Today is, of course, a 'Holy Day of Obligation'. The Epiphany, in fact. Or Los Reyes, (The Kings) as it's known in Spain. The 3 Wise Men. It's a key date for kids, as most to them get their gifts on this day, rather than on 25 December. A lucky minority get them on both days. Not surprisingly, a large majority of Spanish kids favour the January date over the December date. The good news for me is that today is the third and final feast day of the 2-week gorge-fest which is the Spanish Xmas and New Year. As of tomorrow, the noise levels next door will return to their normal high level.
Yesterday evening saw the traditional cabalgata throughout Spain, featuring the the 3 Kings on horseback, chucking sweets to kids at the side of the road. I haven't been to one since I first moved here, when there was a fight for goodies which resulted in a serious injury. When I caught someone in the eye with my flailing umbrella.
Talking about strange Spanish customs . . . The great majority of companies here still operate the split working day which sends people home at 'midday' (2pm) and brings them back 3 hours later to work until well into the evening/night. In search of greater productivity, one major company - Iberdrola - has dared to challenge this deep-rooted practice and both employer and employees are happy with the result. More on this here. It's anyone's guess when the rest of corporate Spain will follow suit.
Gibraltar: The previous PSOE government strove to lance this age-old boil, with the cooperation of both Britain and Gibraltar. And the flame of hope burned briefly in both London and Madrid. But the current (right-of-centre) PP government urinated on the flame on day one and has ever since adopted a petty and aggressive attitude which - like Franco's - has been utterly counter-productive. Except in the domestic posturing stakes, of course. This week has seen the latest example of this, with Spain vetoing Gibraltar's inclusion in a pan-European air-safety concordat. Simultaneously, Spain is failing to introduce the border improvements demanded by the EU 6 months ago. So the British government now has to decide whether to take legal action against Spain. And I'd thought things just couldn't get any worse - speaking as someone who thinks Gibraltar should eventually move back to Spain. Under a tripartite agreement.
But . . . Good News: There was a significant fall in unemployment here in 2014. There are now only(?) 4.5m folk registered as unemployed, many of whom will not actually be working. This is a rate of 24%, second only to that of Greece. Among young people (18-35), the rate is still double this, accounting for the the tragic flood of talent to Germany, the UK and elsewhere.
The new left-of-centre political party - Podemos - has recorded great success in recent municipal elections. This, though, has created something of a problem for it. For most of the new incumbents are men, and the party's constitution demands that a minimum of 40% should be women. The next chapter will be interesting.
Penultimately . . . . "The belt experience hasn't changed in centuries". Says a company promoting - guess what - a belt. Which tells you you've gained weight. And why not?
Finally . . . For those who wanted to see the other side of the coin, here it is:-
British Army Bureau of Current Affairs
Bulletin, No. 22, July 1942. "Meet the Americans."
UNITY UNDER THE SKIN
THERE WILL be no lack of discussion among your men when you tackle the theme of this bulletin, for all of us are only too ready to air our views about "foreigners". And the less we know about them the readier we are to pronounce judgement. It isn't a particularly British characteristic, either, for all nations (whether they live on an island or not) are inclined to an insular outlook. The think of themselves as "the tops" and they rather look down on all other nationalities.
This disparagement of the "foreigner" begins much nearer home than that. The Yorkshire lad says rude things about the Cockney; the Midlander makes fun of the Welshman. There's a lot to be said for this robust and defiant local pride, for it keeps alive a healthy sense of rivalry. Yet after many centuries of experience we've learned to keep that rivalry in its place. We take it out for an airing to Wembley, or Old Trafford; we make it the peg for good knock-about arguments in the four-ale bar. But when it comes to serious business, we forget all these differences of local merit and custom and accent. And because we have unity under the skin, we men of all the shires march together, endure together, and win together.
It is in exactly the same spirit that we shall learn to march with the Americans. The local differences between us and them are stronger because they are, so far, less familiar, but we shall discover exactly what they count for in good time. The Americans and the British will find plenty to make fun of in each other, plenty to feel superior about. That doesn't matter so long as we also find how much there is to respect in other.
At the moment the soldiers of the two nations are in the position of two people who have just been introduced. Neither of them, thank heaven, is the emotional sort which falls on each other's neck. They like the look of the other fellow, but they don't intend to commit themselves yet. They're on the defensive, they're sizing each other up. Besides that, they've heard vague rumours about each other, and they've seen photographs which weren't too flattering. They want to see how the other fellow shapes, what he's like at work and play, before they let the friendship ripen. That is exactly the situation between the American and the British soldiers today – and that's good enough for a beginning. There's a bit of prejudice on both sides, a colossal ignorance of each other's attitudes and characteristics – but there's also a willingness to get together.
Where do we go from there?
We need to exercise three qualities if Anglo-American friendship is to develop under the exacting conditions of war. They are Good Will, Respect, and Patience.
Good Will: We must be willing to like each other – willing , because the common cause demands it. Goebbels and his gang will do all they can to produce ill will between us. Our answer to that game is persistent, determined good will: the resolution to believe the best about people we don't yet know. It should a matter of personal mental discipline to adopt this attitude.
Respect: Towards nations as towards individuals we must show respect for positive achievement. We may dislike a man's face or the cut of his clothes or his fashion in food – yet acknowledge him as a fine engineer or architect or musician. Respect for American achievement is one of the ways by which we shall discover the Americans. Look, for example, what they've done to refrigerators and combustion engines and acknowledge them as the world's inventive wizards.
Patience: If you want someone's friendship, don't snatch it, wait for it. Peoples as foreign to each other as the Americans and ourselves have a lot to learn before we reach understanding. The first necessity is to be informed about each other, to replace the film version and the story book version by the real facts. We shall get the real facts one way and one way only – by seeking them in a spirit of genuine interest.
Not even the most intensely nationalistic man or woman can resist that spirit. Ask a "foreigner" about his home town, what he likes to eat, where he works, what he does on Sunday, where he goes for his holidays, how his home is furnished, and so on – and you'll invariably achieve two things. You'll discover a lot about the land he comes from, and you'll make him feel you have a genuine interest in him. There and there only, without blah or baloney, is the plain man's way to Anglo-American understanding.
The signal is "Get Acquainted." Never mind the vows and the flags and the keepsakes, for no alliance, whether national or matrimonial, ever survives on sentiment alone. We've got to understand and respect each other for two reasons. First, because we want to be real comrades in arms, not phoney ones of the Axis variety. Second and even more important, we don't want a mere wartime friendship. We want the real thing – the alliance which survives the peace and becomes a permanent force in the shaping of the new world.