experiment since I was a hundred per cent sure he wouldn’t react in any way. In fact, I doubt he even noticed me, either when he inconvenienced me or when I did the same to him.
The survey came when I entered the wi-fi café and, as ever, noticed there were more females than males in the screened-off smoking section. In fact – believe it or believe it not – the ratio was 17:1, compared with 9:8 in the non-smoking section. Truth to tell, possibly not all of the (very predominantly) young women chatting there were smoking. And maybe it’s not really representative of Spain as a whole. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. As I’ve said, smoking is still seen by women here both as sophisticated and as an effective appetite suppressant. Plus, when you’re 17, you don’t worry much about what it will do to your skin when you’re 50.
Some friends in Australia have kindly sent me a book by one of their compatriots, relating his experiences on the Camino from Granada to Santiago. Ahead of a walk I’m doing next spring with several old friends – albeit only from Oporto – this is proving useful prior reading. The book’s called “Walking the Camino”, by Tony Kevin. An ex diplomat, Mr Kevin revels in the pilgrimage and makes many thoughtful observations about life in general and about Spain in particular. True, he’s a tad Panglossian but maybe that’s no bad thing. I was interested to read his thoughts on the politics of this pluralist, if not fissiparous, nation. He comes across as an admirer but I had difficulty with his contention that ‘scrupulous civility’ is a feature of politics here, where it’s commonplace to label your opponent a liar, both inside and outside of parliament. On the other hand, Mr Kevin does highlight the ‘semantic contradictions’ of the Spanish Constitution, in which (for example) the word ‘nationalities’ is used to placate the Basques, Catalans and Galicians who regard themselves as nations within the nation of Spain. As he puts it, “It is all a bit like the mystery of the Holy Trinity: Three Persons in one God, incomprehensible by reason alone and requiring a great leap of faith.” Or as others have unkindly put it – “A successful fudge”.
Having started this post with an example of how the Spanish can come across as remarkably rude, I will now compensate by showing you how they can be remarkably (and confusingly) considerate. Walking back to my car, I dropped the piece of paper I’d just got from the machine in the pharmacy telling me what my blood pressure, etc. was. Caught by gusts of wind, it floated at least 15 metres down the road, pursued and eventually caught by someone who just happened to be passing. As I never tire of saying, until you register on a Spaniard’s radar, you’re not worthy of much consideration. But once you do, you are as close as family. If only briefly. Perhaps the best recent example of this was when my umbrella clattered to the floor in the café and, having had their antennae twitched, ten people leaped to their feet to pick it up for me. I exaggerate, of course. But not much.