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.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Not typical

I was listening to a learn Spanish podcast called Notes in Spanish today. The podcast is produced by an Anglo Spanish couple Ben and Marina. They plan what they're going to talk about but the actual conversation is unscripted so that it's more spontaneous. Until this new series, which has just reached its third week, it's been a few years since they've produced any podcasts. I hadn't cared for the content of the first couple of these latest recordings but this one was much better. They were responding to the question as to whether Spain could still claim to be different from other European countries or whether it has been "globalized".

They talked about how some of the symbols of everyday Spain are disappearing - for instance the way that family restaurants are being taken over by corporate hotel and catering groups. They chatted about the new transport solutions like Cabify (a company that uses chauffeured cars to provide an alternative to conventional taxis) or the shared car schemes where users hire vehicles for a few hours at a time. One of the points they made was that whilst these initiatives might be new to Madrid they were probably old hat in large chunks of the world. They also mentioned that things were probably unchanged in España profunda - Deep Spain. I've been told that neither Pinoso, nor even Culebrón, can claim to be Deep Spain but we're hardly at the cutting edge of the latest trends either.

Family restaurants are still the norm around here, small family shops too and the few times that I've wondered about any of those services that work via a mobile phone app - like home food delivery, car sharing or chauffeured cars - I've always drawn a blank. No Just Eat, no Uber and no Bla Bla Car - I don't even seem to be able to get online supermarket orders delivered. My mum lives in St Ives, in rural Huntingdonshire, and she can do online supermarket shopping and order take away from Just Eat even though most of the shops on the High Street are local businesses. This discussion about "The Real Spain" the idea that some particular type of city, town or village best represents the essence of Spain reminds me of some spoof I saw on British telly when I still lived in the UK. In it a group of friends were in the after pub Indian knocking back pints of Kingfisher. Their conversation centred on the argument that the real India could only be found in the villages. Ben was comparing now to a time at the end of the 1990s. What makes that Spain any more or less Spanish than the Spain of Cabify and Car2go? It's something I always think about when I see "traditional costume" - why does some clothing style, frozen at some particular time in the past, represent "traditional" any more than the flip flops that have been the standard Spanish summer wear for years and years? Personally I think that the excesses and brashness of Benidorm and the style of the Alhambra both represent the real Spain as does some remote hamlet in Teruel, a fishing village in Cantabria or the trendiest bar in Chueca or Lavapiés.

As an aside Ben speaks pretty good Spanish. He sounds very British though, his cadence, as well as his accent, are British. One of the things I like about his podcasts is that he makes errors of the sort I make. He puts most of them right himself but sometimes Marina has to correct him. Ben wasn't the only recorded or broadcast Briton I listened to today. I also heard a radio programme, done on Spanish Radio 3 Extra, by another Spanish speaking Briton called Nicolas Jackson. His programme is aimed at a Spanish audience and is about new British music. Like Ben, Nicolas speaks cracking Spanish but, again, with a very obvious British accent. I've never noticed any mistakes in his scripted commentary but Spaniards tell me, that whilst what he says may be grammatically correct, at times it sounds a bit clumsy to a native speaker - in plan Guiri as they say - like a foreigner. Simon Manley, the British Ambassador to Spain, was on the radio a couple of times today talking about Brexit. He makes plenty of mistakes and sounds very British too. Maybe that's a part of his job description and I suppose media interviews are harder than either prepared scripts or a natter with your partner. I wish I spoke Spanish as well as the worst of them.

Hearing so many Britons speaking Spanish in one day I got to comparing my own linguistic capability with theirs. To be honest I thought very little of what they said was beyond me - at least with a following wind. Then someone phoned from my credit card company trying to get me to change my card. I have a suspicious mind and guessed that the new card would not be to my advantage. I tried to tell the woman that but as I spluttered and fumbled with the most basic pronunciation or structure I realised just how far there is to go.

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