Monday, February 01, 2016

Are the Spanish as rude as they seem to be?

As I'm travelling back to Ponters today, I thought I'd re-post this effort of March 2014. I stumbled across it yesterday and was quite amused:-

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:-
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.
Noise: The Spanish have a word for this, of course, but no concept of what it means. Or of when it becomes unusually high 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.
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.
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.
Queue jumping: There are some, I suspect, who'd say queuing 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 this.
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. Carpe verbum, you might say.
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.
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.
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 – viz. not you.


Alfred B. Mittington said...


When a while ago somebody posted an old blog text on Facebook, a grumpy old fellow felt the need to comment:

"Why are we being directed to this re-heated and slanderous tat from 2012? Do you have writer's block?"

And now look what he does himself…?


Colin Davies said...

Youd didn't have any excuse, even a plausible one. And then there's the question of quality . . .

Anthea said...

So mentira means mistake? When did that happen? in all the years I have studied and read stuff in this language, I have never come across that. Was that a mentira on my part?

Colin Davies said...

1 (embuste) lie
aunque parezca mentira however incredible it seems; strange though it may seem;
¡parece mentira! it's unbelievable!; I can't o don't believe it!;
2 (en uñas) white mark on fingernail; (on fingernail)
3 (errata) erratum

Alfred B. Mittington said...

I'm with Anthea on this.

Es mentira que mentira means mistake…


Anthea said...

I went to the horse's mouth with the question today. well, I probably shouldn't refer to my Spanihs friend Maria as a horse but there you go. she says mentira doesn't mean a mistake.

and yes, I came across erratum but that's a pretty specialised use of the word.

SrMarlafu said...

Well, as a Spaniard living in the UK I could not agree less. Llevo cerca de un año viviendo aquí y ni una vez alguien me ha pedido perdón por chocarse contra mí. También se me ha colado gente en la cola. Tengo que soportar el sonido de adolescentes borrachos y 'chavs' (y treintañeros y cuarentones) chillando bajo mi ventana. Los niños tampoco están mejor educados aquí.

Quizás en lo de los planes sí tienes razón. En general e informalmente hablando. Aunque yo también podría generalizar y decir que en Inglaterra todo funciona con retraso. Los autobuses llegan 10-15 minutos tarde siempre, he tenido varias citas con agentes inmobiliarios y uno llegó 20 minutos tarde y el otro 1 hora y media tarde, porque "estaba en un atasco".

En fin, Inglaterra se tiene como una tierra civilizada, puntual y silenciosa, pero cuando te vienes a vivir aquí te das cuenta que nada más lejos de la realidad. Quizás en los pequeños pueblecitos de clase media-alta de las Cotswolds sea todo así, pero en los pueblos/ciudades normales (yo estoy en Colchester) NO.

Colin Davies said...

Well, I've no doubt your bad experiences are true. Most British cities experience the appalling behaviour of drunken, aggressive 'young' people on at least one night a week. Sadly, it's been a feature of British society for hundreds of years. But it's not very representative of British manners in general.

So, it depends - even in a city - whereabouts you live.

And, yes, buses are almost always late. But this is a reflection of very crowded roads, I suspect, and the absence of ring roads in the UK. Compare France and Spain, where most towns have empty ring roads around them. A function of space. Getting from Vigo to Pongtevedra, for example, is 95% autovia. Easy to be punctual.

I suspect that, the longer you live in the UK, the more certain it is that someone will eventually apologise to you for you bumping into them!

As for the queue-jumping . . . Are you sure it wasn't by one of the very many foreigners living in the UK???? :-)

Thanks for commenting.

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