Thursday, March 13, 2014

Are the Spanish rude?

As a doctor, I'm often asked by visitors: Are the Spanish really as rude as they seem to be? The answer to this is, of course, Yes and No.

1. The Spanish can be the most civil people on earth, provided only that they know you. For the personal factor is everything in Spain and, once that link is in place, it entitles you to superlative treatment, possibly above anything you've had elsewhere. I've experienced the same thing in the Middle East.

2. If they don't know you, things can be quite different. They might not park in front of your garage, for example, if there is a personal link, but they might if there isn't. My neighbour proves this rule by ignoring it.

3. This personal link is easy to establish; you just start talking. So, for example, in the days when people smoked while you were eating next to them, a polite request would result in profuse apologies and the immediate stubbing of the cigarette. (I almost wrote 'fag' but this would have confused any American readers. 

4. Some concepts common to other countries are unknown or unrecognised in Spain. These include:-

a. Personal space. Put simply, you haven't got any. And what you think you have will be regularly invaded, e. g. when someone walks out of shop and right across your path, 5cm in front of your nose. Another aspect of this norm is that people will make no effort to 'compromise' with you when the two of you are occupying the space of only one person. On the pavement, for example. If you're lucky, there'll be a semi-pasa doble movement when the other person is, say, 30cm from you. But it's important for them that they don't acknowledge your existence. This may be connected with the preservation of 'face'. Something else I've seen in the Middle East.

b. Noise: The Spanish have a word for this, of course, but no concept of what it means. Or of when it become unusual by international standards. And they don't have a phrase for 'deafening' noise. So it's perfectly permissible here to shout at someone when you're talking to them.

c. Augmenting the last point is the acceptability of talking at the same time as someone else. Or everyone in the same discussion speaking at the same time. At its worst, this can lead to a shout-fest. To see these in action any night of the week, you need only watch any talk-show on TV. And it makes no difference whether this is low-end (gossip) or high-end (political analysis); they may start differently but they all end the same way. One's forced to conclude this behaviour is, in fact, compulsory in Spain.

d. Child control: Another unknown concept. There are exceptions but, generally, Spanish kids are allowed to do what they want, as loudly as they want. In 13 years, I don't think I've heard a single child told to stop something - kicking a ball around a café, for example - because he's upsetting/endangering adults. If you visit a Spanish school you'll see the effect of allying the no-noise norm with the no control norm. Bedlam, in short.

e. Queue jumping: There are some, I suspect, who'd say this is another unknown concept but I differ on this. I've only had to haul back a couple of disingenuous old women over the years. What does go on is that, as you're talking to, say, the Telefónica woman, someone will come into the shop and address a query to her, as you are engaged in conversation. And she will reply. The convention appears to be that, if both the enquiry and the response are short, then the interruption is acceptable. I've seen the same thing in queues in the supermarket where a person wanting only one item will jump it at the expense of the rest. I tend to regard this, not as an example of bad manners, but of Spanish pragmatism. Though I suspect most Brits could not bring themselves to do it.

f. Mobile phones: At least as much as elsewhere in the world - and quite possibly more so - the Spanish will answer their phone whoever they're currently talking to. I see this as a reflection of the love of talking. If the prospect of an exciting new conversation arises, it must be seized.

g. Planning: The Spanish are aware of this concept but positively abhor and avoid it. They pride themselves, in contrast, on their spontaneity and will deliberately try to sabotage the efforts of anally-retentive Northern Europeans to lay down plans for more than 3 hours ahead.

h. Invitations: Connected to the last point is the Spanish inability to stick to their acceptance of an invitation. Everyone will accept your invitation but few of them will actually turn up. This is because a Spanish Yes really means Yes, unless something better comes up in the meantime. Even if this merely means sitting on the sofa with a drink in your hand.

j. Lying: The Spanish are rather ambiguous about lying. You can see this from the fact the word for 'lie' - mentira - also means 'mistake'. So, if you meet a friend who didn't turn up after accepting your invitation, he or she will give you an outrageous reason for this. You'll both know they're not telling the truth and, in this way, your friend can convince himself he or she made a mistake and didn't lie. Especially if they missed a party everyone else is talking about. In fact, the more outrageous the lie, the easier the liar can convince himself you know he's not telling the truth. Therefore, he's not lying. Just covering up.

Well, that's enough education for today. I might have more tomorrow, depending, perhaps, on the Comments. . . 

Needless to say, the way to deal with (survive?) all the above is to lower your expectations and love the Spanish for what they are - Not you.


sp said...

Re d: My seven year old son burped yesterday when on a visit to the local Cuartel (note that they use this word and not something less military/sinister) of the Guardia Civil. The Obergruppenfuhrer, or whatever he was, told my boy "Tienes que aprender a respetar la autoridad!" He was serious too! Perhaps not the moment for "I pay your wages!"

Perry said...

Respect is earned, not demanded. Salute the uniform, not the person. However, Dexter ignores authority & respects only his code. I like Dexter!

As for the Spanish predilection for being economical with the truth, the reason could be that between 711 - 718 AD, nearly all of the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by Islamic armies.

In Islam, there is a form of religious dissimulation, or a legal dispensation called Taqiyya, whereby a believing individual can deny his faith or commit otherwise illegal or blasphemous acts while they are at risk of significant persecution.

This practice was emphasized in Shīa Islam to protect adherents. Taqiyya does not exist in Sunni jurisprudence. In the Sunni view, denying faith under duress is "only at most permitted and not under all circumstances obligatory". The Iberian Peninsula was Islamic for almost 800 years.

Now if a person is able to lie about something as personally important as their religion, then their moral compass is fatally compromised & habitual lying becomes second nature. From such an Islamic base, such a mindset seems to have become Spanish.

As I say to my lads, to deal honestly with others, the first thing is to stop lying to oneself.



Colin Davies said...

Thanks for that, Perry. Fascinating.