Thursday, December 08, 2011

In 1835 or so, a Englishman – George Borrow – set off through Spain to try to sell copies of the Protestant Bible. By his own admission, he wasn’t terribly successful. But he did have a great time, falling in love with Spain and its people in the process. “She is”, he wrote, “the most magnificent country in the world. And I have found much that is noble and to be admired amongst the Spanish people, who have always treated me with kindness and courtesy”. Happily for us, he recorded his experiences in “The Bible In Spain”. As a book, this is hard to get hold of but you can download the text here.

I mention this encomium [with which I totally agree], firstly, to help counter the perception that I am unremittingly negative about Spain and, secondly, to lead into my contention that, whilst the Spanish people truly are amongst the best in the world, they make far better acquaintances than friends. By this I mean that that, while they’re fantastic to socialise with - even if you have only just met them in a bar or on a train - you would be foolish to expect them to be around just when you need them. For the concept of friendship in Spain differs greatly from that in an Anglo-Saxon culture. In Spain, you owe your loyalties to your family. To everyone else you owe nothing but civility and, usually, bucketloads of bonhomie.

The end result is many superficial acquaintanceships but few deep friendships. All this is driven by the logic of a culture in which few people break away from the family nexus, e. g. to attend university and then to work many miles from ‘home’. So your life is determined, on the one hand, by the obligations you owe to your family members and, on the other, by the support and assistance which you can always expect from them. Put briefly, you don’t need friends the way displaced Anglo-Saxons do. So you don’t cultivate them. If all this sounds rather brutal, I can only say that it isn’t really and add the comment of my friend, Elena, who's pointed out that, whilst all the above might well be true, the Spanish are the least likely people in the world to turn a blind eye to a stranger in trouble. Perhaps this is one of the aspects of Spanish ‘nobility’ that impressed George Borrow so much 170 years ago. And still does today.

Postscript: Those impressed by GB's writings on Spain can obtain more information on him/them from a site entitled George Borrow Studies. This is maintained by my friend, Peter Missler, whose two books inspired by Borrow - A Daring Game and The Treasure Hunter of Santiago - are also featured there.


Ferrolano said...

I can certainly endorse Colin’s recommendation to download and read all or parts of George Borrow’s book on Spain. I for one, living in Ferrol, when reading the chapter of his visit here, so many years ago and from the description of the streets and houses, I am able to retrace his steps from the port right into town. To me, it brought history alive. The same was true when visiting Pontevedra and Colin explained and pointed out GB’s route through that city. I’m sure that wherever you may live or have visited in Spain, you will find an equally fascinating chapter to read.

Rudy Vinyl said...

I totally agree with You. I have live in Galicia over the past 5 Years and my experience agrees with your views.
I`m happy to said that I`m Spanish by birth and English by HART!