Wednesday, September 02, 2015
And you all feel so superior and expert
I wrote a little essay for a Spanish class I do and I posted it on this blog. It was no more than a writing exercise for the teacher but when it was done I thought it was a whimsical look at things I noticed in Spain - good coffee, bad tea, uninformative notices - little inconsequential things. Perfect for the blog.
Nobody much comments on my blog but I got one about that article. At first the chap (I think it's a man) was just putting me right. I said there was no good British style tea to be had in Spanish cafés and he told me about the varieties, methods and what not of making a range of teas all of which were available in Spain. Fair enough, not the same point but fair enough. As his reply lengthened though it changed tone. He doesn't seem to be too keen on we Britons. Again, fair enough, if his experience of us is bad then that's his experience. He didn't seem to care for me much either or at least what I write.
He also made a comment on an article I wrote about swearing. My basic premise was that Spaniards swear less forcibly but more frequently than Britons. As you may imagine my post was full of explanations, qualifications and exceptions. Now here we had a different mode of attack. He simply told me that I was wrong. I don't think so. I may have a different experience to him or a different interpretation but I am not wrong. I can see swearing on the television, hear it on the streets and in the bars and I have been unpleasantly surprised by the frequency of swearing amongst my sub teen pupils. It may be true that I notice the use of strong English language swearing by Spaniards more than the home population. After all I know what it means and how forceful its meaning is because I am English but I would not notice it if it were not said.
This chap though did make me wonder about the generalisations that I make in a lot of the posts. We all gather information from around us and extrapolate - all Swedes are blonde, all Ecuadorians are short, all Andalucians are full of the joys of life. All obviuosly untrue but all good healthy stereotypes. So when does extrapolation become stereotyping and when does stereotyping become offensive? When a Spaniard tells me that all the English wear socks with sandals I smile. Everybody knows that's what we Britons do. When I get told we are all drunkards I think of the news stories showing all those Britons in Magaluf paddling and crawling in pools of beer and puke and I smile again. If I were feeling combative I may rise in defence of all the sober Brits, dismiss the sock myth or even argue the merits of socks to avoid scarred feet and stinking sandals.
I was about to start this paragraph with "I like Spain, I like Spaniards" but then I realised that's not absolutely true. There are plenty of things about the behaviour of some Spaniards, things that are common enough for me to rashly declare that "all Spaniards do this or that" that I definitely do not like. I don't like all of Spain either. Some of it, is in my opinion, a blighted wasteland. There are things I think are actively stupid here - penalising private solar electricity generation and the relatively recent "gagging law" spring to mind. Then again I found plenty to complain about in the UK before I left and I could, Peter Green style, keep you amused for hours complaining about the behaviour of some of my compatriots living here. There are lots of bad similarities between the two counties too - the overbearing pride that "we" did this or that in things like history or sport, the rewriting of history and the jingoistic and chauvanistic in general.
In fact, my general view is that the UK and Spain are, nowadays, pretty similar places. It's not a popular view. I voiced it on a forum about what culture shock people could experience coming to live in Spain. I said there were lots of differences, some of them quite wide differences, but that none of them were of the big kind - no general prohibitions on personal freedom, no threats to basic safety or democratic organisation, not even different clothes. Just another European country. I was thinking about big things like education, healthcare, and the visible economic indicators. The flood of posts after mine listed everything from cruelty to animals and much more visible corruption through to slow Internet connections and poor bank services as evidence that Spain would dish out plenty of culture shock. I stick to my opinion.
And what's the point of this rambling? Well it's to say that I have spent something like 18% of my life in Spain and I'm reasonably clued up about the country. I've visited all but one of the provincial capitals, In a Munro sense I'm missing just one of the Balearic Islands and one of the autonomous cities. I may have been a tourist in most of those cities but I'm not a tourist in Spain. I watch Spanish telly, read Spanish press, wear Spanish clothes, drive a Spanish car, work in Spain, eat Spanish food, buy in Spanish shops. I know what's going on. Anyway it's my blog, my experiences of some of the things, the little things, that happen to me and around me. That's what the blog description says. A personal view, a personally biased view, but not an uninformed view.
I did suggest to the commentator, who wrote in a mix of Spanish and English, that if he were still trying to improve his English we could continue the discussion over a couple of pints of whisky or some tepid tea. He turned me down. He said he'd been considering it until he saw my posts.
Now maybe if I'd promised to wear my Union flag shorts!
The title is taken fom one of the comments. It refers to Brits in Spain and probably more specifically to me.