Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

They walk in the sun

I've just been to the UK, to see my mum. I was feeling a bit guilty about not having seen her for about seventeen months. She was in good form, fit and well and full of life.

In the UK I don't have any problem with talking. My words and phrasing may be a bit old fashioned but I can say what I want to whoever I want and with an appropriate emphasis. People even understand me if I throw in a bit of irony.

Nonetheless I find the UK a bit more foreign every time I'm there. I refer back to Spain all the time. I noticed hundreds of little differences - for instance I was impressed by the way that people repeatedly gave way to other people - in traffic, in queues, in doorways. People really do choose to walk on the sunny side of the street rather than to search out the shade. Food was distinctly different and I noticed that people eat all sorts of food in the street at all times of day. Forms of retailing seemed much more innovative with all manner of kiosks and small businesses offering services and products that don't exist here. It could be a long list.

I tell my students about ordering and paying for beer at the bar but I was surprised when the bar staff wanted the money before pulling the pint in Wetherspoon's so I'll have to change that a little. I tell my students that for we British a coffee is a coffee but I'm wrong - lattes, cappuccinos and americanos have taken the place of the distinction between coffee and black coffee and I wasn't there to notice. I found it strange, though I know the system, that the bus fare varies width distance. I was constantly perturbed as I rode on the buses that they seemed determined to drive into the face of oncoming traffic. It would take a while to relearn the driving on the other side of the road thing. Even the cars were slightly different; I spotted lots and lots of Jaguars and I doubled the number of Bentleys I'd seen in my life in just five days. I had to check the unfamiliar banknotes and coins before paying and not being able to see the tobacco in supermarkets was most odd. 

So I was quite at home in England but always a bit off balance at the same time. To be honest it's probably the same here though maybe the other way around. I'm in a bar as I type this. I was going to have a coffee but, as I waited to be served, I heard the waitress say the coffee machine was broken. When I ordered I checked about the machine and ordered a non alcoholic beer instead. She came back, "You may think I'm joking," she said, "but we don't have any zero alcohol either." I understood what she was saying without any trouble - though I probably didn't hear every word - and changing my order for a third time was no problem. It's not that I was lost, it's not that I was phased or confused but I wasn't exactly at ease with the situation either. So the talking can be a bit tricky but the way of doing things and the things I see around me are just commonplace.

As I got off the aeroplane in Spain I felt glad to be home but, as I will never be fluent, fluent, maybe I will never be at home.


Anonymous said...

Hi. I spend my summer holidays here, and I also can see a lot of differences from the place where I am the rest of the year, 2 hours driving from here. For example, there, bars are beautiful. And if I think of my birthplace, also in Spain (at the moment), there are a million differences more. There, for example, they don't look at you brazenly. They pay for each expenses in a bar. They don't shout like crazy in bars. They are not so "emotional" at parties, meetings, etc. Sometimes, they look as if the weight of the world over their shoulders is beginning to be unbearable. They ask first if it is convenient to pay a visit to you instead of showing up by surprise without knocking at the door. And they are punctual! If they say the will come, they will come, and on time!
But I feel a stranger at my city too. Also here (specially here!). And everywhere I go, in fact, after moving a few times. There is this huge cultural shock everywhere inside my own country. It's like everybody has to be this or that paricular way and you are out if you don't do the same.
But I guess if you left your country it was because you didn't feel part of it either. I didn't.
By the way, where I live, there are these "urbanizaciones" full of jaguars and bentlys. And ferraris. And snobs. :)

Chris Thompson said...

No, I was fine in England. Perfectly at home. It was just that we liked Spain, what we'd seen of it, so we moved - for positive rather than negative reasons.

You're quite right about the differences within Spain. I remember how uncomfortable some of the Spanish people were (from here) when we went to Madrid on a coach trip.

Anonymous said...

Well, I also move for positive reasons every time. :)
My comments tend to be quite negative, by the way. I'm sorry.