How to be Spanish… What the Times got wrong
Well… what’s shakin?
Around here, the big news this week is about a Sunday Times article called “How to be Spanish”.
I read it, I enjoyed it.
It actually sounded like a better-worded version of something yours truly would write on this humble blog.
Less list-posty, more literary.
That’s why some people get paid real money for travel writing, I guess.
Of course, Spanish people have little sense of humor when they’re the butt of the joke.
So there’s been quite a bit of hubbub online.
In my opinion, however, most of what the author, Chris Haslam, says is true and rather obvious.
The author mentions the custom of throwing napkins, olive pits and shrimp heads on the floor of the typical old-man bars.
No surprise there.
He mentions that Spanish people can be loud, arrive late, and use obscenities that make us timid Anglo-Saxons’ hair stand on end.
And he notes the tendency to serve red wine cold (which I’ve never understood) and the local phobia where butter is concerned (ditto). And that they’re not big fans of our culturally-defined ideas of courtesy.
So far, I’ve got no beef…
However, I feel like there are a few things he missed.
Pour yourself a glass of ice-cold Rioja, and read on…
Spain’s obsession with bread
For the brave of heart and strong of stomach, I propose the following experiment: cook a delicious three-course meal for some Spanish friends.
Serve it, and wait.
Chances are, their hands will reach out and clutch at… nothing. Someone will say, “But where’s the bread?”
It doesn’t matter if you’re serving pad thai, gumbo or enchiladas – they’ll want to mop up the sauce with a hunk of baguette, and feel insulted if you don’t provide it.
I guess it’s worth noting that bread for all was one of the promises of Spain’s fascist dictatorship that lasted nearly 40 years – and that for most of the 20th century it seems like bread was a synonym for food in general.
“Ni un hogar sin lumbre ni un español sin pan.”
It was one of Franco’s most important slogans, during and after the Civil War.
So get with the program, and give them some bread.
But if you’re thinking of putting some chorizo in a paella, don’t. Is nothing sacred?
A lack of understanding of foreign cultures
This one is (probably) fairly universal. Most countries are mostly ignorant of what’s going on outside their borders.
But Spanish people can get on RyanAir and move to any country in Europe for close to nothing. They’ve got work visas and government healthcare all over Europe.
All the same, I feel like Spanish people only recognize 3 types of foreigner: moreno, chino and guiri.
On my end, I’ve spent a fair amount of time explaining to people that no, just because I speak English doesn’t mean I am English.
And listening to their stereotypes about guiris as well – mostly culled from the news reports about the lowest level of British football hooligans and holidaymakers in Ibiza.
My friends from other parts of Europe and Asia have experienced something similar: being called “la china” when they’re from a completely different country, or being accused of “speaking guiri” – because obviously all non-latin European languages are just dialects of the same thing.
(Just like French, Italian, Catalán, Spanish, Occitan, Portuguese, Galego, Romanian and others, which clearly are dialects of Vulgar Latin… Just sayin’.)
Anyway, I’m sure at least a few of the comments on this article will include some version of “Go back to England, you creep! If you can’t be 100% positive about Spain all the time, we don’t want you in our country!”
And that’s okay.
‘Cause it’s better than trying to explain that no, not English-speakers are English, and not all Americans are from New York.
Living with their parents forever
I might have discussed this in some other article…
And certainly some people will disagree with my generalization.
But Spanish people live with their parents, on average, until well into their 30s.
Just ask around.
Spanish people will universally tell you about the horror which is renting a flat.
“Vivir de alquiler es tirar el dinero”.
The only other option?
Live with their parents as long as they can.
Then, when they finally get that job in middle management they studied for, they can move out, into a tiny mortgaged flat on the 9th floor of a soviet-era block in Moratalaz, and congratulate themselves on their savvy investment.
But until then, it’s decades of languishing on Mom’s sofa, eating family paella every Sunday, making love to their significant other in the backseat of Dad’s borrowed car.
How to be Spanish… the conclusion
So I guess the Times left a few things out.
Of course, I can already hear the well-thought-out rebuttals that will come my way because of this article:
“At least a quarter of my friends moved out of their parents’ house before age 40… you ignoramus!”
“I only eat bread 21 to 28 times a week, you moron! Toast for breakfast, bread with lunch and dinner, and an occasional second breakfast which is also bread-based.”
“Why, I recognize not 3 but 4 categories of foreigners… Just the other day, I explained to the Bangladeshi guy at the frutería that he’s a hindú. He said he’s a Muslim, but I know better. Silly Indians…”
(You think I exaggerate, but I once heard a Spanish woman lecturing my Bangladeshi greengrocer about his supposed Hinduism. I just wanted to buy some lemons to mix with my booze. And he’s Muslim. But whatever.)
In any case, I still love Spain.
There is no perfect culture, or perfect country, but I think Spain is close.
It’s got so many things going for it that I’m willing to be called an ignorant Englishman from time to time.
If you’re still not offended, check out my article about the differences between Spain and the US.
And have fun!
P.S. If you don’t like this article, well, I understand completely. But if you do, you might like my book, The Zen of Blogging. Lots of smart people are fans. Also, beautiful people. Also, smart and beautiful people (’cause some of us are both).